Fresno State has two games left to play, and not even a 2-0 finish will take much stink off this football season. The Bulldogs are 1-9 overall and 0-6 in the Mountain West Conference, and with games remaining Saturday against Hawaii and Nov. 26 against San Jose State have a chance to be only the seventh MW team in history to go 0 for a conference season.
Their eight-game losing streak already is the longest in school history.
But Eric Kiesau, who was elevated to interim coach when Tim DeRuyter was fired Oct. 23 after a loss at Utah State, still hopes the Bulldogs can take some positives into the offseason.
If incentive is needed, the new guy will be watching.
Jeff Tedford, hired on Nov. 10, watched practices during the week, sitting silently in the red seats on the east side of Bulldog Stadium, many of which have been abandoned on game days, and taking off before they were done.
But there isn’t a position group that has much saved, and there is obviously a lot of room for improvement everywhere, on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“It’s really the whole team,” Kiesau said. “I want these seniors to go out right and then for the guys that are going to be here to have a good feeling going into the offseason and start to build on a new direction for the program.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil is a significant piece in that puzzle and – much like the offensive line, the wideouts and running backs – in need of a finish.
With 2,021 passing yards, he is one of only three freshman quarterbacks at Fresno State to have passed for more than 2,000 following Kevin Sweeney in 1983 (2,359 yards) and Paul Pinegar in 2002 (2,929), operating without much help from a running game ranked last in the Mountain West by a large margin. The Bulldogs have averaged 108.4 rushing yards per game while San Jose State, ranked 11th of 12 in the conference, has averaged 154.1.
But inconsistency has hurt, leading to some dreadful starts. Of the 11 freshman quarterbacks in the nation, Virgil ranks seventh in passing yards and 10th in passing efficiency rating at 111.38.
“It has been an up-and-down season for him,” Kiesau said. “It has been a roller coaster. I think he’s doing OK. He’s a resilient kid; he works hard. He still has a smile on his face, so I think he’ll be all right. I’m sure it’s hurting him. I’m not going to pretend like it’s not, especially with the wins and losses.
“He just has to be more consistent. But we all do – everybody, not just him.”
Hawaii might offer opportunity there. In a 52-16 loss to Boise State last week, the Rainbow Warriors allowed 357 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien completed 18 of 22 passes (81.8 percent) and had a passing efficiency rating of 270.88, highest by a MW quarterback this season.
The trick for Virgil will be deciphering coverage and making some gains against a Hawaii rushing defense that has allowed 258.0 yards per game and 27 touchdowns.
“They do two things really well,” Kiesau said. “They mix up their defenses a lot, especially in the secondary, and they play really hard. They play a lot harder this year than they have in the past, and it’s really evident on their defense. You watch those guys and study them a bunch, and they might not always be in the right gap or the right area, but they play really hard. Even if they’re wrong, they’re playing really hard.
“Chason, I just want him to build some confidence, complete some balls and throw some touchdowns and have a little confidence to carry him into the offseason. That will really help him, to end on a positive note, to end with an upward trend. ... I think that will be really critical to his development.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. HAWAII
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-9, 0-6 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 4-7, 3-4
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)