Taking care of the football surely will be one of the determining factors for Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau in selecting a starting quarterback for the Bulldogs’ Sept. 3 date at Nebraska – and graduate transfer Zach Kline didn’t help his case much Thursday in a drill at the end of practice.
The Bulldogs were working an eight-minute period with the No. 1 offense going against the No. 2 defense, down by 10 points and needing two touchdowns to go ahead or a touchdown and a field goal to tie the score. They got that done, getting three points on a field goal by Kody Kroening and then a touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil to Aaron Peck sandwiched around a three-and-out by the No. 1 defense.
But the No. 2 offense, led by Kline, still had 42 seconds remaining in the period and were given three timeouts to try to get a winning field goal.
On first down, outside linebacker Brandon Hughes rocketed off the edge to get a sack on Kline and the offense didn’t get anything on second down. On third down, with 18 yards to go to convert a first down and time very short while also backed up around the 20-yard line, Kline again was under pressure from Hughes and just fired a ball out to the right where it was intercepted by end Nate Madsen.
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Fresno State quarterbacks have thrown 37 interceptions over the past two seasons, the most in the Mountain West Conference.
In a game, the No. 1s there get a shot at a game-winning field goal.
“The quarterback made a bad decision, instead of just taking the sack and letting the time run out or throwing the ball away,” DeRuyter said. “Either way, you’re punting and you’re living to get into overtime. But we throw an interception. Great play by Nate, not a great play by our quarterback.”
The Bulldogs are set to scrimmage for the second time in fall camp Saturday, and Kline will have to avoid similar mistakes to keep from rolling on the ground afterward. Since the first scrimmage Kiesau has had the quarterbacks roll the length of the field after throwing an interception in practice and on Thursday, it was Kline.
Anti-gravity – Running back Dontel James and inside linebacker Nela Otukolo were just six days removed from knee surgeries Thursday, but they still were out on the field doing some rehab work and could be back in practice at some point next week.
That, obviously, would be a boon to the Bulldogs.
The running backs group has been hit hard by injury and for the majority of the week has had only three in practice – Dejonte O’Neal, Treyvon Green and Austin Harper.
The inside linebackers group has been without Otukolo as well as Trent Soechting, who is coming back from a hamstring injury. Their absence has allowed freshman Jeffrey Allison to get extra reps at the inside (Mike) linebacker, but Otukolo and Soechting are key pieces.
And the Fresno State medical and training staff have been able to speed up the recovery and rehab for James and Otukolo, using an AlterG Anti-Gravity treadmill at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics.
When they just go out and kick, it’s like me at the driving range. Everybody is pretty good. But when you put a lake on one side and trees on the other side you tend to tighten a little bit.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on Bulldogs’ competition at kicker
“We can take up to 80 percent of their body weight off so they can run the same speed, so we’re doing sprints over there without putting the stress on their joints or their body while they’re recovering,” said Craig Tweedy, the head football athletic trainer.
“We have an underwater treadmill here, which is great for it as well because that will take body weight off. But because they just had surgery six days ago, they still have stitches. You don’t want those to get wet; it delays the healing process. But with AlterG, you can get them right in there. We got them in there four days after surgery, just moving around. It just speeds the recovery process.”
The anti-gravity treadmill reduces the impact of rehab exercises, reducing a person’s body weight from 20 percent to 100 percent in 1 percent increments and the stress on joints and injured areas.
Pressurized problem – The Bulldogs ended practice with kickers Kroening and Jimmy Camacho kicking a field goal from about 40 yards with as much pressure as their teammates could put on them.
Hitting that field goal, though, was an issue.
Teammates surrounded the kickers, made some noise. And, of course, there was something at stake: Miss the kick and the whole team had to do up-downs.
Kroening and Camacho each had handled the kick earlier in camp, but on Thursday … not so much.
Kroening went first and missed to the left, and the team did up-downs. Camacho went next and shanked the ball well left, and the team did up-downs.
Kroening tried again and yanked the kick left, and the team did up-downs. Camacho gave it another shot and left the kick out to the right, and the team did up-downs.
By that point, the Bulldogs were not making noise as much as encouraging them to make the kick. Up-downs at the end of a two-plus hour practice? Not exactly fun.
On the third try, Kroening and Camacho each hit the field goals.
“That’s why we do the drill,” DeRuyter said. “When they just go out and kick, it’s like me at the driving range. Everybody is pretty good. But when you put a lake on one side and trees on the other side you tend to tighten a little bit, and we had a consequence for the team – the up-downs. They didn’t hit the field goals, and we have to get better at that.”
Kroening and Camacho split field-goal duties last season, Kroening taking the shorter kicks and hitting 6 of 8 and Camacho the longer ones and going 2 of 4.
DeRuyter is looking for one of them to claim the job this season.
Nose guard Malik Forrester was back in practice Thursday – he had been excused the past three days to tend to a family matter at home in Maryland.
“Kody is hitting the ball better than he has ever hit it, but Jimmy is, too,” he said. “Both of them have 50-yard-plus legs, but it’s going to come down to who is more consistent. It comes down to who mentally is going to be ready for it and right now it’s pretty even.”
Et cetera – Redshirt freshman running back Bryson Oglesby, who has been working his way back from a knee injury suffered in the spring, took part in some individual drills.
A target date for Oglesby to be cleared for contact still is toward the end of September with a potential return to the field sometime in October.
“It’s good to see him doing some individual drills and moving around,” DeRuyter said. “He has got the size that we’re looking for, that we’re lacking right now, so we get Dontel back and him back and hopefully Saevion (Johnson) back fairly quickly, we get that running back group shored up.”
▪ Freshman quarterback James Quentin Davis, who was held out the past three days due to some shoulder inflammation, took part in some drill work.
Fuery is a guy that has as much athletic capability as anybody and as much upside as anybody.
Receivers coach Burl Toler III on fourth-year junior Darrell Fuery
“He had treatment (Wednesday) and came out and threw. He felt much better,” DeRuyter said. “He should be up to 100 percent pretty quick.”
Davis is considered day-to-day, and it is unclear at this point whether he will get any reps in the scrimmage Saturday behind Virgil, Kline and JC transfer Christian Rossi.
▪ Sophomore offensive tackle Logan Hughes got all of the first-team reps at left tackle when the Bulldogs were in run drill, practicing in front of Christian Cronk.
Cronk was with the ones through the majority of practice.
▪ Fourth-year junior wide out Darrell Fuery is having his best camp at Fresno State and in the Bulldogs’ first team period made a very nice play in pulling down a pass from Kline.
Fuery, in a tight battle with a cornerback, went up with one hand to tip the ball away from the defender, then was able to recover, catch the ball and spin upfield.
“Fuery is a guy that has as much athletic capability as anybody and as much upside as anybody,” receivers coach Burl Toler III said. “For him it’s more repetitions and getting the small details down. But he has been great, coming in for extra work and studying, being real detailed in his routes.
“That’s something I preach to the whole group, but he has grasped it pretty well and I think that’s what he needed to make that transition from kind of a bubble guy to being somebody who is getting more reps.”
▪ Johnson, the freshman running back who is out with a hamstring strain, also has started to do some rehab work on the field. Deonte Perry, another freshman running back with an injury suffered in fall camp, was scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada