Fresno State has had some success rushing the football against Power Five Conference teams over the past few years, generating 4.8 yards per play last season at USC and 4.3 yards per play this season against Utah, as two examples.
But in a loss at San Jose State in the Bulldogs’ Mountain West opener, they didn’t get a ton done on the ground, this against a defense that went into the game ranked last in the conference in rushing defense, and also something of a surprise. The Spartans in their first three games had been ripped up, allowing an average of 285.7 rushing yards.
The Bulldogs, they had just 88 rushing yards on 29 plays. Some of that is a numbers game – the Spartans started dropping an extra defender into the box to thwart the running game, taking their chances against the pass and inexperienced quarterbacks Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson.
But they also did not do well sustaining or finishing blocks, which had them searching a bit Monday as they started preparation for San Diego State.
“I thought we had a better chance to run the ball, but we got beat up physically, and I don’t know many times that has happened,” offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said.
“I don’t know what it was, we just didn’t come out well. Now, in the second half, I thought we played a lot more physical and it comes down to kind of what we were running, too. But in the first half we called just straight inside zone and we weren’t getting it done. We have to find a way to do that and this week it doesn’t get any easier with what San Diego State does on defense.”
The issues in the first half are something that has cropped up in all four games, though the numbers by half are fairly similar, the Bulldogs averaging 3.9 yards per play in the first half, 4.1 in the second.
“We weren’t doing a good job maintaining blocks,” Norcross said. “Across the front we need to finish blocks better with our feet. Right now we’re being really lazy with our feet. Initial get-off is good, eye placement is good, but it’s just finishing blocks. There were a few times where they just kicked our tail to get off the block, and we just stopped our feet. Some of the big runs, those were the times that we don’t, where we’re running our feet and giving Marteze (Waller) a chance. You give him a little crease, he hits it, and we’re going to be a lot better. We have to fix that.”
Staying in the moment – Quarterback Zack Greenlee was suspended for the conference opener at San Jose State after he was arrested for suspicion of public drunkenness and drinking in public, but the Bulldogs did not have him take a peek ahead at the Aztecs and the perplexing 3-3-5 defense that they run.
Two reasons, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said.
“There was no guarantee that he was going to be the guy this week, at this time last week. If Ford went in and lit it up and had a great game and all that stuff, then we’d have some thinking to do,” he said. “And Zack, more than anything else, he needed to understand that being out here and being around the team and being at the game and all that stuff, that has got to hurt and it did.
“I didn’t want any of that to take away from understanding No. 1 the importance of that game that week, No. 2 how he was removed from that and how that affected him, and No. 3 he has to in some way, shape or form try to help us and he was good on the sideline during the game. He was trying to help Ford and trying to come up to me and say, ‘I think they’re rolling this way …’
“But I didn’t want him to start jumping ahead because I didn’t want him to forget about it. I wanted him to learn from it, so it has to sting a little bit.”
Scott’s back – Wide out Da’Mari Scott, who banged up his shoulder when returning the opening kickoff 66 yards at San Jose State, had an MRI on Monday and a short time later was on the practice field.
“He’s a real tough-minded kid,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “I think I’ve mentioned it before, when things are taken away from you, then you have a little different appreciation for the game of football and he’s going to take advantage of every opportunity that he has.
“It’s real good to see and more so, it’s good for the young guys to see that ‘Hey, you’re going to have some discomfort in football. That’s the nature of it. It’s not natural to want to run into things, but that’s why football players are different breeds.”
Scott, who did not return after the first series, is listed as day to day.
Et Cetera – Norcross said he would continue to look to get senior Bo Bonnheim some reps at center this week at San Diego State, with redshirt freshman Micah St. Andrew moving in at right guard. “When you start feeling a little rhythm, I hate disrupting rhythm,” Norcross said. “When you’re looking for rhythm, you start doing some stuff to try to disrupt the non-rhythm and obtain rhythm. That’s what I was doing the other night. Micah has earned it and we’re going to need him at some point to have some meaningful reps and not all of a sudden someone goes down and it’s, OK, Micah, you’re playing 90 plays tonight. From that regard, it was good to get him in.”
▪ Down two quarterbacks, the Bulldogs will continue to have freshman walk-on Jesse Hanckel run the scout team on the defensive practice while getting some reps in the Bulldogs’ offense when they are in their 7 on 7 periods.
▪ Greenlee and Anderson are the only healthy scholarship quarterbacks in the program, after Childress had to undergo surgery to repair an internal injury after the loss at San Jose State and freshman Chason Virgil suffered a broken clavicle in the loss to No. 21 Utah. Hanckel is the emergency No. 3.
▪ The Aztecs and Bulldogs were picked to finish in first and second in the West Division of the Mountain West preseason poll, but both come in 1-3 with both victories coming against FCS programs. San Diego State beat San Diego in its opener, Fresno State beat Abilene Christian.
▪ The Aztecs’ Rashaad Penny was selected as the Mountain West special teams’ player of the week after returning two kickoffs for 137 yards including a 100-yard touchdown in a loss at Penn State. Penny is leading San Diego State with 498 all-purpose yards, which includes rushing, receiving, interception and fumble returns, kickoff and punt returns and returns on missed field goal attempts. Penny has 361 kickoff return yards included in his 498 all-purpose yards. Running back Donnel Pumphrey is second on the team with 450 all-purpose yards.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada