As Fresno State gears up for its regular-season finale with a Mountain West divisional title at stake, the Bulldogs could have a healthy, motivated and even “mad” Marteze Waller back.
The Bulldogs running back on Monday said he believes he will play Saturday when Fresno State hosts Hawaii. Waller added he could’ve played more in the 40-20 victory at Nevada where he took a shot to his helmet midway through the first quarter that prompted trainers and coaches to sit him the remainder of the game.
“I think after a few minutes, I could’ve played more,” Waller said. “I’m feeling better since Saturday. There’s a good chance I’ll play Saturday. I’ll start back up in practice this week and see how it goes. It’s up the trainers and doctors.”
Waller ranks 22nd in the nation with 1,132 rushing yards and 12th with an average of 6.7 yards per carry. But the 5-foot-11, 209-pound junior has missed the majority of the past two games because of injuries.
Waller suffered a shoulder injury during Fresno State’s 38-24 victory against San Jose State on Nov. 8. And though he recovered in time to start last week at Nevada, Waller was in for only two drives before leaving with 7:46 left in the first quarter. Waller on the play broke loose for a 21-yard run and as he neared the Bulldogs’ sideline lowered his head as 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker Bryan Lane Jr. approached with his head lowered also. The two collided helmet-to-helmet.
“I was mad to tell you the truth,” Waller said. “It was helmet-to-helmet. But it is football. ... As a running back, I was just trying to stay in bounds. But that’s my fault. I probably could’ve just stepped out of bounds, avoided the whole thing.”
“We’ve got a big game. It’s going to determine who wins the West (Division). I want to play.”
Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter confirmed Waller would practice this week and cited feedback from the team’s medical staff.
“Everything looks good with Marteze,” DeRuyter said. “He’ll practice (Monday); we’re only going out in helmets. But he’ll be ready to go all week. ... If he’s ready to go, he’ll probably get the majority of the reps.”
After beginning the season with three straight losses and later losing another three in a row during the middle of Mountain West play, Fresno State (5-6, 4-3) with a victory against Hawaii (4-8, 3-4) would lock up their division and advance to the conference championship — and secure a bowl bid as well.
The run game has helped drive the Bulldogs, who are 4-0 when gaining 200-plus rushing yards in a game.
Hawaii ranks 74th in rushing defense, allowing 172.4 yards per game. The Warriors, though, have done a better job defending during their current two-game win streak, holding UNLV to 51 yards on 26 carries in a 37-35 victory last week and limiting San Jose State to 157 rushing yards on 41 attempts.
During Waller’s absence the past two games, senior Josh Quezada ran for 119 yards and caught seven passes for 58 yards against Nevada and rushed for 117 yards with three catches for 33 yards against San Jose State.
“That’s why you’ve got to have a couple of backs that you can really depend on,” DeRuyter said. “We really like the fact that Juice as a senior didn’t get down on himself that he wasn’t starting. He kept working and then when needed, when he had to carry the load with Marteze out, we really didn’t skip a beat.
“The throw game, he (Quezada) really gives us something with his protections. And then those check downs, he got some really important first downs for us. Really, really pleased with the progress Juice has made.”
Even with a loss Saturday, the Bulldogs can still win the division, though they’d need help.
For that scenario to unfold, San Diego State would have to lose to San Jose State and Nevada would need to beat UNLV. That would create a four-way tie atop the West amongst Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and San Diego State. But the Bulldogs would advance to the Mountain West title game based on tiebreakers.
A loss, though, would leave the Bulldogs one win short of six — the regular-season requirement to be bowl eligible (a win the conference championship would not count toward postseason eligibility).
“We’re just focused on winning against Hawaii,” senior offensive lineman Cody Wichmman said. “We’re not thinking about any other outcomes. We’re already fortunate to be in the position we’re at.”