Fresno State, in its 1-10-with-one-to-go season. is one of nine teams in the nation with three wide receivers with 40 or more receptions.
KeeSean Johnson has 65 catches, Jamire Jordan 44 and Aaron Peck 40.
There obviously is a glimmer of hope there when furtively peeking forward. Peck is a senior, but Johnson and Jordan are redshirt sophomores. Da’Mari Scott also will be back next season, as will Delvon Hardaway.
But there also has been inconsistency, dropped passes costing – if nothing else – opportunity for a team that obviously has had issues everywhere.
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Fresno State is one of nine teams in the nation with three wideouts with 40 or more receptions, a list topped by Washington State with five. Virginia and Colorado have four; Syracuse, Houston, East Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Indiana also have three.
“I would say they’ve had too many dropped balls,” interim coach Eric Kiesau said. “I don’t know if underachieved is the right word, but they’ve had too many dropped balls. Way too many, and a lot of those are in critical situations in the game.”
Two came on the Bulldogs’ final drive in a wrenching 14-13 loss to Hawaii. The game ended with a blocked 43-yard field-goal attempt that could have been taken at point-blank range or led to a touchdown if the Bulldogs had advanced into and executed within the red zone.
The Bulldogs had five drops in the loss to the Rainbow Warriors, seven in another game and five in another. Not that those plays alone change a lot amid a program-record nine-game losing streak.
“They’re good enough. It’s a lack of focus and concentration,” said Kiesau, in charge for the final time before ceding control to new coach Jeff Tedford. “I coached receivers for a long time and I’ve been around a lot of great ones. The guys that focus and concentrate can catch 100 balls in this offense. It has been done before.
“It’s a lack of focus and a lack of concentration, because they have good hands. It’s just that sometimes they take their eye off the ball. When you’re a receiver, you catch the balls with your eyes and if you look at both of those drops (late against Hawaii), they both darted their eyes away. Everyone thinks you catch the ball with your hands. You don’t. The hands are the instrument used to catch it with your eyes. You focus on your eyes.”
It’s a constant progression. You constantly work on catching the ball at every different angle, every different position, every different route. You constantly work on those things. You continue to sharpen, sharpen, sharpen. It’s something never stops.
Fresno State receivers coach Burl Toler III
The Bulldogs were trying to fix that again after practice Tuesday, catching passes from quarterback Zach Kline and a pitching machine firing footballs at a rapid rate and a high velocity. Receivers coach Burl Toler III has had them doing that going back to fall camp, so that glimmer might become a spark and ultimately catch fire.
“There’s never one thing that you work on and you’re done working on it,” Toler said. “It’s a constant progression. You constantly work on catching the ball at every different angle, every different position, every different route. You constantly work on those things. You continue to sharpen, sharpen, sharpen. It’s something never stops.
“Guys in the NFL, they work on stuff every single day. They’re never to a point even at the highest level where they’re saying, ‘OK, I’m good at this route, I’m good at this catch.’ It’s an everyday thing.”
The Bulldogs get one more shot Saturday against San Jose State and a pass defense ranked a dubious third in the Mountain West Conference. The Spartans are allowing only 192.2 passing yards per game, but, much like the Bulldogs, they have seen their opponents invest far more in the running game.
They’re good enough, It’s a lack of focus and concentration. I coached receivers for a long time and I’ve been around a lot of great ones. The guys that focus and concentrate can catch 100 balls in this offense. It has been done before.
Fresno State interim coach Eric Kiesau
San Jose State (3-8, 2-5) has allowed opponents to complete 60.3 percent of their passes, third highest in the conference. They have allowed 8.6 yards per pass attempt, second highest. Opponents have a passing efficiency of 148.17, also second highest.
The Spartans are defending only 22.5 passes per game, while opponents churn out 5.7 yards per play and 260.4 yards per game on the ground.
Opportunity, again, could turn the outcome if Johnson, Jordan and Peck can add significantly to their reception totals.
“It definitely shows what we’re capable of,” said Jordan, leading the Bulldogs in averaging 15.6 yards per catch. “I feel like we can do a lot better as a group. We’ve been kind of inconsistent this year, but for me and KeeSean, we still have a lot of time to grow. It can only get better from here.”
“I’d be shocked,” Kiesau said, “if next year it’s not one of the top groups in the conference. They’re good enough, ability-wise.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-10, 0-7 Mountain West; Spartans 3-8, 2-5
- TV/Radio: CBS Sports NewWork/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)