Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers returned to practice on Wednesday, going through individual drills in full pads, and there is a chance the freshman could play on Saturday in a Mountain West Conference showdown at San Diego State.
Rivers, who injured his right elbow in the Bulldogs’ victory over New Mexico, rushed for 39 yards and one touchdown on six plays before leaving the game in the second quarter. He did not play in the second half.
“He did really good (Wednesday),” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He feels fine. He has his strength back and everything. We’ll see what goes on (Thursday), but he looked good.
“They did a ball security (drill) and were yanking on the ball and all that kind of stuff. It’s coming along pretty well.”
Fresno State is leading the West Division of the Mountain West, winning its first three conference games, while San Diego State is in second place at 2-1. The winner will have an inside track to the conference championship game between the winners of the West and Mountain divisions.
Rivers, who is leading the Bulldogs in rushing with 344 yards and rushing touchdowns with five, was not available after practice.
If the 5-foot-8 back is limited or unable to go against the Aztecs, the Bulldogs have a wealth of depth at the position with freshman Jordan Mims, sophomore Josh Hokit and junior Dejonte O’Neal. All three have played this season, and the reps within the group have been distributed fairly evenly toward the top.
Fresno State has forced 11 turnovers over its past four games, the most over a four-game stretch since 2012 when they had 12 and 15 turnovers over four games in winning a share of the Mountain West Conference championship.
Rivers has carried the ball more than 12 times in a game just once this season – he had 19 plays in a victory at San Jose State, rushing for a career-high 105 yards at 5.3 yards per play and two touchdowns. He has 65 carries on the year while Mims has gained 223 yards on 48 plays and Hokit has picked up 196 yards on 40.
O’Neal has 52 rushing yards on nine plays.
“It’s probably the top position where we do have some depth and guys have already played some snaps this year,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “We feel very comfortable with any of the guys we put out there.”
Penny wise – In a 31-14 victory last week, Boise State held San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny to 53 rushing yards and one touchdown on 21 plays. Break down those plays, and it’s eye-popping.
Penny went into the game leading the Mountain West in rushing, churning out 993 yards at 6.9 yards per play with nine touchdowns. He was averaging 165.5 yards per game.
In 21 plays against Boise State, he was stopped for a gain of 2 yards or less 15 times and tackled for a loss five times.
The Bulldogs’ defense, ranked second in the Mountain West and 14th in the nation in rushing defense behind Boise State, will have to play the first half without senior defensive tackle Malik Forrester. He was suspended for the first half of the game by the Mountain West after he was involved in a post-play skirmish against New Mexico.
Extra points – Fresno State was 1-11 a year ago, which will get you a lot of invitations to Homecoming.
The Bulldogs were the Homecoming opponent at San Jose State and won 27-10, and they will be the Homecoming opponent on Saturday at San Diego State.
The Aztecs have won their past three Homecoming games, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 128-24.
The last time they lost: 2013 to Fresno State.
▪ The Bulldogs’ defense has allowed opponents to convert only 22 of 77 third-down plays into a first down, 28.6 percent. If that were to hold, it would be the lowest percentage in the Mountain West since 2010 when TCU was at 24.1 percent.
▪ Rivers has been the Bulldogs’ primary punt returner the past five games, but the Bulldogs could go with KeeSean Johnson, Da’Mari Scott or Dejonte O’Neal against the Aztecs.
Johnson fielded the one New Mexico punt in the second half of the Bulldogs’ 38-0 victory after Rivers was injured, taking a fair catch.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at SDCCU Stadium (54,000)
- Records: Bulldogs 4-2, 3-0 Mountain West; Aztecs 6-1, 2-1
- Webcast/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Aztecs lost at home to Boise State on Saturday 31-14 and are in second place in the West Division. The Broncos shut down running back Rashaad Penny, who has been the Mountain West offensive player of the week four times this season. Penny gained just 53 yards on 21 plays and San Diego State, the two-time defending conference champion, had just 323 total yards in the loss, 83 of it coming on the ground. The Aztecs are leading the conference in total defense, allowing only 311.4 yards per game.