The pass game has been stunted all season, set back by operator error. Nine games in, the Fresno State Bulldogs have had four quarterbacks start a game due to injury and ineffectiveness and they have completed only 50.5 percent of their throws, which is well short of the 60 to 62 percent one might expect in a spread offense and short even of the 56.4 percent they hit on a year ago.
Only twice have the Bulldogs passed for 200 or more yards, only three times have they hit better than 50 percent of their throws, only three times have they not turned over the ball with an interception.
When looking for improvement and promise in a rebuilding season in which it is crucial to find a lot of it, this reasonably is not the first place to look. The Bulldogs have just struggled, far too much.
But inside receiver Jamire Jordan, with a high cruising speed that can decimate one-on-one matchups and a surprising grit at the football, is giving the Bulldogs something to build on for the future there.
The 168-pound redshirt freshman is leading the team with 30 receptions and 355 receiving yards and is tied for the lead with four touchdowns, and last week at Nevada turned a tough chance on a ball well behind him into a first down on a fourth-and-3 play from the Wolf Pack 12-yard line to set up a touchdown just before halftime, and held onto the ball and all of his body parts when absorbing a big hit from strong safety Asauni Rufus on a 24-yard pass over the middle in the fourth quarter.
“For a redshirt freshman, we knew he had a lot of ability, but he’s making explosive plays, he’s catching contested balls probably better than we thought and physically running through tackles,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Those are things that maybe are a little bit of a surprise.
“We knew he had the speed aspect, but to see him make some gritty plays has been impressive, particularly the one where he got hit on the long ball down the field last week. A guy that is as slight as he is a lot of times is going to give that ball up, but he didn’t. A lot of times people assume guys that are slight of stature aren’t tough guys, but he is a tough guy.”
Rufus was called for a personal foul for targeting on that hit, but Jordan just popped to his feet.
“You just have to get up and let him know that what he did didn’t affect you,” he said.
Jordan, clearly, will have more of an effect on the Bulldogs’ offense in the future. Consistency has been an issue at times – in the loss to Nevada he dropped a pass on crossing the middle of the field that could have gone for a big gain and missed a deep shot after making a deft adjustment to the ball in the air, which was a much more difficult chance.
But he is growing more comfortable with the offense and his role in it, and the consistency will come. “I feel like I’ve grown up a lot more,” Jordan said. “It would be nice to be doing a lot better than were doing, but I’ve been blessed to be here and to be playing football.”
He is better with his releases getting off the line of scrimmage and off of coverage than he was at the start of the season, better in his routes. His blocking in the run game has improved, banging up against much bigger outside linebackers and safeties.
“He’s a talented guy and he’s just tapping into that talent,” said Phil Earley, who coaches the Bulldogs’ inside receivers and tight ends. “He doesn’t know how good he can be and he’s a competitor, a hard worker. In our room we talk about being uncommon, especially in a tough season like this. You have to be a guy who continues to fight and he’s certainly one of them.
“It took a while, because he had relied on his speed and athletic ability for so long. He would get jammed up sometimes, and sometimes pretty bad. But the route running the things he does at the top of the route … We’re just tapping in, in my opinion. He has a lot left and he’s just going to get better and better, especially if he continues to work like he is right now.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada