Fresno State has three games remaining, and each will put more ground between the Bulldogs and 2013, the back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships, the promise of a football program that was starting to right itself through greater investment by the athletic department and the university.
After the Bulldogs (1-8, 0-5 Mountain West) play at Colorado State on Saturday and finish with games against Hawaii and San Jose State, there will be fewer links to that team and that atmosphere. If nothing else, the few who do remain would like to do what they can to make sure it is not all lost on a team that at this point has more ability than confidence.
Fresno State has lost 12 of its past 13 games away from Bulldog Stadium, the win coming last season at Hawaii. Only one of those losses have come by less than 10 points, the average margin of defeat is 26.3 points.
“We had guys like Derek Carr and Davante (Adams) and Bursey (Isaiah Burse) and Derron Smith. You feel good,” said senior wideout Aaron Peck, who played on both championship teams as a freshman and sophomore. “But I feel the same way about our guys now.”
“We’re 1-and-whatever, you know? But I want to leave these guys with the message that winning is a mentality. You have to know you’re going to win, You have to go into a game knowing you’re going to win. You go through a season like this that message might get lost, but it’s on the seniors and the older guys like myself to keep getting on guys, ‘Hey, why are we here?’ ”
Eric Kiesau, the Bulldogs’ interim coach, has pushed that as well.
Kiesau, who took over on Oct. 23 when Tim DeRuyter was fired after a loss at Utah State dropped the Bulldogs to 4-16 over a stretch of 20 games, stopped practice Tuesday when intensity started to wane.
He brought the team together and let them know about it.
We had guys like Derek Carr and Davante (Adams) and Bursey (Isaiah Burse) and Derron Smith. You feel good. But I feel the same way about our guys now.
Fresno State wideout Aaron Peck
“When you go through a traumatic time like we did two weeks ago, I don’t want them to lose focus, because if you turn it into a negative you’re going to have those negative thoughts when you’re 40 and 45,” Kiesau said.
“Right now, for me, I want them to have a good experience. I’m going to expect a lot out of them and not going to let down on how we lead the team. The thing I was talking to them about in practice was we’re not going to waste any second, we’re not going to waste any time, because that’s all we have is time. We have three weeks left. We have to maximize every meeting, every practice, every game.”
The first of those is against the Rams (4-4, 2-2), who should be well-rested coming off a bye and appear to have fit some pieces together with quarterback Nick Stevens playing well in back-to-back starts after getting benched earlier in the year.
Stevens has hit 64.4 percent of his passes (38 of 59) for 426 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a loss at Boise State and a victory at UNLV.
Colorado State has allowed opponents to convert 47.9 percent of their third-down plays into first downs, ranking 10th of 12 in the Mountain West.
Colorado State put up 42 points against the Rebels, its high this season against a Bowl Subdivision opponent.
The Rams to that point were averaging 20.4 points against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
With Stevens finding himself, the Rams appear well-suited to pick and grind at one of the Bulldogs’ glaring weaknesses: trying to stop the run. They have an experienced offensive line with four returning starters, two capable backs in Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews and can play-action off their run game.
Fresno State remains unsettled at quarterback – starter Chason Virgil competed through the week of game prep with graduate transfer Zach Kline. But this game and the two that follow are more about the Bulldogs overall, where they have been and where they might be headed.
“I’d like to leave with all the young guys – they put their bodies on the line for all of us seniors and the whole team – with confidence and finishing out the season with a few wins and knowing that we were coming around,” said senior linebacker Jeff Camilli, a freshman on the 2013 title team.
“That’s ultimately what the goal is. I want to leave those guys feeling like they can go out there and beat anybody.”
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
- Webcast/radio: MW Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)