Fresno State’s first-team defense did not rest much in practice during this week’s bye, and maybe that’s a good thing.
It’s certainly a different approach compared to how the Bulldogs handled their previous bye week.
Amid a heavy week of recruiting that will take the entire Fresno State coaching staff on the road, defensive coordinator Nick Toth has spent much of the bye preparing and implementing a game plan for the Nov. 22 contest at Nevada. The game will help determine if the Bulldogs (4-6, 3-3) qualify for a bowl and if they will return to the Mountain West conference championship.
“Our game plan against Nevada is going to be tweaked over two weeks,” Toth said. “We got on the field Tuesday and we were doing stuff to compete against Nevada that day, had the guys preparing Wednesday and Thursday, too. So we’re gaining three days against Nevada.
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“We’re still going to recruit and do that hardcore, but we’re getting ready for Nevada, too. We want to have a good plan and make sure the guys understand their assignments.”
During Fresno State’s previous bye, the week of Oct. 18-25, many of the defensive starters sat out of practice to heal and otherwise rest with the Bulldogs having played played eight straight weeks at that point.
The healing part might have worked but the defense took quite a beating the following week, as Wyoming piled on 694 total yards and thumped Fresno State 45-17. It was the Bulldogs’ most head-scratching performance of the season, if not during all of coach Tim DeRuyter’s two-plus seasons.
“Three weeks ago, we were a little more banged up,” Toth said. “We hadn’t had any rest. We needed that rest. But then it bit us. We did not look like we were prepared for that Wyoming game. Our 1’s have gotten a lot more work this week than they did the last bye. I think that mainly has to do with the health and wear and tear.
“You’d like to have an off week earlier in the year. Eight straight games, that’s a long time. But you like the timing of this second bye because it helps because you’re in a championship hunt. Those off weeks for growth are big. If you’re using them to heal, the guys you’ve trying to get better aren’t practicing. I feel like we’re getting more out of this one.”
While Fresno State enjoys intermittent breaks this week — the Bulldogs practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before getting Friday, Saturday and Sunday off — Nevada (6-3, 3-2) prepares for its Saturday game at Air Force (7-2, 3-2).
Fresno State, which hosts Hawaii (2-8, 1-4) after playing Nevada, must win its final two regular-season games to become bowl eligible. The formula for getting back to the conference championship game relies on a little help.
San Diego State (5-4, 3-2) must lose one of its final three games to open the door to Fresno State repeating as West Division champ. That guarantees a spot in the title game as well as a bowl bid under conference postseason guidelines. San Diego State plays at Boise State (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday, followed by home games against Air Force and San Jose State (3-6, 2-3).
“Our guys know we’ve got a two-game season,” DeRuyter said. “As I reminded them the other day, we’re in the playoffs. Win and you advance. Lose and you’re out.
“This week, as I mentioned to them, it’s about getting our bodies ready. It’s about getting some rest and really having that focus on Nevada. Because that’s the Super Bowl to us right now.”
Fresno State’s defense has been in disarray for much of this season, ranking 114th nationally in total yards allowed per game (491.1), 111th in rushing defense (220.8), and No. 108 in passing defense (270.3) and points allowed (35.5).
But the Bulldogs are coming off one of their better defensive outings, forcing three turnovers in a 38-24 win against San Jose State.
Fresno State is 3-1 when forcing at least two turnovers. Nevada, however, has been one of the best teams in the country at minimizing turnovers, tied for No. 11 nationally and atop the Mountain West with nine turnovers lost (eight interceptions, one fumble).
“The game has become such that yardage is pretty immaterial nowadays,” Toth said. “It’s all about keeping them out of the end zone, getting stops on third downs and getting takeaways. We’ve been so inconsistent with all those factors. We’re getting a lot of third-and-mediums and third-and-longs and not winning them. But the one thing you notice is takeaways are really the difference. We had three the other night and that was the difference in the game.
“Those turnovers make up for a lot of different things. We got to keep responding and keep trying to get those turnovers.”