Fresno State knows the maxim to be true, speed does kill. It has to go back a bit in the archives to find supporting evidence, but it is there.
In 2013, Derek Carr had the Bulldogs zipping through 83.7 plays per game, fourth-most in the bowl subdivision, while racking up 546.2 yards and 43.4 points per game.
On Wednesday, on day No. 7 and in the eighth practice of 2016 fall camp, speed led to some self-inflicted wounds.
This was the first day we probably took a major step backward.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau after Wednesday’s practice
Looking to find a No. 2 center and playing with different combinations in the interior line, the Bulldogs had difficulty with snaps, particularly in two periods when pushing tempo – and it is next to impossible to successfully execute a play that starts with the quarterback scrambling to pick the football up off the ground.
A frustrated Eric Kiesau panned the offense, sparing no position group.
“This was the first day we probably took a major step backward,” Fresno State’s first-year offensive coordinator said.
But overall to this point, the Bulldogs have handled tempo well, getting to the line of scrimmage and lining up correctly, getting the snap off quickly. Even Wednesday they were working well, before a few errant snaps.
Redshirt freshman Chason Virgil, who has been solid at the head of the quarterback competition to start Sept. 3 at Nebraska, was getting plays started in less than 15 seconds, many times less than 10.
He and the Bulldogs, he said, are well ahead of where they left off in the spring in that regard, which only bodes well for an offense with designs on stressing defenses with its speed.
You just kind of catch them in something they have to play through for the whole drive, so we’re able work off that.
quarterback Chason Virgil on the byproduct of a fast-paced offense in denying defenses a chance to adjust
“That’s what we focus on, that’s what we preach, to go as fast as possible,” Virgil said. “When we get into live drills and tempo things like that, it’s becoming second nature for us.
“Even with the snaps, we were still able to get plays off that were run really well and it’s because the tempo is so fast. The defense, they can’t substitute based on our personnel, they have to stay in that one defense. They’re not able to get their calls in, to switch or disguise coverages.”
The top five FBS teams in total plays last season ranked 16th, sixth, first, 10th and 30th in scoring offense.
A year ago, the Bulldogs ran a more pedestrian 69.9 plays per game against FBS opponents, ranking 91st of 128 teams in the nation.
Making sure that number rises this season is an emphasis, and on Wednesday the Bulldogs started the team portion of practice with a tempo period. Toward the end, they ran a short period where the first and second offenses reeled off six plays at a time as fast as they could.
Virgil, with the ones, had the ball snapped in roughly 11, 9, 10, 15, 9 and 10 seconds.
“That’s going to be our signature – we have to learn to play fast, make quick decisions, get lined up quickly,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Virgil continues to get a majority of the No. 1 reps, with graduate transfer Zach Kline, freshman James Quentin Davis and JC transfer Christian Rossi pushing.
The other guys are coming along, but clearly he’s making the best decisions.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on Virgil’s early edge in the duel for the starting job
And the team likes the direction it is headed with that all-important speed. Last season, the top five FBS teams in total plays ranked 16th, sixth, first, 10th and 30th in scoring, and the Bulldogs would like to be anywhere in that vicinity.
That’s especially true after struggling through a 2015 season in which four quarterbacks started at least one game and they generated only 315.2 yards and 22.2 points per game.
Virgil, after a shoulder injury knocked him out for the year in Week 3 in what was to be his freshman season, is far more comfortable than he was a year ago or in the spring when taking in the new offense installed by Kiesau.
“It’s just knowing the system a little more,” he said. “I’ve been watching film all summer, so I can learn from what I did wrong in the spring and the whole point of camp is just trying to apply it and try to get better every day as a team and I think we’ve done that offensively.
“We’re a lot better than we were in the spring and it shows through the various drills that we do.”
DeRuyter sees the difference.
“I think he’s so much more experienced in the system,” the coach said. “He understands it, knows the terminology. He can get us in the right plays, right protections.
“The other guys are coming along, but clearly he’s making the best decisions. He has completed about 70 percent of his passes so far and I think all through camp he has thrown only one interception where with the other guys I think the next closest has thrown four.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State football key dates
Saturday: Scrimmage No. 1 (open to public)
Aug. 20: Scrimmage No. 2
Aug. 26: Scrimmage No. 3
Sept. 3: Season opener at Nebraska, 5 p.m. PDT
Home games in CAPS
Sept. 3: at Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Sept. 10: SACRAMENTO STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Toledo, noon (ESPN3)
Sept. 24: TULSA, 1:30 p.m. (MWN)
Oct. 1: at UNLV, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 8: at Nevada, TBA (ESPN network TBD)
Oct. 14: SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 22: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28: AIR FORCE, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (ROOT SPORTS/MWN)
Nov. 12: BYE
Nov. 19: HAWAII, 4 p.m.
Nov. 26: SAN JOSE STATE, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Dec. 3: Mountain West Championship, TBA