A quarterback competition 10 weeks into a football season is not usually a good sign, but that is where the Fresno State Bulldogs are heading into a Mountain West Conference matchup at Hawaii and separating Kilton Anderson and Zack Greenlee through practice reps is not an enviable task.
What it likely will come down to is how they identify pressures and how well they get themselves protected, both in the film room and on the practice field.
Hawaii has struggled against the run this season, ranking last in the Mountain West in allowing 261.5 rushing yards per game and 271.78 against FBS competition and 29 rushing touchdowns. It is not all that surprising, then, that opposing teams average 56.3 rushing plays per game, most in the conference. But the Warriors wouldn’t be the first team to make necessary adjustments to thwart the Bulldogs’ run game and make the going just that much more difficult.
“We’ve got to be able to see coverages and execute at a consistent level,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “We can’t make a good throw, make a good throw and then just whip it down field and hope that something good happens. We just have to do a better job executing and be more consistent in what we’re doing. They’re like everybody else. They’re going to make us hit some throws.
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“Kilton has been doing a good job in getting the protection checked, but we have to continue to work on the timing of when the ball has to come out and those things. Just because we have the protection set the right way doesn’t mean you hold the ball longer, just all those things as you learn as you’re playing. We’ll let them compete and see who we feel gives us the best chance on Saturday.”
That answer could be elusive. Anderson, who has started the past four games, has completed only 47 percent of his passes (55 of 117) for 570 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a passing efficiency rating of just 85.02. Greenlee, who saw his first reps in four games in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ loss to Nevada, is only marginally better. He has hit 50 percent of his passes (40 of 80) for 456 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His rating is 119.26.
“Right now, we’re in a situation at all positions where you have to look to see who can give us the best chance to win on Saturday,” Coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Kilton has made some progress, but he has struggled the past couple games out. Zack came in and provided a spark. You look at what Hawaii is doing with its defense and try to figure out which quarterback’s skill set attacks it best.
“They’re a 3-4, they’re a big pressure team. They’re going to blitz you and make you probably beat you by throwing the football. You have to handle the protections and be able to make some throws.”
Otukolo likely done for year –Inside (Mike) linebacker Nela Otukolo, who did not play in the Bulldogs’ loss to Nevada due to a knee injury, is likely to miss the final three games of the season.
With the freshman sidelined, Fresno State will have redshirt freshman walk-on George Helmuth from Clovis North High in a backup role playing a more extended role behind senior Kyrie Wilson.
Helmuth had one tackle in the loss to the Wolf Pack and nine this season.
Otukolo is ranked 11th on the team with 25 tackles including 16 solo, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
“He made some plays, made some mistakes. The thing I like about him is he plays the game with a lot of confidence. He needs polishing. He needs a spring ball and another camp, but I think he made good strides and the experience is really going to help him for next year,” DeRuyter said.
“He’s going to have to be a guy to get more reps next year. The first time you go out there’s always the thrill of competing and not sure whether you’re good enough. Hopefully, he has gotten through all of that and is ready to go out and be one of the better defensive players in out conference.”
Et cetera – Redshirt freshman guard Micah St Andrew, who has missed the past two games with a lower leg injury, was back in practice and taking reps on Monday with the No. 1 offense in a short practice. The No. 1 line from left tackle across was senior Alex Fifita, sophomore Aaron Mitchell, senior Bo Bonnheim, St. Andrew and senior Justin Northern.
Hawaii, on deck this week, ranks last in the Mountain West in rushing defense against FBS opponents allowing 271.78 yards per game, so the Bulldogs could have a chance to get their run game going. Fresno State has only nine rushing touchdowns this season and only five from running backs. Marteze Waller has four and Dustin Garrison has one, Anderson has three and inside receiver Jamire Jordan has one.
The Bulldogs have had only one season over the past 20 years with fewer than 15 rushing touchdowns – they had 11 in 2000 when averaging 26.4 points per game. Fresno State, by the way, is 11th of 12 and barely ahead of the Warriors. The Bulldogs have allowed 271.38 rushing yards per game against FBS teams.
Outside linebacker Brandon Hughes, who has missed the past three games with a lower leg injury, has a chance to play this week. He will be evaluated through the week of practice.
Fresno State is 0-4 on the road, losing at Ole Miss and San Jose State, San Diego State and the Air Force in conference play. The Bulldogs, who play at Hawaii on Saturday and at BYU Next week, have not gone winless on the road since 1976 in a 5-6 season. They were 5-1 at home that season and 0-5 on the road.
The loss last week to Nevada eliminated the Bulldogs from bowl contention. Senior Ejiro Ederaine on what’s still out there: “There are no time machines in life so we can’t go back and talk about the past and games we lost and stuff like that. Just looking forward, for a lot of us this is our last three games of football so we just want to have fun and just win. Teach the young guys that whatever happens in the season, good or bad, it doesn’t matter you just have to keep pushing through.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada