In grading game performance, Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has his assistant coaches go over every play of every football game, watching every player in his position group.
The staff grades technique, effort and production. Add them all up and there you have it – and at Ole Miss last week not too many of the Bulldogs got a report card worth taking home and taping to the refrigerator.
But Nathan Madsen did.
The rookie nose guard, who moved inside from defensive end in the spring and is in the spot held down so well the past three seasons by Tyeler Davison (now with the New Orleans Saints), played his technique and took on double teams from offensive linemen with SEC size, strength and skill – and stood up to it well.
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“Nate surfaced all day,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “He made it pretty clear where the fit was for the linebackers and the people behind him.”
And as Fresno State works its way toward Mountain West Conference play at 1-1 with No. 21 Utah coming to Bulldog Stadium on Saturday, the third-year sophomore is answering affirmatively to one of the most pressing questions coming into the season.
Madsen along with ends Todd Hunt and Claudell Louis, both seniors, have held up physically, with Madsen making the biggest leap moving inside to nose.
“Practices, camp, all that stuff like that, when it comes to a game it’s a completely different ball game,” Madsen said. “I was anxious to see how that was. The first game, ACU, I played and I played a pretty decent game. It really grew on me so I was very comfortable playing there, especially going to Ole Miss, that being my second game at nose. I was pretty happy with the way I handled it.
“As the season goes on, my confidence is going to grow a little more, getting more games under my belt. I’m going to be able to handle different types of things, going up against many varieties of O-linemen. I think every game I’m going to get more tools, be able to do different moves, get a feel for what I really can do great and what I need to work on.”
There is plenty to come, but the Bulldogs defensive staff likes where Madsen is emerging as a presence after coming in three years ago as a 260-pound end out of Eureka High. Madsen goes about 285 now, with room to grow over the next two seasons.
“Nate is ahead of our expectations for him,” DeRuyter said. “I think playing last year and getting his nose bloodied at times kind of fueled him in the offseason and even though he moved positions, he’s in there in the fight and he’s keeping his pads down and doing good things.”
The production, Toth said, will follow. Madsen, who played in all 14 games with four starts at the end of last season, has been credited with two tackles over the first two games.
“The first week it was what it was, but this last week it was against a real dude and he played pretty well,” Toth said. “But it’s one thing to fit well. You want to fit well and be a factor and get on the stat sheet. I like him eating blocks, but I want him to split blocks and make plays. That development – that thing that Tyeler had, that he developed – that’s the next step for him. I don’t want him to think he has to be Tyeler, but there are some plays that he can be making as he keeps growing and developing there.
“As he keeps getting better, I have to cut him loose a little bit more, too. We’ve intentionally geared it back because we can’t demand him to be a junior or a senior yet. Fundamentally and technique-wise, he’s just not there yet. But there are some things we can do to help him as he continues to progress.”
Playing well at Ole Miss – against a fourth-year junior center, a fifth-year senior right guard that carries 347 pounds and was logging a 28th consecutive start, and a 307-pound freshman at left guard – could help propel Madsen forward as well into another tough matchup against Utah and then into conference play.
“Every game, you just have to expect they’re going to be the best O-line you’re going to face,” Madsen said. “You have to expect that they’re going to be faster, quicker, than anything you’ve ever seen. But they were a great O-line. There were some big guys out there. It was great to play against big guys like that at a SEC school that plays Alabama and all those teams.
“I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to assume that’s going to be a really good O-line, the best we’ll face all year. So going into that game and facing those double teams, I think I handled them pretty good and I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to handle them better down the line.”
FRESNO STATE VS. NO. 21 UTAH
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Utes 2-0
Of note: Fresno State is 3-0 all-time against Utah when playing the Utes at home. This is the first meeting between the two schools in Fresno since 1997.