Fresno State defensive tackle Tyeler Davison has watched film of Wyoming again and again and noticed many opportunities for the Bulldogs.
Wyoming has allowed more sacks than any team in the Mountain West and the third most in the nation with quarterback Colby Kirkegaard taken down 31 times for an average of 3.88 per game.
Such a weakness could be just what Fresno State needs to jump-start a defense that’s vastly underachieved through the first eight games compared to how the Bulldogs have performed the past two seasons.
After finishing with 40 sacks each of the past two seasons to rank among the top 10 in the nation, the Bulldogs have 17 (2.13 sacks per game) with four regular-season games to go.
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“Hopefully we get some sacks, too, since everyone else is getting them,” Davison said as Fresno State (3-5, 2-2) prepared to host Wyoming (3-5, 1-3) in Mountain West action Saturday at Bulldog Stadium. “From what I’ve seen, they’re not bad pass-blockers. But if they’ve got a tendency of giving up sacks, we’ve got to see those plays and finish those plays, make things happen. Anytime you hit the quarterback and bring him down, that helps energize the team.”
Wyoming has given up 15 sacks during its four-game losing streak.
The problem for Fresno State, though, is that the way opposing offenses have performed in previous games rarely has translated to what they’ve done against the Bulldogs.
During the Bulldogs’ current two-game slide, for example, UNLV and Boise State committed just one turnover each after both entered their matchups with Fresno State among the most turnover-prone teams in the nation. Fresno State missed multiple opportunities to come up with more turnovers, particularly with dropped interceptions. Will the Bulldogs miss chances at sacks, too?
Part of the reason for Fresno State’s dip in sacks is that the Bulldogs aren’t leading games as often and forcing opponents into a lot of passing situations. Fresno State opponents averaged 35.62 passes per game last year compared to 28.25 this season. But production also has dropped off.
Outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine has just one sack after amassing a team-high 10 last year. The safety duo of Derron Smith and Charles Washington blitzed plenty last year and combined for six sacks, but they have provided just a 1/2 sack together this season. The Bulldogs got six sacks from their ends a year ago but have just two this season from those positions.
To address some of the production issues, Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said true freshman Justin Green would get more reps this week as a third-down edge rusher. The Bulldogs obviously haven’t been happy with their pass rush this year. Sacks are down by about one per game, while quarterback hurries also have dropped. Green, a 6-foot-3, 183-pound outside linebacker, saw his first action against UNLV.
“We wanted to redshirt him this year, but we weren’t getting the edge pass rush that we were hoping for,” DeRuyter said. “You keep watching practice tape and it’s, ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy?’ He’s been a blur off the edge. And so last week, he played a couple of snaps and made a play just through sheer determination.
“Obviously, we want him to be heavier. But we think we can get something out of him this year and that’s why we decided to take the redshirt off of him and get him some reps. He’s definitely a speed rusher. Eventually, we’ll get him to be a speed to power guy. But he’s a heck of a speed rusher right now.”
Though Wyoming has given up a lot of sacks, the Cowboys still prefer to run, often lining up the old-school way with a fullback in the backfield to provide a lead block. The Cowboys are averaging 35.25 carries compared to 29.25 pass attempts per game.
Wyoming has shown a tendency to throw -- and struggle to complete the pass -- on third down. The Cowboys have converted just 45 of 120 third-down attempts for a 37.5% success rate, 91st in the nation. During Wyoming’s most recent game, a 45-31 loss last week at Colorado State, the Cowboys attempted seven pass plays on 15 third-down attempts. The Cowboys picked up the first down just twice; they were sacked once, threw incompletions twice and completed a pass short of the first down twice.
“Wyoming is going to be a physical game,” Bulldogs inside linebacker Kyrie Wilson said. “They’re going to come at you, and you’ve got to be ready and can’t back down. We’re ready to be physical with them. We want to get to the quarterback, get some sacks and spark the team like we’re used to doing.”