Fresno State Football

Fresno State football: Receivers challenged to improve against Utah

Bottom line, they didn't get much done.

Fresno State's receivers last week got derailed at the line of scrimmage, didn't get off press coverage and, when they did, too often they dropped passes. Some easy ones, too. The blocking on the bubble screens and bullet passes to the outside, plays used so successfully last year in this offense, were inconsistent. That is all reflective in the stats, what quarterbacks Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette did in the season-opening loss at USC.

They were a combined 18 of 36 for 160 yards with four interceptions, and eight of those completed passes went to running backs, not wide receivers. The Bulldogs' passing efficiency rating: 65.11, 120th of 122 in the football bowl subdivision after the opening weekend of college football.

But on Saturday at Utah, the Bulldogs get another shot, and against similar man-free coverage that they failed to take full advantage of against the Trojans.

It is a redemptive opportunity, and they have been duly challenged.

"Absolutely they've been challenged this week," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Last week clearly we didn't play as physically as we needed to and those are things we had control over. We've given USC a lot of credit and they deserve it, but there were plays to be made that we didn't make. We had balls dropped, and we didn't play as physical as we needed to. For us to have the kind of season we want to, we have to have production from those guys, and I expect a dramatic improvement this week."

Much will depend on the outcome of those matchups, man-to-man on the outside and in the slot.

The Bulldogs will line up against Eric Rowe, a senior who moved to corner from free safety this season. On the other side, the Utes will play sophomore Dominique Hatfield, who also plays as a wide receiver, and senior Davion Orphey. That secondary had some issues early in a victory over Idaho State, a championship subdivision program, but that means nothing on Saturday.

That group of receivers, inexperienced behind senior Josh Harper, has to relish the hostile hand-to-hand conflicts and win those matchups.

"They're a man-free team. That's their deal," said Ron Antoine, who coaches the outside receivers. "Against just about every formation you can get into, they're still going to play it. They've played it for a long time, so they know what they're doing. That's what we're going to see, all day.

"Obviously, you have to be physical at the line of scrimmage. You have to make sure you establish your line, not get pushed off your line as a wide receiver. Those are some of the things that we're going to have to do playing Utah. Be physical at the line of scrimmage and let them know how you intend to play that day, and that's what our guys have to be determined to do from the first snap."

Said DeRuyter: "They have to own what we call the red line. They can't get pushed horizontally and they have to be able to push vertically in the space we need to push. It's more about mindset than anything. We've got guys that are strong enough, and it's more about grit and mindset to get it done."

The Bulldogs, Harper said, can do it. There is talent in that position group, albeit inexperienced to different degrees, from senior LeKendrick Williams to sophomore Da'Mari Scott to redshirt freshmen Delvon Hardaway and Darrell Fuery; inside are senior Greg Watson and juniors Aaron Peck and Dillon Root, who missed the USC game due to a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.

At USC, Scott had two receptions for 22 yards, Hardaway one for 11 and Peck one for no yards. In the second half, Scott had one reception and Peck was shut out.

Burrell and Connette are looking for playmakers to get the football, so the Bulldogs need to develop some playmakers to make that offense go, and those are the guys outside.

"We just have to run our routes at the right depth and at full speed, keep doing what we do," said Harper, who was held without a catch in the first half in the loss at USC but finished with a team-high six for 56 yards. "We can still put up the same numbers that we did last year; we just have to do it. We have the talent. It's just a matter of going out there and executing.

"We won't be able to tell until after the game on Saturday, but I feel like we're going to come out and we're going to be way better than we were. I don't think that team was us. The way we played, that wasn't us as a unit and I feel like we're going to come out and play a complete game.

"We're capable of doing it. We do it out here in practice. I have faith in our guys. We just have to go out there and execute."

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