It might seem a long time ago, because this has been a long season for the Fresno State Bulldogs, who are 2-6 overall and 1-4 in Mountain West play and can’t seem to get out of their own way.
But it has been only one month since redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson was thrust into the starting lineup, the fourth of four quarterbacks to start a game for the Bulldogs, who had not started as many as three in any season going back through 1979.
While watching film, Anderson sometimes would almost cringe, because he knows what to do with the football, how to identify his one-on-one matchup, how to deal with a blitz and get protected.
“You want to hit yourself in the forehead, like, ‘Gosh, why didn’t I see that?’ ” he said. “I just have to watch the film and understand the mistakes that I made and get better.”
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But there are fewer and fewer of those moments now. As the Bulldogs enter a conference matchup Thursday night against Nevada (4-4, 2-2) and try to maintain their faint bowl hopes, it really is going to come down to football at its simplest:
Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Run with the ball.
123rd Fresno State’s rank among FBS teams in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 25 minutes, 12 seconds per game
That didn’t happen Saturday in a 42-14 loss at Air Force. After the Bulldogs put up two quick touchdowns on 64- and 60-yard touchdown runs by Marteze Waller and Dustin Garrison, the Falcons adjusted, loaded up the box and left their cornerbacks out there in man coverage.
Fresno State couldn’t take advantage. The wideouts struggled to separate from coverage and when they did, too often there was a drop. The Bulldogs’ staff counted seven in the game. Anderson also missed some passes, throwing late or on occasion too early. On one, he had wide out Da’Mari Scott running wide open up the sideline and missed the throw and an easy touchdown.
“The decisions weren’t the problem,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “It was the ability to complete the ball. Either we were dropping the ball or accuracy was a problem. The only thing you can do is keep working at it. If guys are making the right decisions about where to go with the football and making the right decisions in the pass protection, you know sometimes you get it picked up and sometimes they win, but all you can do is keep working.
“They made a decision early in that game that we weren’t going to run the football against them anymore, and we had to hit some throws and we didn’t. We didn’t have any success throwing it.”
Fresno State has won the past three meetings against Nevada and owns a 27-18-1 record against the Wolf Pack in the first 46 meetings between the football programs.
The Bulldogs had a bye week to work on that, and they will face a Nevada defense that has struggled against the pass. The Wolf Pack is 11th of 12 in the conference in pass defense, allowing 241.9 yards per game. Nevada has allowed opponents to complete 68.2 percent of their passes, which is a big number and tied with Wyoming for last in the conference and 123rd in the nation. Over the past five years, only a handful of teams have allowed opponents to hit that high a percentage of their pass attempts. The high is Navy (74.3 percent) in 2011.
But consistency has been fleeting for Fresno State, which is no real surprise given the lack of continuity at the quarterback position with Chason Virgil (broken clavicle) and Ford Childress (internal injury) getting hurt and Zack Greenlee largely ineffective at the controls. The Bulldogs did not have a quarterback take every snap in a game until a Week 5 matchup at San Diego State.
“We had seven drops last time,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We can’t have that. It’s hard to have continuity, it’s hard to go fast, when you’re dropping balls. It’s hard when you’re not making the right reads or you’re not throwing the ball well. It’s a combination of things and we’ve got to execute, bottom line, much better than we did (at Air Force). We made strides, I thought, against UNLV, but took a step back last time. We have to make a step forward this time.”
We just have to learn to win.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
They do that three ways: Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Run with the ball.
“We just have to be able to win,” said Anderson, who hit only 14 of 39 passes (35.9 percent) at Air Force and has completed 43 of 91 (47.3 percent) this season. “We have to be able to make some throws, make some catches. Just beat them off the line. We have to get better from last week, because Air Force played us in a lot of man (coverage). We just have to learn to win.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Back from the bye
FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA
- Thursday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-6, 1-4 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 4-4, 2-2
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Since 2000, Fresno State has played six Thursday night regular-season games, going 6-0