Fresno State

Fresno State trying to put pass game pieces together, but do they fit?

Quarterback Kilton Anderson struggled to get the Bulldogs offense moving Saturday, and he didn’t get much help.
Quarterback Kilton Anderson struggled to get the Bulldogs offense moving Saturday, and he didn’t get much help. Associated Press

Fresno State heads into a badly needed bye week with a chance for its defense to get as healthy as it can be two months into a football season and for its offense to try to make some changes that will help quarterback Kilton Anderson, who, remember, was the Bulldogs’ fourth-string quarterback when they broke fall camp, is a redshirt freshman and didn’t get many practice reps early in the year.

What can be done there is open to debate, and at some point they might have to reassess all of their personnel on offense, see if it fits, and at least tinker with some changes.

But the Bulldogs’ outside receivers have been inconsistent all season and didn’t do much against man coverage in a 42-14 loss at Air Force when given opportunities to make plays. And, for Anderson, sticking in the pocket and making short throws on slants, bubble screens and bullet passes didn’t do much in a game where they had a minus-4 yards on the 20 plays they ran in the second and third quarters.

Anderson completed 14 of 39 passes (35.9 percent) for 177 yards with one interception, missing on 15 of his last 20 attempts. In the first half, when Fresno State had a 14-0 lead turn into a 21-14 deficit, the Bulldogs threw 17 passes, 13 of which were targeted at outside receivers, two at inside receivers and two at running backs on screen passes. They went down the field only twice, the first on a deep shot on the sideline to a wide open Da’Mari Scott, the pass overthrown and incomplete; the second on their last pass before halftime, a ball about 12 yards down the middle of the field to Delvon Hardaway that was low and fell incomplete. They hit on seven of the 17 passes.

“Our receivers, we didn’t win many one on ones,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “They were able to play man coverage against us – something we practiced against all week – but we didn’t do a very good job of getting off press coverage and they were able to zero us out.

“They added extra guys in the box and the only way you can combat that is to either make guys miss who are unblocked at the running back position or hit throws. We knew that was part of their plan. We thought if we spread them out we could hit some big throws and get them out of that, but we weren’t able to throw and catch it like we needed to. We dropped seven footballs. At times we didn’t protect Kilton well enough. And he didn’t hit some throws that we needed him to hit.”

Anderson had his best game when he was more active in the run game, gaining 78 rushing yards while completing 61.3 percent of his passes (19 of 31) for 193 yards in the Bulldogs’ victory over UNLV. It appeared to help him settle in, take some of everything off his shoulders.

That may be mere coincidence and so may this: the Bulldogs are 4-0 over the past season-plus eight games when their starting quarterback rushes the football 10 or more times, excluding sacks.

Certainly, a quarterback run isn’t going to add much when the defensive ends and tackles are right at the mesh point in zone read at the same time as the running back, which happened a couple of times in the loss to the Falcons. And when defenses are loading up the box as Air Force did, it comes down to throwing it, catching it and doing something with it when and if they can get the first two done, which Fresno State has not been able to do.

There are 86 FBS teams attempting 30 or more passes per game, including the Bulldogs, who are averaging 31.5 with 74 of those teams attempting more passes and 11 attempting fewer passes.

Fresno State ranks in the bottom 10 of that group in four key statistical categories – completion percentage, yards per game and per pass attempt and passing efficiency rating. They are ranked highest in that last category with a rating of 104.17, which includes the work of all four to play this season, starting with Zack Greenlee, then Chason Virgil, Ford Childress and Anderson.

The Bulldogs are ninth from the bottom there, but they are in deep everywhere else.

Fresno State ranks 81st in completion percentage …

81st: Fresno State, 50.8 percent

82nd: Charlotte, 50.7 percent

83rd: Hawaii, 49.2 percent

84th: Maryland, 47.7 percent

85th: Miami-Ohio, 46.7 percent

86th: North Texas, 44.4 percent

It ranks 86thin yards per game …

82nd: Old Dominion, 179.9

83rd: Missouri, 177.1

84th: Maryland, 172.4

85th: Charlotte, 170.9

86th: Fresno State, 166.1

It ranks in a tie for 84th in yards per pass attempt ...

T82nd: Missouri, 5.4 yards

T82nd: Charlotte, 5.4 yards

T84th: Fresno State, 5.3 yards

T84th: Central Florida, 5.3 yards

86th: North Texas, 5.0 yards

So, during the bye week the Bulldogs will get a chance to get Anderson more settled. And some needed help.

Washington update – Cornerback Charles Washington is one of three starters on defense who did not play against Air Force, along with nose guard Nate Madsen and outside linebacker Brandon Hughes.

Washington took first-team reps during the first part of the week, but was held out of practice on Thursday and was scratched Friday night due to an internal injury. His status is to be determined.

Madsen and Hughes, who have lower leg injuries, could be back following the bye week when Fresno State plays Nevada on Nov. 5 at Bulldog Stadium.

Bottom lines – The Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on 64- and 60-yard touchdown runs by Marteze Waller and Dustin Garrison, but from that point on they were outgained by Air Force 568-87. In the game, Fresno State was outgained by 275 yards, which is a ton, but not even its largest deficit this season. Not even that close, actually. The Bulldogs were outgained by 320 yards in a loss at San Diego State (409 to 89), 296 yards in a loss at San Jose State (543 to 247), 291 yards in a loss at Ole Miss (607 yards to 316) and 288 yards in a loss to Utah State (482 to 194).

▪ Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts rushed for four touchdowns and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from wideout Jalen Robinette, the 30 points scored the second most in school history and most by a Falcon since Dee Dowis scored 36 points in a 52-36 victory over San Diego State on Sept. 2, 1989.

▪ From the misleading stat department: Fresno State averaged 7.9 yards per rushing play (134 yards on 17 plays) … in a game they lost by 28 points. So, the last three times now that they have averaged 7.9 yards or more per rushing play, they have lost. The Bulldogs averaged 7.9 yards per play in a 62-52 loss at San Jose State in 2013 and 8.2 yards per play in a 51-34 loss to Boise State in 2009. In the loss to Air Force, 124 of their 134 rushing yards came on the two touchdown runs.

▪ The TD runs by Waller and Garrison marked the first time the Bulldogs had two or more rushing touchdowns of 60 or more yards in a game since that 2009 loss at Boise State. Ryan Mathews had three, scoring from 69 and 60 yards in the second quarter and 68 yards in the fourth. Mathews rushed for 234 yards on 19 plays in that game, averaging 12.3 yards per play.

▪ Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was asked about what adjustments were made, what changed, after Fresno State scored twice in the first quarter. His answer didn’t say much for the Bulldogs, who didn’t match up well physically. “I mean, you can see it. I don’t think it takes a real well-trained eye, and you guys have very good eyes, just for us honestly it’s hard sometimes for us to adjust to size and speed. It is. And I don’t know what to do. I mean, just the challenge of trying to rehearse how big bodies are that you’re going to go against, and then just open field JP-4 Jet Fuel (speed), the way guys move. There’s not much we can do about that honestly as a coach.” Against the Bulldogs, they didn’t have to.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

Related stories from Fresno Bee