The topic was pass rush and how Fresno State didn't have much of it in its loss to Wyoming. The Cowboys had allowed 31 sacks, most in the Mountain West Conference going in. But the Bulldogs got minimal pressure on quarterback Colby Kirkegaard, who hit a career-high 67.9% of his passes with a career-high passing efficiency rating of 187.43 and a career-high 11.4 yards per attempt.
But when it turned to how Wyoming blocked it, using max protect at times to counter the Bulldogs' pass rush and blitzes, defensive coordinator Nick Toth just shook his head.
"We have to answer it," he said. "That's an excuse. We have to do better."
And they likely will have to do that soon because San Jose State last season was among the teams that blocked six and seven to counter the Fresno State pass rush and blitzes, passing for 577 yards in a 62-52 victory that ended the Bulldogs' run at an undefeated season. Rutgers did it as well. USC did it some in the Las Vegas Bowl. They kept a tight end or a back or both in to protect, put three or maybe four into a route and let those wide outs try to win outside against the Bulldogs' secondary.
It is something Fresno State has seen more and more of this season.
"We're getting max protection. We're getting protection specific to us because people don't want to block you," Toth said. "We're getting three-man routes instead of four- and five-man routes, and it is what it is. That's going to be the result of what our defense is and more than ever, this year, we've seen that more than the last two years. People don't want to mess with pressure.
"When we blitzed the other night, Jeff Camilli knocked that quarterback down. We got home a little bit. But for the most part, they weren't going to let us do it. And that is like the third opponent in a row. UNLV started it and put it on film. They just said, 'Hey, we're not going to mess with it.' Then the people after that, Boise saw it and they did the same thing, and now it's a couple of weeks in a row and you're getting, 'Hey, it's there two weeks in a row, why don't we do it?' "
And, on Saturday, the Bulldogs match up again against the Spartans. The expectation is they will see it at least some of the time from San Jose State, which is ranked third in the conference in passing offense and fourth in total offense, averaging 273.6 and 419.1 yards per game.
"We'll see it for the rest of the deal," Toth said. "It's going to be a part of everyone's game plan. We have to have better answers for it and we have to go. There still are one-on-ones there. There's a one-on-one somewhere. We have to cover enough that we're able to split doubles, you have to twist enough that you're able to throw them off. You can respond to that. We're not the only team in the country seeing that. We just have to do a better job. Coaching it, preparing them for it, getting the right guys on the field for it and executing against it. That's it."
Freshman in linebacker competition
Senior Karl Mickelsen and freshman Xavier Ulutu are competing in practice this week to start at the Mike linebacker. If Ulutu ends with the starting assignment, he will be third true freshman to start a game for the Bulldogs this season, joining cornerback Malcolm Washington and tight end Chad Olsen.
The Bulldogs have played eight true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen this season among 21 players who played their first games at this level.