Fresno State will have a new starting quarterback when it heads down the stretch of its season, still with an outside chance at securing a third consecutive Mountain West Conference title.
Redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee has been installed as the starter for the game Saturday against Wyoming in place of junior Brian Burrell, who struggled to gain a high degree of consistency while working with a young set of receivers or to spark an offense ranked seventh of 12 in the conference in passing offense, ninth in passing efficiency and 11th in yards per pass play.
"As you go through an eight-week cycle where Brian started every game, he did some good things but still wasn't leading our team the way we need to be led," coach Tim DeRuyter said as the team wrapped up a bye week.
"That's not just a direct reflection on him — there are a lot of parts around him that weren't getting it done, but when you're 3-5, you have to examine everything you do. During that time frame, Zack has been getting better each week, and we just made the decision that we've got to invest some time in him to give him an opportunity and see if we can spark some things as we go down the stretch."
Greenlee has played in one game, the 56-16 blowout of Southern Utah, a championship subdivision opponent. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown, the score coming on an 81-yard fourth-quarter strike to wideout Da'Mari Scott that was perfectly executed from the pre-snap read to the touch on the pass.
DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm turned to the redshirt freshman over Brandon Connette, the graduate transfer from Duke, knowing exactly where they are in the season. They have not shifted focus to the longer-term future.
At 3-5 and 2-2 in the conference, Fresno State needs San Diego State to lose one game to regain control of its destiny in the West Division — and the Aztecs have games at Nevada on Nov. 1 and at Boise State on Nov. 15 with home games against Air Force and San Jose State.
Greenlee is viewed as the Bulldogs' best hope to spark the offense.
"We have an absolute chance. We're trying to put the best, most competitive team out there right now," DeRuyter said. "Athletically, talent-wise, we think Zack has a tremendous upside. He's throwing the ball really well, and he is understanding the offense much better."
Burrell, who has completed 141 of 250 passes (56.4%) for 1,468 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, will go into the Wyoming game as the No. 2 quarterback. Connette will have specific packages in which he will be used, as has been the case for the past month.
Greenlee was unavailable to comment Saturday and now will not be allowed media contact until after the game.
But he has taken significant steps forward since a knee injury in fall camp limited what he could do as Burrell and Connette competed for the starting job. Greenlee continued to throw on the practice field while rehabbing the knee, getting looks at defenses and coverages, and came back well ahead of where he was in the spring and where he was when he went down in fall camp.
"He's carrying himself a lot better, with a lot more confidence," Schramm said. "We've got faith that he'll get in there and he'll do what we ask him to do.
"I think he's been pretty diligent. He's been good in meetings. He's been working at it."
And he will get the football against Wyoming, then San Jose State on Nov. 8, at Nevada on Nov. 22 and in the regular-season finale against Hawaii on Nov. 29.
"Four (games) and then we'll go from there," DeRuyter said.
"Right now, that's the plan. We anticipate he'll have success, but we have to go out and do it and Zack understands that. We're looking for productivity. We think he has the capability to do it, so now he just has to put it together and do it, and the guys around him have to step up and help him."
FRESNO STATE VS. WYOMING
Saturday: 7:45 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (ESPN2)
Records: Bulldogs 3-5, 2-2 Mountain West; Cowboys 3-5, 1-3