It makes sense, whether it takes one game, two or three. Somewhere in there a defensive coordinator will have gained a firm grasp of the personnel for that season, what the cornerbacks and safeties can do, the defensive ends, the nose guards, the linebackers inside and out outside.
It’s requisite to game planning and calling and making adjustments in a game, to the week-to-week success of a unit that might take on a power running team in one game and a spread attack in the next.
Or as for Fresno State in 2016, a Power Five opponent in Nebraska, then a FCS school in Sacramento State. What fits against one is not necessarily going to fit against the other.
When Tim DeRuyter joined Texas A&M as defensive coordinator in 2010, the future Fresno State coach said it took him a couple of games to really figure it out.
Fresno State is ranked second in the Mountain West Conference in total defense, allowing 4.8 yards per play and 295.5 yards per game. The Bulldogs also are second with 13.5 first downs allowed.
The exception was Von Miller, an All-American and Butkus Award winner as the best college linebacker in the nation in 2011 before becoming a Super Bowl MVP with the Denver Broncos.
“Von,” DeRuyter said, “he made it pretty obvious.”
Now two games in at Fresno State, first-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is there. Actually, he said, he has had a good handle on it for a while.
“I think I had a pretty good idea coming out of the spring,” he said. “The opponent part of it didn’t affect us in our game planning or scheming whether it was Nebraska or Sacramento State or now Toledo (on Saturday). We’re in a situation now where we’re comfortable with what we’re doing on defense. We’ll throw in subtle changes and I think guys are picking it up well.
“Now that I feel comfortable that they’ll get it with what we’re doing system-wise, I’m not afraid to put a little something extra in. I feel good about them knowing exactly what to do on our base calls, and now we can change up a little bit and try to scheme our opponent.”
That has played out in the Bulldogs’ first two games. Fresno State allowed 225 yards and 21 points through the first three quarters in a 43-10 loss at Nebraska. In a 31-3 victory over Sacramento State, it allowed 185 yards in all, 96 rushing and 89 passing.
I think he has a good feel for who our playmakers are, how you get the opportunities to pressure, who you can put on an island and who you need to protect.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, on defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward
The 3.2 yards per play were the fewest allowed since the Bulldogs gave up 2.9 in a 2008 victory over San Jose State. They had given up 8 or more yards per play 14 times between those games.
There have been some assignment errors, players losing leverage based on the calls made. But Ward said there have been few mental busts.
“I think he has a good feel for who our playmakers are, how you get the opportunities to pressure, who you can put on an island and who you need to protect, DeRuyter said.
“I thought he called a really good game (against Sacramento State), made some adjustments. Our thought was to call it aggressively and he did, then we backed off a little when we gave up a couple plays to get our guys back in a comfort zone, and then we dialed up the pressure again. I thought he did a nice job keeping them off balance.”
With Camilli come options – Inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli, who did not dress against Sacramento State, was at practice and expected to play Saturday.
“He’ll be 100 percent,” inside linebackers coach Nick Toth said. “That gives me a bunch if options, a lot of different guys playing in different spots. We can use Robert Stanley and Jeff or Nela (Otukolo) and Jeff, and Jeffrey Allison, Trent Soecthing and even George Helmuth as our sixth.
Inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli is the Bulldogs’ leading returning tackler. In the opener at Nebraska, the senior was in on 10 tackles, and though he sat out last week against Sacramento State, he remains tied for the team lead. Outside linebacker Brandon Hughes also has 10 tackles, his total in two games.
“I think we’re really going to be able to keep guys fresh, which we will need to vs. (Toledo’s) tempo. It’s going to allow me to play some different combinations. If I need to get Jeff Camilli off the field, I can play Robert Stanley at Will. I can play Nela at Mike and Jeffrey Allison at Will. I can situationally sub a little bit. Now, tempo might not let us do that, so it might be by series, too, but it’s good to have Jeff back on the field. He has worked really hard and he has been the anchor. Even when he was hurt last week, he was the leader out there. It’s good to have him back.”
Et cetera – Fresno State did not allow any red-zone possessions vs. Sacramento State. Curiously, the Bulldogs lost the past two games in which they did not allow an opponent to run a play inside the 20, both last season. They lost at San Diego State 21-7 and to Colorado State 34-31.
▪ Outside linebacker Tyrell Robinson, dismissed at the end of the 2014 season for a violation of athletic department policy and back as a walk-on, has as always made a positive impression on the practice field. “He has given our offense a very good look,” DeRuyter said. “He’s a very talented guy. He goes hard. He’s a guy that whenever there’s a star defensive player for the opponent, he wears that jersey. He’s a very explosive, very athletic guy that can do some things for us once he gets eligible.”
▪ The Bulldogs will match up against two senior defensive tackles for Toledo in 6-foot-1, 300-pound Earl Moore and 6-3, 300-pound Treyvon Hester. “They’re really good athletes, disciplined, play hard and play fast,” center Jacob Vazquez said. “I’d say they have a similar body shape, thick guys, kind of like Malik (Forrester), our nose guard. He’s good to go against to get some practice against what that will feel like.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT TOLEDO
- Saturday: Noon at the Glass Bowl (26,038)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1, Rockets 2-0
- TV/radio: KSEE (Ch. 24.1), ESPN3 online/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Fresno State leads 2-0, including a 55-54 double-overtime road win in 2008.