During an early stretch of Fresno State football practice Monday, Bulldogs secondary coach Marcus Woodson delivered a message.
"We will not give up any more big plays!" Woodson shouted as he coached the cornerbacks during a long-ball defensive drill. "No more. Let's get it right."
Fresno State got it wrong many times in two season-opening losses, 59-27 last weekend at Utah and 52-13 at USC, allowing 12 pass plays of at least 20 yards and an NCAA-worst 10 passing touchdowns.
The Bulldogs went looking for answers immediately to start this week in preparation for Nebraska (2-0), which comes to town for Saturday's home opener at Bulldog Stadium.
Both starting cornerback spots are open competition this week. Junior safety Charles Washington took repetitions at the position in practice Monday.
The Bulldogs also got back to emphasizing basic coverage fundamentals, such as where a cornerback should have his body positioned in relation to the receiver on a deep ball and eye contact in transitioning from the quarterback to receiver.
"We realize we have some issues we've got to straighten out," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We've identified those, and we're going to take care of things this week."
Washington, one of the fastest players on the team, hasn't practiced at cornerback since mid-August during fall camp. But he started there the final two games of last year and said he's ready to switch "wherever they need me."
Washington is still expected to practice some this week at safety, where he says he's more comfortable. And he says he understands the cornerback issues: "It's a lot of little things that can lead to big plays if you don't have it down. But it's something we can fix."
The cornerbacks — senior Curtis Riley, sophomores Bryan Harper, Stratton Brown and Jamal Ellis and freshman Malcolm Washington — got plenty of coaching Monday from Woodson. "Everything that we've given up has been a self-inflicted wound," he said.
Two words heard often Monday (besides "get better") were cohesiveness and trust.
"It's being more disciplined in what we're coaching them to do," Woodson said. "Unfortunately, they're having to learn the hard way instead of trusting what we're telling them. So be it. We're young. We just have to make sure we learn from it."
DeRuyter said he's particularly concerned about players not sticking to their assignments. For example, "we have certain coverages where your job is not to be beaten deep. If they throw a comeback route, we expect you to compete to it — but don't let the guy run past you. If we're going against a bunch of comeback routes, we'll get into a different coverage to help you out. Don't go beyond your assignments.
"You've got to trust that we're going to help you on the underneath stuff. But you've got to play your responsibility, and the guys next to you have got to trust that you can do that. We've had too many situations where we're losing that trust. We've got to get it back," DeRuyter said.
Nebraska ticket update
Though Fresno State initially had been touting its home opener against Nebraska as a sellout prior to the season, roughly 250 tickets and a handful of student tickets were still available as of Monday.
Fresno State was caught off guard when it received 500 tickets back from Nebraska late August, which was 25 days past the Bulldogs' requested deadline for the Cornhuskers to return any unsold tickets. Fresno State had allotted 3,800 tickets for Nebraska to sell to its fans.
Nebraska has sold out Memorial Stadium in Lincoln an NCAA-record 335 times, and its fan base has a long tradition of traveling well for road games, too. It also has a strong fan base around the country and particularly in California — there's a Californians for Nebraska alumni chapter based in Irvine, and several years ago a Modesto-based radio station carried Cornhuskers games broadcast by the Nebraska football network.
Saturday will be the first time Nebraska visits Bulldog Stadium. It's part of the three-game contract the schools signed in 2008, first played in 2011 (Fresno State lost 42-29 on the road to a then-No. 10 Nebraska) and will conclude in 2016 in Lincoln.