Preparing to play the same team in consecutive weeks is foreign territory to most college football coaches.
To Orlondo Steinauer, the feeling couldn’t be more familiar.
That’s because the Fresno State defensive coordinator spent 20 years playing and coaching in the Canadian Football League, where back-to-back games against the same opponent are woven into the tapestry.
“It’s a pretty common practice (in the CFL),” Steinauer said as the 25th-ranked Bulldogs ready themselves for Saturday’s Mountain West Conference championship game at Boise State, seven days after their 28-17 home victory over the Broncos.
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“Each Labor Day you’re playing your rivals back-to-back, sometimes between five and seven days apart. So a little bit of experience with that.”
More than a little bit, actually. In 2013, Steinauer’s first season as Hamilton defensive coordinator, the Tiger-Cats played five opponents in back-to-back games including Montreal three times in a four-week span at the end of the regular season and playoffs.
Which is sort of like Fresno State and Boise State concluding the regular season in a game that doesn’t matter nearly as much as Saturday’s rematch.
So the pertinent question becomes whether Steinauer’s past experience in these unusual situations (unusual for college football, at least) gives the Bulldogs a leg up in the present.
On that sandwich, Steinauer wouldn’t bite.
“I think the only thing it does is help give me experience with that,” he said. “I don’t know how much of an advantage or disadvantage it is.”
Certainly, though, there are lessons he learned from those past experiences that can be applied today.
“I think so,” Steinauer nodded in agreement. “Everybody knows there’s going to be adjustments, to both things that worked and things that didn’t work.
“But how far do you take it? Sometimes you can overprepare, but you also don’t want to underprepare. I think that’s what the experience can bring you.”
Fresno State held Boise State to a season-low 17 points last Saturday. At the same time, the Broncos racked up the most total yards (401) and second-most first downs (19) the Bulldogs have allowed since the Week 3 loss to Washington.
Boise State also gave Steinauer plenty to dissect in the film room. The Broncos ran one of their trademark trick plays on the first snap from scrimmage, a flea-flicker that Brett Rypien completed for 45 yards. And they capped that opening drive by having the running half of their two-quarterback threat, Montell Cozart, pass into the end zone. Which went against a season-long tendency.
Then again, how much does what happened last week really factor into the preparation for this one?
“You gain experience,” Steinauer said. “There’s some things that you thought might work that didn’t work. There’s things that you didn’t run that you think may work.
“There will be carryover, if that’s your question. There will be some carryover, some things we’ll omit and some things we’ll add.”
Everybody knows there’s going to be adjustments, to both things that worked and things that didn’t work. But how far do you take it?
Fresno State defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, on facing the same opponent back-to-back
No point in trying to pin down Steinauer on specifics. Of course he’s not going to give away the game plan, nor reveal his innermost thoughts about the Boise State offense.
When I posed a question that tiptoed into that territory (Did you prepare two game plans last week knowing you’re playing them twice?) Steinauer looked at me funny and replied, “There’s no way I would speak on that. Know what I mean?”
Yup. Fully understood.
The 44-year-old Steinauer was something of a mystery when coach Jeff Tedford named him defensive coordinator. Even, a little bit, to Tedford. The two were not colleagues – not even friends – but Tedford respected Steinauer’s acumen enough to take a chance on someone who had never coached college football.
Not sure how the move could’ve worked out any better. Using a roster of inherited players recruited to play a totally different system, Steinauer transformed the Bulldogs into a unit that ranks 12th in the nation in points allowed (17.3 per game) and 16th in yards (315.3).
Remember, those figures include the 41-10 loss to Alabama and 48-16 to Washington.
“What I like about our (defense) is that you’re not robotic out there,” junior linebacker George Helmuth said. “Every play is not like, ‘This is what you do.’ You kind of have a little bit of free rein to kind of play with what you do, as far as alignment and stuff. So you can switch it up, and the offense doesn’t see the same thing every time. So they’re not attacking you as aggressively every time.”
With Steinauer’s track record and charisma, there’s little question he’ll be a head coach at some point.
Whether you catch him after practice, or seated on a folding chair outside the Duncan Building catching some rays, Steinauer is always pleasant and engaging. With his track record and charisma, there’s little question he’ll be a head coach at some point – on either side of the border.
Just don’t ask the person hugely responsible for the Bulldogs’ defensive turnaround to accept any of the credit.
That he won’t do.
“All the credit goes to the whole defensive staff and the kids,” Steinauer said. “I’m the last one who deserves any.”
Not that long ago, some viewed his Canada-heavy resume as a detriment to Fresno State’s success. (Remember the jokes about 12 players?) Now, it’s an underrated edge in a game that could bring home a championship trophy.