It was sudden change and Fresno State had it in the practice plan at just the right time, a competitive jolt just as the Bulldogs were getting into the meat of their 15th practice in fall camp.
For the offense, it’s all opportunity. The defense has just forced a turnover so the offense is gaining possession on the plus-side of the field with momentum and points right there, preferably a touchdown. For the defenders, it’s a chance to strike back. They are rushed onto the field following a turnover by the offense, backed up on their side of the field and in need of a stop or a turnover, to hold that offense to three points at minimum.
On the practice field Tuesday, it went like this:
On first down, inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli blasted through the line of scrimmage on a blitz and for a sack on Chason Virgil, who was working behind the No. 1 line.
On second down, the defense again brought pressure and there was another sack, by end Nate Madsen crashing through the line.
On third down, Virgil hit Dejonte O’Neal with a short pass for only a few yards before Camilli scuttled the play by taking the slippery running back to the ground.
It’s just the mindset here is different, you know what I mean? We’re ready to go.
Fresno State inside linebacker Jeff Camilli
A first and 10 became a third and 19, a makeable field goal became a 52-yard tester. The specialty unit ran onto the field and the attempt at securing three points was no good.
It was practice, in the middle of fall camp and not a September Saturday at Nebraska, against Sacramento State, at Toledo or against Tulsa. But it was another indicator that the Bulldogs’ defense is developing a mindset and a confidence that it has been missing for a while – certainly last year.
Camilli isn’t one to make comparisons to seasons past and the Bulldogs hope this season there will be absolutely no comparison to be made to 2015, when they ranked last in the Mountain West, allowing 38.1 points per game. But the difference, he said, is becoming palpable.
“I really feel that,” Camilli said. “We have a lot of young guys this year, but our mindset is just completely different because even though we were super young last year – we’re still young – but when you get destroyed like that last year, everybody comes in fiery.
The Bulldogs this season are out to reverse a trend, their turnovers gained dropping from 35 in 2012 to 23 in ’13 and 20 in both ’14 and ’15.
“You never want to repeat what happened last year. We don’t want to do that to the fans or to these coaches or us. It’s just the mindset here is different, you know what I mean? We’re ready to go.”
The Bulldogs are playing much faster, much more aggressively, and making plays. It was that way Saturday, in their first live scrimmage in fall camp. It was that way again Tuesday, on the practice field when challenged with that sudden change period with the ones going against the ones.
“I like the way we’re flying around,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We have some older guys that know what they’re doing, that play hard. We have some guys that can play physically. And you gain confidence when you play fast and have success. You have to do that and build on it every single day. But you can’t have one day where you’re playing great and the next day you’re just showing up and punching the clock. You have to continue to push every day.”
Camilli, now a senior, was a big part of that on the practice field Tuesday – and apparently it will take a lot to get in the way of that continuing into the season.
The bar is set really high for him. Not only by me, but by himself. He is expecting a lot out of himself.
Inside linebackers coach Nick Toth, on Jeff Camilli
During the run drill, after that sudden change period, Camilli hurt his hand on a play but was right back in. “Yeah,” he said, “it just dislocated, but it popped right back in.”
A year ago, Camilli started at the Will linebacker all 11 games that he played in and was second on the team with 76 tackles, including a three-game stretch where he had 11 against Utah, 10 at San Jose State and 14 at San Diego State. He became the first Fresno State player with double-digit tackles in three consecutive games since linebacker Ben Jacobs in 2008.
“The bar is set really high for him,” inside linebackers coach Nick Toth said. “Not only by me, but by himself. He is expecting a lot out of himself and he has the ability to accomplish a lot of good things. He needs to be a productive member of this thing.”
While there is no difference there, the Bulldogs will feature a defense spiced by young players who have played as opposed to young players who have not, and the Bulldogs see that change as vital.
“The biggest thing going into that confidence is them getting in last year and actually playing,” Camilli said.
“This whole offseason and this camp, they know now what it has to take. They have that mindset where it’s like, ‘I don’t want to go out there and play – I want to go out there and dominate. I want to be the best guy on the field; I want to make that game-winning play.’ You can just see that’s what everyone is going for.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada