With Fresno State’s season in danger of flat-lining, coach Tim DeRuyter has turned to redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee to try to revitalize the Bulldogs down the final stretch.
Greenlee does not come off as super energetic. He doesn’t go up and down the sideline hollering and hooting. He doesn’t even seem that vocal. Teammates mostly describe Greenlee as mellow.
But what the 6-foot-1, 200-pound freshman does bring is a fresh start, which is exactly what DeRuyter wants for the whole team as the Bulldogs make a final push to become bowl eligible and keep their Mountain West championship hopes alive. Fresno State (3-5, 2-2), which is coming off a bye last week following two straight emotional defeats, hosts Wyoming (3-5, 1-3) at 7:45 p.m. Saturday with Greenlee set to make his starting debut.
“We’ve got three home games in the month of November,” DeRuyter said. “If we can get on a run here -- and it starts with this first one -- I think we can have a really exciting November. And hopefully we can get our entire Valley to rally around Zack and get this thing going.
“I know just having him in the huddle last week, there was a little bit different bounce in our guys’ step. We’ve got to capitalize on that.”
The Bulldogs seemed somewhat deflated entering this week, still mulling over a loss that probably shouldn’t have happened (a 30-27 overtime defeat at UNLV) and a win that slipped away (a 37-27 loss at Boise State after the teams were tied going into the fourth).
Fresno State must win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible, though it might take winning out to secure a postseason bid. Last season, San Jose State didn’t receive a bowl bid after going 6-6. The Bulldogs also have an outside chance to win the West Division of the Mountain West and land in the conference title game, though they’ll need some help with San Diego State (4-3, 3-1) atop the division.
“Mentally, emotionally, physically, it hurt, especially that Boise game,” senior linebacker Karl Mickelsen said. “It’s your last year, your last shot. You only get so many chances. So the bye was good to get over that. We’ve got four more left and we’ve got to move forward, stay strong, stay positive, stay together.
“We still have our goals out there. We’re attacking it with full force. But for us, it’s got to be just one week at a time, being ready for only what’s in front of us and not looking ahead.”
Coaches and teammates said they believe Greenlee is up to the challenge of leading the team toward a run at a bowl. And while Greenlee gives the coaches a glimpse into the future, DeRuyter was adamant about not thinking beyond this season.
A three-star recruit out of Lincoln High-Stockton, Greenlee has played in one quarter of one game this season, completing 4 of 7 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown during a 56-16 win against Southern Utah. During his final high school season, he threw passed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns with two interceptions.
Josh Harper said while Greenlee has become more aware of the Bulldogs’ offense, the senior receiver said he’s noticed something else as well: “Zack’s matured and progressed a lot over this past year here. I feel like he’s becoming more a leader.”
The Bulldogs will be counting on Greenlee to provide more consistency than what they received from junior quarterback Brian Burrell, who started the first eight games. In the past four games in which Burrell was the primary quarterback, he completed 79 of 136 passes (58%) for 894 yards (223.5 per game) with seven touchdowns to five interceptions. He also was sacked 12 times and lost two of three fumbles.
DeRuyter said the Bulldogs won’t modify their no-huddle spread offense for Greenlee. In fact, his ability to make quick throws and accurate passes might allow Fresno State to run its offense more similarly to how the Bulldogs operated last season: more quick passes to the perimeter and downfield throws and less zone-read quarterback runs.
“We anticipate doing everything that we normally do,” DeRuyter said. “We have game-plan tweaks week to week. But we’re going to run our offense.
“I think our players gravitate toward him because they see the talent in him. He’s not a particularly vocal guy. But he knows what he’s doing. A guy who will go out and perform, guys want to follow.”