The Fresno State football team ran some live situational periods in practice Tuesday, with the offense rebounding from some rough work in the red zone to win the next two sessions working second and third downs and then coming out from the end zone when backed up at its own 1-yard line.
The offense converted 5 of 9 third-down plays into first downs -- with quarterbacks Kilton Anderson, Chason Virgil and Zach Greenlee going 1 of 3, 1 of 3 and 3 of 3 -- and that easily could have been 7 of 9. Anderson had a pass dropped by Aaron Peck open over the middle of the field and Virgil had a pass dropped by Justin Allen when open for what would have been a first down.
In that period, redshirt freshman wide out KeeSean Johnson made a nice play, catching a short pass from Anderson, ducking a tackle by cornerback Malcolm Washington and taking off for a big gain. Allen bounced back and scored on a 74-yard pass from Greenlee.
The defense had shut down the offense in red zone, limiting it to two field-goal attempts (both missed) and one touchdown (Virgil to Jamire Jordan). But it got away after that.
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"We talked to them at the end of practice about consistency," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "We did some good things in the red zone period on defense, getting some stops, making them kick. But we go into the third down and we give up some big plays. We've done that in a couple of scrimmages now and we've got to tackle better and a lot of it has to do with vision and taking proper angles to the ball.
"We can't be a good defense playing 90% and 10% being big plays. That's obviously something we have to work on and continue to reinforce with our players that you have to be a consistent guy every down because on defense, if a couple of guys let up and the officials end up raising their hands."
RB Chris Moliga continues to work
With running backs Marteze Waller and Malique Micenheimer out of live periods this spring, Chris Moliga is getting a lot of opportunities to work on blitz pickup and that part of it remains a work in progress for the redshirt freshman as well as walk-on backs James Noble III and DeJonte O'Neal.
"We were a little dicey when they started changing fronts, because our defense is a multiple front so they throw a lot of different fronts at us and they'll move from an even to an odd front or an odd to an even and obviously that changes the number of linebackers that we're responsible for picking up," running backs coach Ron Antoine said.
"(Moliga) got better today. You can see some lights come on a little bit as far as the fronts and which linebackers he has and being able to pick up a secondary blitz. You could see it starting to improve.
"It's really just ID'ing. When you get over there late, you're off balance and the defense has all the advantage. One time, that's what happened to him. He's trying to figure out who he has and he thinks that it's one guy, but it's the next guy and he's running across and then that guy is in your face and, bang, he knocks you down. That's part of the reason why it takes an offensive lineman to play - you have to identify defenses, and you have to be physical at the point of attack or the guy is going to knock you on your butt. The same thing is going to happen at running back in pass protection. You can play a running back early if you're just going to let him run the ball. But when he has to protect, he has to be physical at the point of contact and know what he's doing."
* The defense had two big sacks in the red zone period, the first by Will linebacker Xavier Ulutu on Greenlee led to a missed field goal and the second by free safety Stratton Brown on Virgil set up a third-and-long that was not converted.
* The inside linebacker spots have not been particularly deep the past few seasons, but it is much better now with Kyrie Wilson, Ulutu, Jeff Camilli, Michael Lazarus, Robert Stanley and Jaamal Rose in the mix and it will get better in the fall. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth said he got a video the other day of incoming freshman Nela Otukolo from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High hitting 365 pounds on the bench press. "I don't think strength is going to be an issue," Toth said. "He's going to be a lot like (Ulutu) when he came in and Michael Lazarus, where you go, 'Wow, he's a physically developed guy.' You're not going to have that as a lag point. It's not going to be something that keeps him from playing."
* During the second- and third-down live period, all three running backs had some strong runs. Moliga, who was moved this spring to running back from outside linebacker, broke a couple of tackles when gaining 14 yards and a first down on a 3rd-and-7 play. "The beginning of spring, he was running with his chest out and getting hit and knocked sideways or backward," Antoine said. "Today, you saw him finish runs going forward, shoulders down, those things and that comes from carrying the ball and getting hit in the teeth a couple of times to teach you a lesson that you probably should get your shoulders down and deliver the blow. It's better to give than receive."
* In the final live period, the offense needing a first down from its 1-yard line and the defense needing a stop and a punt, the units split the first two on runs by Anderson and Greenlee. The offense took the third (and forced the defense to do some extra running) when Virgil hit Peck on the sideline for a first down, the receiver wrestling the ball away from cornerback Jamal Ellis.