Fresno State is trying to figure out how to kick-start a running game that is ranked last in the Mountain West in yards per play and game and if one more live body in the equation helps – and it might – the Bulldogs could be close to catching a break.
Freshman Justin Rice, who suffered a broken bone in his foot on the first day of fall camp and was likely to sit out this season as a redshirt, took part in a rookie scrimmage Sunday following the loss at UNLV and ran the ball well. So well, in fact, that coach Tim DeRuyter and the offensive staff decided to put him into their live inside run drill Tuesday, get him some reps in team periods with the No. 1 and No. 2 offenses, and see what he could do.
Fresno State is averaging 3 yards per rush, last in the Mountain West and 122nd of 128 in the nation.
“He was impressive for first coming back, but he missed a lot of time so we have to get him up to speed,” DeRuyter said. “He has to get to game speed and game conditioning. That will take time, but we’ll see if he’s ready to go this week. He had a good day of practice. We’ll see how he handles (Wednesday) and the next day.”
Rice definitely handled his first full practice well. In the final period, with the Bulldogs in live team, he took a handoff and blew threw a hole to the right of center and then blew up the first defender who got in his way some 10 yards downfield. Rice obliterated that would-be tackler, broke to his right and kept going even after his helmet was knocked off.
The 205-pound freshman from Central Catholic High-Modesto also had two nice runs in the live inside run drill.
Rice was not available to comment because the Bulldogs do not allow student-athletes to meet with the media until they have played in a game. But those plays made an impact and were impossible to miss.
He was impressive for first coming back, but he missed a lot of time so we have to get him up to speed.
Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter on freshman running back Justin Rice
“He had a couple of good runs,” running backs coach Dave Ungerer said. “We tried to use him a little bit to see what his strengths and weaknesses are and if he can bring something else to the table offensively.
“He missed a lot of time, so there’s some rust there, but he did a pretty good job (Tuesday). We’ll look at the film and see what he can add to our package and go from there. But it definitely was encouraging.”
Fresno State, which plays conference-rival Nevada on Saturday, has three running backs in Bryson Oglesby (knee), Saevion Johnson (hamstring) and Rice close to returning from injury. Rice and Johnson are true freshmen, and if one can prove ready DeRuyter said they will take them out of redshirt mode.
“Both of them will practice this week and we’ll see who is most ready to go on Saturday,” DeRuyter said. “We’re only one week into the conference schedule and if one of them figures to play prominently we’ll go ahead and play them.”
In full pads – Offensive lineman Shane Gama, who is coming back from a scary incident in July when hospitalized after suffering heatstroke in a conditioning workout, practiced for the first time in full pads.
The Bulldogs’ Aaron Peck had 194 receiving yards in the loss at UNLV, the most by a receiver in the Mountain West this season.
The transfer from Southwestern College participated in some individual drills and then took reps with the scout team.
“Good to see him out here,” DeRuyter said. “We’re thin in the offensive line and we’ve got to get him up to game conditioning as quickly as possible and hopefully have some reps for him so we can add him to the mix.
“Obviously, we’re going to keep monitoring his health, but from talking to the trainers he has handled everything to this point and he’s getting some additional conditioning after practice to help speed him along.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT NEVADA
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Mackay Stadium (30,000)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-4, 0-1 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 2-3, 0-1
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Fresno State leads 27-19-1, but lost 30-16 last season at Bulldog Stadium.