Fresno State has had designs on getting Zach Kline, its backup quarterback, into a game when it still was competitive, the outcome still in doubt. Nevada. San Diego State. Utah State. Air Force. It hasn’t always happened – just that once in Mountain West play, two series in the second quarter at Nevada.
The number of reps he got in practice in any of those weeks wasn’t much different from the one before or after, but Tuesday, he got a few more opportunities with the ones working opposite starter Chason Virgil.
“It was a good time,” Kline said. “It was a lot of fun mixing it up.”
Fresno State is averaging 6.3 yards per pass play, ranking 11th of 12 in the Mountain West, but that still is its highest since 2013. The Bulldogs averaged only 5.3 yards per pass play last season and 5.9 in 2014.
Eric Kiesau, the Bulldogs’ interim coach, noted Virgil still took a few more reps with the ones and said he didn’t yet have a starter for Saturday’s game at Colorado State.
“Might be tomorrow, might be game time,” Kiesau said. “Whenever it’s right and we feel like it’s the best decision for the team, we’ll make that decision.”
But while Kline appears to have more of a shot to play this week, it is up to the graduate transfer from Cal to make more of his practice reps than he has to this point. With three games to go, Fresno State (1-8) has struggled mightily to gain any footing to make a push forward.
Virgil, a redshirt freshman, has been inconsistent applying and running the offense. But Kline, on the practice field, also has been inconsistent. He has missed reads and been on the wrong side of the field at times. Taking care of the football has been an issue going back to fall camp when he made some poor choices and forced throws into coverage, which kept him behind Virgil throughout.
I definitely feel like there is an opportunity there. When that is, who knows? My job is to be as prepared as I possibly can, to prepare like the starter and whenever that time is, I’ll be ready to go.
Fresno State quarterback Zach Kline
“A film rep is a lot different from a live rep, and a mental rep is a lot different, obviously, from a live rep,” Kline said. “I’ve been able to really lock in on the mental reps and the film reps, but for me, it’s the application. Applying it is the part that I need to make that next jump.
“If I just keep getting those reps and have a good day, I’ll get more. That’s the way it has always been in usually every program. If I keep getting the reps and lock in on those reads, when I see the play, see it more than once throughout the week, I’m definitely more comfortable with it on Saturday. I just have to keep going. Really, it’s just a repetition thing.”
A verdict on the work in practice Tuesday will not be rendered until the practice tape has been dissected, but Kiesau said Kline did appear to handle his reads well.
“Today is the first day he got more reps than he usually does,” Kiesau said. “He did a good job. Again, I say it all the time, we have to go back and watch the practice film and really evaluate it. But I think, for the most part, my initial thought is he did a pretty good job with the reads.”
Accuracy also will be a determinant. Virgil and Kline, when given opportunities, have struggled in that area.
Zach Kline has attempted one pass in conference play and this season is 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) for 123 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.
Fresno State has completed only 51.5 percent of its passes – Virgil is at 51.4 percent and Kline 53.3 percent – and has a passing efficiency rating of 110.38.
“I want to see them set their feet, throw the ball and be accurate,” Kiesau said. “Both those guys are competing and it’s who wants the job. They have to be more accurate and comfortable running the system. That’s what we need. Right now, we need accurate footballs.”
The 110.38 is the lowest in the conference and 118th of 128 in the nation.
The Bulldogs also have scored fewer than 23 points in five consecutive games and at 20.6 points per game are tied with Wake Forest for 119th in the nation in scoring offense. By contrast, 17 teams are scoring more than 40 points per game.
“I definitely feel like there is an opportunity there,” Kline said. “When that is, who knows? My job is to be as prepared as I possibly can, to prepare like the starter and whenever that time is, I’ll be ready to go. But I’m getting a few more throws in there and a few more looks and being a little more locked in.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium (34,400) in Fort Collins, Colo.
- Records: Bulldogs 1-8, 0-5 Mountain West; Rams 4-4, 2-2
- Online/radio: MWN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)