Fresno State free safety Derron Smith watched the tape of the Bulldogs' 45-17 loss to Wyoming, which could not have been much fun. But the football team's defensive captain came away convinced that the issues in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys racked up 173 of their 374 rushing yards and 239 of their 694 yards in total, were from poor run fits and poor tackling -- not a lack of effort.
But the answer to the why and how remains out there and elusive. Nine games into the season, a defense with eight returning starters is ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West Conference in total defense at 497.2 yards per game and last in scoring defense at 36.8 points per game.
Last season, the Bulldogs allowed 430.5 yards and 30.3 points per game.
They have to try to find a way to play through that with three games remaining and, with San Diego State losing last week at Nevada, the same shot at winning the West Division of the conference as they had one week ago still out there. Every team in the division has at least two league losses.
"You just have to keep fighting, and we have to stick together," Smith said. "When everything is going good, it's easy. When things start going bad, that's when you show your true character. We just have to lock arms, stick together, and if guys aren't bought-in, then we'll move on without them. That's what our coaches have told us and I hope that they stick to it.
"As a leader and a captain, with our other leaders and captains, we're going to hold each other accountable. If they're not up to it and they're not sticking together trying to win these last couple of games, if they're giving in and throwing the season down the drain, then we'll move on without them."
Smith said he had not addressed that with the defense, but said that coach Tim DeRuyter and the Bulldogs' staff had made that perfectly clear in meetings.
"Everybody knows and everybody understands it," Smith said. "Come practice (Tuesday) and the rest of the week we'll find out who is with it and who we might have to move on without. I hope we don't have to move on without anybody but if they're not onboard trying to get better and right the ship and get this going in these last three games we have no choice."
Changes on the depth chart coming?
Fresno State went through a brief, hour-long practice on Monday, going through some game plan for a matchup this week against San Jose State. But when the Bulldogs get on the field on Tuesday, some positions on the defensive side of the football will be open for business and not as usual.
DeRuyter and his staff have used an "or" liberally this season on the depth chart, but not at the defensive end position where starter Todd Hunt is now listed along with Claudell Louis and not at the Mike linebacker where starter Karl Mickelsen is listed along with Xavier Ulutu.
Charles Washington again is listed at strong safety as well as cornerback, along with Curtis Riley. At the other corner, it is Jamal Ellis or Malcolm Washington.
"We're not going to standstill and not look at how we coach things and guys, whether they're going to be productive or not," DeRuyter said. "It has to be competitive all the time. Sometimes guys are young and maybe not ready, but they're going to get their opportunity. We'll have to throw them out there in the deep water and see if they can swim. If they can be more productive, that's who we go with.
"In our front, in our linebacker corps and in our back end we have some holes that aren't being as productive as we need them to be, so we're going to look for guys to get our best 11 out there."
RB Waller nearing 1,000
Running back Marteze Waller is just 59 yards shy of putting together the 21st 1,000-yard season in Fresno State history. He has rushed for 941 yards through nine games, and only six of the Bulldogs' 1,000-yard backs had more at this point in a season.
Ryan Mathews had 1,469 yards through nine games in 2009 on his way to 1,808. Ron Rivers had 1,116 in 1993 on his way to 1,477. Robbie Rouse had 1,080 in 2011, finishing with 1,549. Aaron Craver had 1,061 in 1989, ending up with 1,313. Rouse had 999 of his 1,490 yards in 2012. And Craver had 947 yards through nine games in 1990, finishing with 1,003.
Too many late points
Wyoming scored 24 of its 45 points in the fourth quarter. The last time Fresno State allowed more points in a single quarter was 2008 against a Boise State team ranked No. 8.
Leading just 13-10, the Broncos scored 28 points in the third quarter and cruised to a 61-10 victory.