Sacramento State is not particularly big up front, not frighteningly physical.
The Hornets thrive deploying multiple fronts and a lot of movement, solid pressure packages, and for the longest time last week Fresno State couldn’t do much with them. Through three quarters the Bulldogs were averaging just 2.8 yards on 27 rushing plays and the offensive line had allowed three sacks and a season-high seven tackles for loss.
But in the fourth quarter, a couple of adjustments and some physical runs by Josh Hokit paved the way to two touchdowns in a 34-20 victory.
How big was that for an offensive line that has had to work through some injury issues and struggled in the run game and to protect quarterback Jorge Reyna?
It was big, center Matt Smith said.
“We practice with our own defense through fall camp, but especially after that Sac State week, just making sure we’re on our tracks, it’s definitely going to be helpful for us this season,” said Smith, the Bulldogs’ starting center.
“Without a doubt, it was a great time, a good team win. We established the run game toward the end and that’s always fun. Seeing Josh run like that is a good feeling.”
The question is whether they can build on those final two drives on Saturday against what would appear to be an easier mark in New Mexico State.
It will present a different type of challenge, no doubt. The Aggies, Smith said, do some slanting up front and have some good edge pressures. But the FBS independent has struggled through a brutal schedule, losing 58-7 at Washington State, 62-10 at No. 2 Alabama, 31-10 against San Diego State and 55-52 to New Mexico.
New Mexico State is allowing 554.0 yards and 51.5 points per game, 129th and 129th of 130 in the nation.
The Aggies have allowed points on 68.8% of the drives they have defended that have not been ended by reaching the end of a half or the end of the game, opponents scoring 25 touchdowns and kicking eight field goals while punting only 12 times.
They have allowed 6.4 yards per rush and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Opponents have completed 68.4% of their passes at 9.3 yards per attempt and 13.6 yards per completion with 14 touchdowns through the air.
Seemingly, the opportunity is there for a Fresno State offensive line with four new starters and that has allowed 3.3 sacks and 5.3 tackles for loss per game, ranking in a tie for ninth and a tie for sixth in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs led the conference the past two seasons in fewest tackles for loss allowed – 3.9 per game last season and 3.3 in 2017.
But they go in with some momentum.
“I think it was incredibly valuable,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said of that fourth quarter against the Hornets. “I think they’re a good defense and regardless of level of play. For our guys to have to step up and persevere a little bit and pull away and have 20 fourth-quarter points, when you have two games that you lose in the fourth quarter, bouncing back and taking care of business like that was awesome.
“It was like, ‘Yeah, you can’t run on these guys, nobody has run on these guys. Arizona State couldn’t, blah, blah, blah.’ You just remind the guys, just be patient. It’s water against a rock and when we wear them down we’ll be ready to take over, and we did. They did an awesome job with it.”