Way back when, before the football season started, Fresno State’s defensive coaches thought they would or could be rotating as many as 27 players onto the field during games.
There was depth, particularly in the back end. But due to injuries and attrition, they have been playing with a much smaller number and will again Saturday at Hawaii in a game between two-win teams looking for something to spark a winning streak at the end of the season.
For the Bulldogs, that could be a shift in how the reps for the 15 to 17 players who are expected to play are distributed, an effort to bolster a group that has struggled in the second half.
We’ll get some different mixes here in the first half of this game because we’re trying to make sure that we’re able to go in the third and fourth (quarters) better.
Defensive coordinator Nick Toth
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“We’re not doing a very good job of getting off the field, in the second half and the third quarter especially, and those reps have added up,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “We’ve been our own worst enemy on defense, not getting off the field on third-and-3 and third-and-6 and third-and-longer, and it has hurt. We’re not a real deep football team with our youth and our injuries. The reps have added up a little bit in the third and fourth quarters. That’s when you’ve seen some of the explosive plays; that’s when you’ve seen some of the mental assignment mistakes.
“Something we’ve looked at really hard is how do we stretch the 15 or 17 guys that are playing in the game now? How do we stretch those reps out for guys? And it could make us sub a little earlier in the game. We’ll get some different mixes here in the first half of this game because we’re trying to make sure that we’re able to go in the third and fourth (quarters) better.”
In a loss last week to Nevada, the Bulldogs gave up seven explosive plays of 20 or more yards – five coming in a second half in which they allowed 335 total yards, including 267 on the ground.
14 Number of explosive plays Fresno State has allowed in the past two games combined, with nine coming in the second halves of losses at Air Force (four) and to Nevada (five)
In a loss two weeks ago at Air Force, Fresno State gave up seven explosive plays and four came in a second half in which the Bulldogs allowed 317 total yards, including 248 on the ground.
“The guys that are 10- to 15-rep guys, they have to get those reps a little earlier than you’d like to get them,” Toth said. “You have to play for a four-quarter game, as opposed sometimes those reps for those guys come a little bit later. In this case, now, we just have to get them earlier.
“There are no freshmen anymore; there are no young guys. Shoot, there are only three games left. You have to trust that they can get those reps earlier and make a play, and hopefully that pays off in the third and fourth quarter. You have to believe it’s going to.”
Quarterback competition continues – Quarterback Zack Greenlee, who is getting a chance to compete in practice this week to start at Hawaii, had a better day Wednesday than he did Tuesday.
Asked whether he had seen any difference in the third-year sophomore, who had not played a snap in three games before getting into the loss to Nevada last week in the fourth quarter, coach Tim DeRuyter was fairly blunt. “Not a ton,” he said. But that isn’t an altogether terrible thing.
Greenlee has been solid on the practice field, but has not yet been able to take that into games.
At practice, he has a good command of what we want to get done. He knows the offense, probably of all the quarterbacks, the best. It’s a matter of being consistent on game day.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on quarterback Zack Greenlee
Greenlee, who last started a game Oct. 3 at San Diego State when the Bulldogs could muster only 89 yards of total offense, won’t be able to provide an answer there unless he is on the field.
But he did say that he has been able to stay engaged and prepared through a rough season.
“That’s just the game of football,” he said. “You have to do what you can to be ready at all times. You never know when you’re going to get in the game, especially at other positions where you rotate. Quarterback is not generally like that. But when you have a situation like this, you have to be ready to go in at any time. I feel like I’ve been prepared to go in to any of these past three games. I’ve prepared all week and I’ve been ready to go in. That’s how I feel now, too.”
Et cetera – Tyquwan Glass, who has two of the Bulldogs’ five interceptions this season, had a very good 7-on-7 period in practice Wednesday. Glass on back-to-back plays stripped the football from receivers on potential big plays, the first snatching the ball away from Josiah Blandin and the second knocking it free from L.J. Reed.
“I think he’s doing what we expected,” DeRuyter said. “He got here in the summer and it has taken a while to learn it, but of the secondary I think he has probably made the most progress of anybody back there,” DeRuyter said. “I like the way he competes. We saw a lot of that on tape as we were evaluating him and he has come out to practice each week and gotten better and gotten better in games. He’s not where he wants to be just yet, but I like the trajectory he’s on.”
▪ The kickers also continue to compete this week – if Kody Kroening wins the job, he will handle PATs and short field goals, while Jimmy Camacho likely still would take long field goal attempts; if Camacho wins, he would take all of the kicks. In practice, Kroening hit field goals from 35 and 42 yards and missed from 48. Camacho missed all three of his attempts.
▪ Marteze Waller continues a slow march toward becoming the fifth running back in school history to gain 3,000 career rushing yards. He will go into the game at Hawaii with 2,922 after gaining 80 yards at Air Force and 74 against Nevada the past two weeks. Waller last season against Hawaii churned out 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
▪ Air Force and Nevada both had two 100-yard rushers against the Bulldogs the past two weeks, and it will not be a good sign for the Fresno State if it happens for a third time. Hawaii made a switch at quarterback last week in a loss at UNLV to put a little more run game in the offense, starting Ikaiki Woolsey ahead of Max Wittek, but the Rainbow Warriors still are ranked last in the Mountain West in rushing offense at 96.6 yards per game. They have had only three 100-yard performances this season – junior Paul Harris, their leading rusher with 672 yards, had 147 yards in a victory over FCS UC Davis, 125 in a loss at New Mexico and 190 last week in the loss at UNLV.
▪ The Bulldogs are traveling to Hawaii on Thursday, rather than Friday. They will depart campus following a morning practice and go through their normal Friday walk-through at a local high school.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT HAWAII
- Saturday: 8 p.m. at Aloha Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-7, 1-5 MW; Rainbow Warriorrs 2-8, 0-6
- TV: KSEE (24.1)
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)