There was a key block on the edge, and another a handful of yards downfield just as Marteze Waller was running through a tackle. There, with space to his left, the Fresno State running back used his quickness to defuse the geometry working against him and avoid the free safety coming down on a good angle, set to make a tackle.
Then, he was gone.
Waller outran that safety and the cornerback closing from the other side of the field. He blasted his way into the end zone on that comic book blue turf at Boise State, going 76 yards for a touchdown, the longest rushing play allowed in more than two seasons by a defense that habitually has been at or near the top of the Mountain West Conference in rushing defense.
It was an eye-popping run, given the burst and the top-end speed.
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And the Bulldogs think they will see a lot more of it this fall, with Waller doing everything he could over the summer to improve explosiveness and speed.
Burst work, speed work, footwork, weight work, work on his running mechanics. He even tried a little yoga.
“I think he’s a guy that’s going to take another step this year, just seeing how he has worked during the offseason and seeing how explosive he is out here,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
35 and 1010-yard-plus and 20-yard-plus runs for Fresno State’s Marteze Waller in 2014
Waller was a different back in 2014 than he was in ’13 and ’12 – and he clearly has taken another step forward when the Bulldogs are going through team periods in fall camp.
He is quicker to the hole, through it and once past it.
“His first two years he was always a physical back, but he had a top end of about 20 to 30 yards and was going to get caught,” DeRuyter said. “Last year, he had a different burst. He had a leaner body and a bigger body, and you saw him running away from people.
“Now, you’ve got a guy who not only can make guys miss because he’s physically running through tackles, but then run away. That gives you a different gear.”
The Bulldogs did not put a clock on anything this summer, but the senior running back can feel a difference.
“I can just tell, competing, that I’m faster,” he said. “It feels good.”
That burst could be the difference for Waller in going from a good running back to a very good running back on a national level. After producing 20 rushing plays of 10 or more yards and four of 20 or more yards as a sophomore, Waller had 35 and 10 last season.
Among the top 25 rushers in the bowl subdivision, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who led the nation with 184.8 yards per game, had 60 rushing plays of 10 or more yards and 35 of 20 or more yards. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, who was eighth, had 48 and 20. Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, who was 10th, had 47 and 20. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, the leading rusher in the Mountain West Conference with 144.1 yards per game, had 52 and 16.
6.1 Average yards per carry for Marteze Waller in 2014 when he had 1,368 for the season
That is the company Waller is expected to keep coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,368 yards at 6.1 yards per play – the best mark for the top rusher at Fresno State since Ryan Mathews averaged 6.6 yards per play in rushing for 1,808 yards in 2009 – and a strong summer.
“Marteze is a guy that says, ‘Hey, coach, I want to get a little extra work in,’” strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese said. “He’s very consistent about coming in and doing the extra flexibility, the mechanics stuff, and I think we’re starting to see it.
“We started to see it a little last year in his speed. Some of those long runs that two years before he wasn’t breaking like that, all of a sudden now, last year, he hits the open field and guys are going, ‘Wow, he got a step faster.’ And that is 100 percent because of Marteze Waller.”
The clock on that, and what it will add to a Bulldogs offense with more explosiveness than a year ago, will start Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian.
With those runs that are 10 yards, you challenge a guy like Marteze: ‘Can you make that a home run? It’s you and a safety – can you finish the deal and go all the way to the house?’ He did that some last year; we just want to see it a little more often.
Fresno State running backs coach Ron Antoine
“Believe it or not, I think he’s faster than he was last year when he ran down the sideline against one of the better teams in our conference and outran some guys who people would think are as fast or faster because they’re in the secondary,” running backs coach Ron Antoine said.
“He’s finishing runs, getting the shoulders low, always finishing in a dominant position, which is tough because sometimes somebody is grabbing your leg and someone hits you up high and you fall backward or sideways. With those runs that are 10 yards, you challenge a guy like Marteze: ‘Can you make that a home run? It’s you and a safety – can you finish the deal and go all the way to the house?’ He did that some last year; we just want to see it a little more often.
“That would make a big difference. That’s moving up to being a 1,700-yard back with a few more of those runs. You stack up about five to 10 of those, and those are huge plays.”
’Dogs in camp
Camp highlights leading up to the Sept. 3 season opener against Abilene Christian at Bulldog Stadium:
- Thursday, Aug. 13: Practice No. 10, 6-8 p.m. (scrimmage No. 1; only practice open to the public)
- Thursday, Aug. 20: Practice No. 18 (scrimmage No. 2)
- Monday, Aug. 24: Practice No. 21 (scrimmage No. 3)
- Wednesday, Sept. 2: Practice No. 29 (pregame walkthrough)
Most rushing plays of 20 or more yards in 2014 among top 35 rushers in the bowl subdivision:
- 1: Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) 35
- 2: Kareem Hunt (Toledo) 20
- Samaje Perine (Oklahoma) 20
- 4: Tevin Coleman (Toledo) 19
- Devon Johnson (Marshall) 19
- Duke Johnson (Miami) 19
- 7: Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) 18
- Nick Chubb (Georgia) 18
- 9: Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego St) 16
- Matt Breida (Georgia Southern) 16
- 11: Marteze Waller (Fresno St) 14*
*Waller tied with two others