Fresno State had a relatively easy time in its opener against Abilene Christian, an FCS program that, it should be noted, doesn’t do much to prop up the Bulldogs’ flagging offense considering it has allowed an ouch-inducing average of 31.7 points and 445.0 total yards in three games against like competition, Houston Baptist, Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas.
In its 34-13 victory way back when, Fresno State (1-4, 0-2 Mountain West) generated 442 yards of offense, which is less than the average rolled up by the Huskies, Lumberjacks and Bears, and where the sting comes in.
Since then, the quarterback play has been wildly inconsistent. The Bulldogs’ pick to invest in this season, freshman Chason Virgil, is out for the season after suffering a broken clavicle against Utah in his first career start. A second quarterback, Ford Childress, is done for the year as well after undergoing surgery to repair an internal injury suffered at San Jose State.
Now five games into the season, Fresno State still is searching and will again on Saturday against Utah State (2-2, 1-0), not just at quarterback, but definitely starting there.
“When you don’t have success on either side of the ball, you look at all kinds of things,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “You look at scheme. You look at players and whether we’re asking them to do things that they can’t do. But the bottom line is we have to have production from all positions and if we can’t get production we have to look at other players or other ways of doing things.”
The Bulldogs are unsettled up front, trying to figure out if they are better with senior Bo Bonnheim at center and redshirt freshman Micah St. Andrew at right guard or with Bonnheim at right guard and junior Jacob Vazquez at center.
The outside receiver corps also has yet to settle, though redshirt freshman KeeSean Johnson has had back-to-back productive games and junior Da’Mari Scott, coming out of a redshirt year in Week 2, and redshirt sophomore Delvon Hardaway, making it back from a spring knee injury in Week 4, are closer. Inside, redshirt freshman Jamire Jordan has made plays. But senior Justin Johnson, listed as the starter at the Y receiver spot, was used last week at San Diego State to signal in plays from the sideline along with the two healthy quarterbacks not on the field.
At the quarterback position, the Bulldogs have Zack Greenlee and Kilton Anderson and an in-case-of-emergency freshman walk-on in Jesse Hanckel.
Meanwhile, the running game, thought to be a strength coming into the season, has been stunted with opposing defenses dropping an extra defender into the box, unconcerned about the Bulldogs making a play in the passing game that ultimately will hurt.
“We still haven’t found an identity and that’s true,” DeRuyter said. “It’s tough when you start different quarterbacks each week. Marteze (Waller) has been banged up a little bit.
“But we have to get something that we can hang our hat on that we can feel like, ‘Hey, we call this with this group on the field, we’re going to be able to get some drive-starters.’ We didn’t have any drive-starters last week. For us to play in rhythm, we’ve got to get first downs and start to play fast. When you get six first downs, it’s really tough to do.”
Finding a combination of personnel and personnel groups that can line up and be productive will not be easy against the Aggies. Utah State comes in ranked second in the conference in yards per play allowed (4.7) and third in yards per game allowed (323.3).
But the Bulldogs need to reinvest in Greenlee or Anderson to try to get their offense moving. There still are seven games remaining, though realistically only a wild, frenetic, puncher’s chance of getting back into the West Division race in the Mountain West Conference.
“I would have liked to have found it four games ago, but time obviously is of the essence. We have to find something quickly if we want to get this season turned around,” DeRuyter said.
Greenlee has the most experience, which is not necessarily a positive. The third-year sophomore took every snap last week in the loss at San Diego State in which the Bulldogs gained only 89 yards. Anderson, who was the first to fall out of the fall camp quarterback competition, got a handful of reps in the loss at San Jose State and missed badly on his one passing attempt. But it starts there.
“With the quarterbacks, we’ve been inconsistent, but we’ve been inconsistent with who we’ve had in there,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “We settled on a guy and he got hurt. Ford, we were excited about him getting a chance to play and I thought he did some good things, but now he’s down. It’s been kind of a revolving door there, which is bad.
“We don’t have any rhythm right now because the guy running the show keeps changing all the time. We have to settle in. The thing we have to do every single week, you see it, we’re not doing a lot of things because we have to make sure we’re asking them to do what we think they can do. That’s kind of where we’re at right now. We have to start having some success running the football and taking some pressure off of him, and we have to start hitting some throws and that takes pressure off him.”
FRESNO STATE VS. UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-4, 0-2 MW; Aggies 2-2, 1-0
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)