Fresno State was not pleased with the way it handled the run game in its opening loss at Nebraska, on either side of the football, and when the Bulldogs went back to work Tuesday morning they did something different.
Coach Tim DeRuyter, trying to jettison all memory of that 3-9 record in 2015, put the offense and defense through a live inside run drill.
The Bulldogs, after giving up 292 rushing yards at Nebraska, are ranked 10th of 12 in the Mountain West in rushing defense. San Jose State and Nevada are at the bottom of the conference, allowing 305 and 383 rushing yards.
“It was a little bit of a reaction,” DeRuyter said. “We were going to do team run against each other, but I wanted to go live just to make sure guys knew that we had to tackle better and we had to run better. I think you get a different look out of run drill when it’s live than you do when it’s thud.”
The Bulldogs work inside run for the offense and defense in every padded practice, but once they got into the season a year ago the drill was always played to a thud, with the defender squaring up and stopping the ball carrier at a good clip but not at game speed and not taking him to the ground.
“We wanted to set a tone,” DeRuyter said. “We didn’t run the ball very well on Saturday night and we didn’t tackle particularly well. Our guys need to know: We need to get better.
“There’s always a risk (of injury) involved, but I thought it was a risk we needed to take. When you’re going good against good, there’s no better way to teach tackling than doing that. I thought we tackled decent for the most part, but I think on the perimeter we didn’t tackle well and we have to improve.”
Cleared for takeoff – Defensive end Kyle Hendrickson, who suffered a knee injury against Colorado State in the Bulldogs’ final game last season and had to undergo surgery, has been cleared for contact.
“We’re going to try to progress him as quickly as possible,” DeRuyter said. “He’s probably still a week or two out, but he’s going to get more and more stuff, and we’re going to get him up to game speed.
We didn’t run the ball very well on Saturday night and we didn’t tackle particularly well. Our guys need to know: We need to get better.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter
“When you miss all of training camp and the live stuff, it takes a while to get into football shape as well as used to the competitive nature of it. We’ve got to get him to where he’s going to go out there and be productive, and I’m sure (defensive line coach Pete Germano) will have him there in a hurry.”
Return game – The Bulldogs will work kickoffs in practice Wednesday and will be auditioning some new faces in the return phase after struggling there against the Cornhuskers.
Da’Mari Scott, who led the Bulldogs with a 22.3 average on 26 returns a year ago, is out because of an academics issue. In his place, Fresno State had four players with a return at Nebraska. Safety DeShawn Potts had the best return, one for 32 yards. Wide out KeeSean Johnson had returns of 23 and 20 yards, running back Dejonte O’Neal had one return for 14 yards and cornerback Anthoula (Tank) Kelly had one for 13 yards.
Whether one of those four or someone else, the Bulldogs want to hit those returns harder.
“Losing (Scott) really hurt us on that because he’s really the ideal guy – a bigger guy who is stronger,” running backs coach/special team’s coordinator Dave Ungerer said.
Fresno State has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2008 when A.J. Jefferson had a 92-yard return for a score against Nevada.
“Kickoff return is a little different, more like a true downhill running back type where punt return is a little more of a shake, a more athletic guy. The nature of the two are different, so it’s a little different mentality. On kickoff return, you have to trust. You have to trust that it’s going to be there and just hit it. You can’t really think because of the timing of it, so you have to trust that thing is going to open where you say it’s going to open.”
No. 2, inside – With Scott out, third-year sophomore Justin Allen is running with the twos at that inside receiver position. Allen, a walk-on, has not caught a pass in his career.
“Right now, Justin Allen is working there with the twos, but we’re constantly looking at who’s the next best guy and so we’ll keep that open,” DeRuyter said. “In an ideal world, we’d probably put Dejonte out there, if our running back situation was a little bit deeper. But, because of the injuries there … maybe if we get some guys back that might be the next step.”
O’Neal is the No. 2 at running back behind Dontel James. Treyvon Green also got some reps at Nebraska.
Freshman Saevion Johnson is the closest of the backs who have missed time because of injury to coming back – he has been in individual drills and some team periods – and redshirt freshman Bryson Oglesby is expected back from a knee injury in October.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada