Fun? Facing San Diego State and its headache-inducing 3-3-5 defense directed by coach Rocky Long is not fun. It is, Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said, a challenge.
And it does not matter that the Aztecs will come to Bulldog Stadium on Friday for a pivotal Mountain West Conference showdown on a short work week, or that they will have 10 fewer days of prep time than they had a year ago when coming off a bye and they had Derek Carr and the Bulldogs seeing things for two subpar quarters in which they generated few yards and fewer points.
"If he (Long) were 25 years old, sure," Schramm said. "But he's been doing this for a long, long time and there are a bunch of offensive coordinators in the country that are glad they are not having to play against him this week, I can tell you that much. It's just very unorthodox and very unique, but it's very sound. They'll play hard and that's what it will all come down to -- we have to play hard, we have to make plays, we have to take care of the football and we have to protect the quarterback."
Schramm said he and the Bulldogs' offensive staff have an idea what they will see from the Aztecs, but they also did a year ago and that didn't help them much.
The Aztecs used that extra prep time well, giving the Bulldogs looks and disguises that they had not seen on film. There were plays San Diego State had seven and eight defenders milling around the line of scrimmage, some with a hand on the ground, most of them standing up and all of them with ill-intent.
Fresno State had trouble identifying who was dropping into coverage, who would be coming on a blitz. Carr missed his first four throws, hit just one of his first seven passes and at one point in the first half was 10 of 23. The Bulldogs gained only 149 yards in the first half, scoring seven points.
They had to scrap the game plan they had going in.
"The first half last year, we didn't have a clue, so we had to do it on the fly," Schramm said. "They gave us some different front looks that we hadn't prepared for, so we had to kind of draw a bunch of stuff up on the sideline and in the locker room at halftime and come out and try to attack what they were doing. When you play Rocky Long, that's what you end up doing."
They turned it around by pushing tempo to limit the Aztecs' disguise, scoring two second-half touchdowns, another on a fumble recovery and 78-yard return by Ejiro Ederaine, blocking a field goal at the end of regulation and eventually winning in overtime.
"Give San Diego State credit -- they had two weeks to get ready for us and they had some things in their game plan that we had not prepared for, that they hadn't shown, and it took us a little bit to figure out where we wanted to go with it," coach Tim DeRuyter said.
"I think the big thing we did was just go faster in the second half and try to get them on their heels that way. They do a really nice job with all of their disguise pressures, sometimes bringing it all and sometimes not, and Rocky has a history of doing things like that and they've been very successful with it. But one of the advantages of tempo is we have hot (routes) built in that you don't have to change protections, you just go. It's a conscious decision, going to our faster tempos, so that we can take advantage of that and get them to where they weren't comfortable in a disguise. They had to either show what they were doing or risk getting caught out of alignment."
Chances are, it will take something entirely different this year.
"Like always, when you play a Rocky Long defense, it's a game of adjustments," Schramm said. "You just have to make sure you're ready, be sound. We think we might have some idea, but it then could be a game like last year where all of a sudden you don't. You just have to make adjustments and be smart about what you're doing and try to do stuff that you know is sound and fits into your plan.
"With what we do, we're making adjustments most of the time in the first part of the game anyway. There's not too many teams that we play where in the first couple of series it's like 'That's exactly what we saw on film.' Everybody is making adjustments, so we spend a lot of time on the sidelines chalking different stuff -- they're giving us a different coverage than we thought versus that formation or they're playing that guy at a different spot, so we thought we would have an advantage there but we don't anymore. They're going to come up with some things and we have to make sure we can adjust too and that we're sound in doing it."
And while it might not be fun, it will be a confrontation Schramm and the staff will relish.
"It's a great challenge," he said. "You go compete. When you're my age, it's the only way to do it. You can't play anymore so you try to get young guys to go and do what you have to do."