Back in fall camp, when Kilton Anderson was the fourth of four competing to be the starting quarterback at Fresno State, his intensity would get the better of him, affect his ability to function in the offense.
He would squeeze the air out of the football. Not literally, of course. But that was an issue – rather than just play the game, he would get sped up, press and make mistakes. It was very tough to make plays that way, tougher to sustain anything that would resemble a drive.
For that reason, coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm considered carefully when it would be best to tell him he would be making his first career start against Utah State last Saturday.
But in that game, there was none of that. Anderson made mistakes, a wide array of them, facing one of the nastier defenses in the Mountain West Conference. But he handled the barometric pressure around that start, which the Bulldogs believe is a starting point in building on an offense that has been stunted by the loss of two quarterbacks to injury and a third to ineffective play.
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“I’m sure there are going to be some butterflies this week knowing all week and that’s part of the process of bring a first-time starter, particularly as a freshman in Division I college football,” DeRuyter said. “But I think having survived it, there’s that phenomenon where you’re worried about all these things and then you get in there and … you survive it and think, ‘Hey, I handled this thing. Next time I’ll go out and do better.’
He needs to improve things, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t improve greatly from last week to this week.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on quarterback Kilton Anderson
“I think he’s in that state right now. He needs to improve things, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t improve greatly from last week to this week.”
The different dynamic definitely helped, said Anderson, who was told on Saturday morning that he would be getting the start against the Aggies.
“That’s definitely a big thing,” he said. “During fall camp, you’re battling for a position and you’re thinking about a million things at a time. You come out here on game day and you just have to let all that go, let everything go, forget the outside world and play with your brothers.
“I just came out and played a little bit looser than usual. I got to practice with the ones and I definitely got more comfortable playing with the ones, playing with guys that felt comfortable with me and believed in me. It was all just a confidence thing, I think. Being able to play with the ones and stuff like that kind of just put me on a different level.”
The key now is to build on that outing, in which Anderson completed 10 of 20 passes for 112 yards with one touchdown but also three interceptions. He also took five sacks.
Going back to the 2014 Hawaii Bowl when Brian Burrell was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, Fresno State has started five different QBs in its past seven games (1-6 record).
But Anderson did show progress in navigating the Aggies’ pressures. In the second quarter, when backed up at the 2-yard line, Anderson took a sack that led to a safety when failing to properly set protection. In the fourth, in a similar situation when backed up at the 6-yard line and on a third-and-7 and pressure coming, he had it right and was able to step up into the pocket and throw a strike to Da’Mari Scott for 14 yards and a first down.
“For a first-time starter, playing in his first real game, I thought he handled himself well,” Schramm said.
“I mean, he had played three plays against San Jose. Did he make all the right decisions? No. Did he make all the throws? No. But for his first time in there, he showed the ability to have some poise.”
UNLV on Friday will test Anderson and the Bulldogs with different pressures, but they feel good about being able to build on the offense coming out of the loss to Utah State.
“I definitely do,” Anderson said. “The main thing is we had a lot of effort and a lot of focus. That’s the main thing. You can’t instill effort into people, and we had great effort. We just have to build off that and help people just focus on their position and what they have to do, their fit, their finish, just everything. But as long as effort is there I think we’re going to be OK.”
A different look than before – Freshman inside linebacker Nela Otukolo, who played last season for UNLV coach Tony Sanchez when both were at Bishop Gorman High-Las Vegas, said there wasn’t much carryover for him. Watching tape of the Rebels, he didn’t see much that reminded him of his high school days.
“I was really excited playing this game, because I’ve been seeing a bunch of this stuff for the past two years, but he’s been changing it up,” Otukolo said. “(Monday) was the first day we were into the film and I couldn’t recognize anything, so I have to get back in the film room and look for some tendencies.”
Rebels going with Palandech at QB – The Bulldogs at least know now which UNLV quarterback they will be facing on Friday. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that sophomore Kurt Palandech will start against Fresno State ahead of senior Blake Decker, who sat out the Rebels’ loss to San Jose State with a shoulder injury.
Both have played this season – Palandech has completed 51.5 percent of his passes (35 for 68) in six games for 336 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, Decker 54.2 percent (45 of 83) in five games for 652 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Fresno State has been preparing for both.
“Either way, they’re both solid players,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “(Decker) has got the moxie of a guy that has been there for a while, been through some battles. He’s a tough sucker. That’s one of the things that you have to respect about that dude. He has been smacked around a lot. The injury that he took, that hit was a serious hit, he hits the ground and that’s a violent deal. He was hit like that 25 other times in three previous games and didn’t get knocked out. He’s a tough nut and he controls that offense.
“(Palandech) is a little bit different dude. They both are good runners. (Palandech) is maybe a little more dynamic, more of a throw-on-the-move guy. He improvises a little bit when the pocket is not there. We’re preparing for both. We know that they’re both solid players.”
Et cetera – The Rebels have 10 interceptions this season, tied for fifth in the nation and three more than they had a year ago.
▪ UNLV will be making its first appearance on ESPN2 since a 2005 game at New Mexico.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State vs. UNLV
- Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-5, 0-3 Mountain West; Rebels 2-4, 1-1
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)