The Fresno State defense -- and particularly its secondary -- has been in a fluid state since the season opener, when the unit gave up 701 yards of offense at USC, including seven explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards.
Bryan Harper started at one cornerback spot in that game and three games into the season was replaced by Charles Washington for two games, then Jamal Ellis started four and now freshman Malcolm Washington has been there for the past two. On the other side of the field, Curtis Riley started the first four games, was replaced by Malcolm Washington and then was back in the starting lineup for the next four games before Charles Washington took over against San Jose State.
At strong safety, the Bulldogs have had three starters: Charles Washington, Shannon Edwards and Dalen Jones.
But heading to Nevada on Saturday for a game that in all likelihood will determine the winner of the Western Division in the Mountain West Conference, the Bulldogs seemed to have settled in a bit.
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Coach Tim DeRuyter had to crack a smile at that. "I think we might have the same lineup two weeks in a row," he joked.
Coming out of a 38-24 victory over San Jose State and a bye that gave the Bulldogs a chance to examine where they were as a defense, they will have the same four starters with Charles Washington and Malcolm Washington at the corners, Derron Smith at free safety and Jones at strong safety.
"I think any time you're effective on defense you have guys next to you that you're used to having there," DeRuyter said. "Hopefully we've got it right this time. You're always one injury away from somebody else being in there, but I thought our guys played with some energy (against San Jose State) because of the fact that they have confidence in the guys around them and guys are playing with energy. If you can do that, you have a chance to play good defense.
"When you start doubting guys, it starts falling apart because you're not only worried about doing your job you're worried about doing someone else's."
The Bulldogs did have some breakdowns in the victory over the Spartans. San Jose State scored on a 51-yard run and on an 86-yard pass and had a 36-yard gain on a pass play. But on its other 64 plays in that game, San Jose State generated only 263 yards, 4.1 yards per play. Fresno State picked off two passes and it flew around the field better than it had in weeks, getting more tacklers to the football.
It took a while, but the Bulldogs might have put those pieces in the right places.
"You have to go through those iterations sometimes and actually put guys out on the field and see how they perform with the lights on," DeRuyter said. "Some guys can handle it and other guys aren't quite ready. Sometimes it's painful to watch and go through until you get to that mix. You're always leery of playing young guys because you just haven't seen it yet and as talented as those young guys are, they're going to do some good and some bad things. It's part of the learning process.
"But I think our guys realize that when you play with energy and you get multiple guys to the ball you can play pretty good defense. Good things happen. The ball is on the ground, you have multiple guys around it. When you're doubting yourself and you're not sure of your assignment, it's hard to play with a lot of energy and confidence. So Week 11, I hope out guys are starting to play with that confidence."
Injured RB Waller gets reps in practice
Running back Marteze Waller, who injured his shoulder late in the second quarter of the Bulldogs' victory over San Jose State before the bye week, was able to take reps in parts of practice.
His status for Nevada on Saturday will be determined at game time.
Waller has rushed for more than 100 yards in four games in a row and six of seven and already has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark this season, the 21st in school history. He has 1,086 yards and at 6.6 yards per play is ranked 12th in the bowl subdivision.
Around practice ...
• Senior tight end Jerin McClendon, who has been practicing with the scout team, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
• Running back Dontel James, who has been trying to work his way back from a foot injury suffered in the opening loss at USC, was able to take part in individual drills. Because the redshirt freshman back had a setback after two practice days two weeks ago, the Bulldogs are bringing him back slowly. He is not expected to play in the final two games of the regular season season.
• Dillon Root, who was recruited to Fresno State as a running back before switching positions and sides of the ball several times, is taking some reps at running back to add some depth to the position group.
Fresno State also has lost Malique MIcenheimer (shoulder) and Kurt Scoby (concussion) this season, as well as James.
"He has an interesting skill set," DeRuyter said of Root, who had been playing as a slot receiver. "He's a little on the slight side, so we thought he would fit better at slot. But watching him in practice carry the ball some he's got some shiftiness to him. I think having the ability to move him one place or the other is going to help us."
• Nevada had a streak of 22 consecutive games with at least one turnover forced come to an end in a loss at the Air Force. It was the third longest active streak in the nation.