Fresno State Football

Fresno State football: Down but not out, Bulldogs look to bounce back at Utah (video)

Ding, ding, ding. Round 2.

Time to find out if Fresno State (0-1) is ready to get off the canvas after getting knocked down in its opener.

The Bulldogs' challenging nonconference schedule continues at noon Saturday against another Power 5 conference opponent in Utah (1-0) of the Pac-12.

Are the Bulldogs as bad as they looked in a 52-13 loss against then-No. 15 USC? Or can they show they're not down for the count and fix the mistakes that plagued them last week?

"Our guys know they've got to pick themselves back up," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "The older guys know how to respond. We need to make sure the younger guys get the message.

"So we didn't play as well as we would've liked. We can't sit and feel sorry for ourselves. Got to get to work, make the corrections."

The Bulldogs are trying to avoid losing consecutive games within a season for the first time in DeRuyter's tenure.

Fresno State survived physically against USC, avoiding major injury, but it was the Bulldogs' worst regular-season showing in DeRuyter's two-plus years.

The defense, with eight returning starters, gave up 701 yards and 37 first downs against the Trojans. The offense, rotating quarterbacks Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette, generated a mere 317 total yards.

Both quarterbacks will play against the Utes as the staff continues to look for signs of stability and consistent production before choosing a full-time starter.

DeRuyter again will hold off on announcing which will start until near game time. First-half performances will then determine how much each plays after halftime.

Against USC, Burrell completed 11 of 19 passes for 97 yards and one interception. Connette was 7 of 17 for 68 yards and three interceptions.

"Whether you're going to be the starter or not, you have to prepare the entire week like you're going in as the starter," Connette said. "Whenever I enter the game, I have the same mindset whether I would've gone in in the first quarter.

"I'm not thinking, 'I want to show people what I can do.' All I'm thinking is getting the offense down the field and scoring points. That's something Brian and I are both trying to work on. It's not trying to prove somebody wrong (or) trying to show what we can do. We just want to do what we need to do to be successful."

The Bulldogs haven't played Utah since the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, a 17-16 Utes victory. And Fresno State will play at a loud Rice-Eccles Stadium, which seats 45,807 and has had 26 straight sellouts since 2010.

Coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Utah might not be at the level of USC or even No. 19 Nebraska, which visits Bulldog Stadium next week, but it's far from a pushover matchup for Fresno State.

The Utes once ruled the Mountain West, twice winning Bowl Championship Series postseason games and finishing undefeated (2004, 2008). In their final three seasons in the conference, the Utes went 33-6 overall and 21-3 in Mountain West play. That success played a significant role in helping Utah land in the Pac-12.

The Utes are now in their third season in the Pac-12 but still looking for their first winning record since joining the conference.

Receiver Dres Anderson and 6-foot-7 quarterback Travis Wilson anchor the offense while on defense senior cornerback Eric Rowe and senior safety Brian Blechen are both former Freshman All-Americans and four-year starters.

"Clearly you can tell they've been in the Pac-12 for a few years now," DeRuyter said.

Despite struggling against USC's no-huddle spread, the Bulldogs have had some success against up-tempo offenses, such as the very one Utah runs.

In their first year with offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, the Utes are using the no-huddle spread that Christensen employed while he was the Wyoming coach. In the past two seasons, Fresno State beat Wyoming 48-10 and 42-14 while holding the Cowboys to 296 and 243 total yards.

Fresno State does need to improve its third-down defense after allowing USC to convert its first seven before finishing 9 of 12 in the first half and 11 of 18 for the game.

Cornerback play, in particular, could be more physical. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth said he should've called for more blitzes in third-and-long situations.

"I was way too conservative," Toth said. "I should've let them loose a little bit more. ... It's a process. We'll get it right."

Fresno State, however, knows it will need more productivity from its quarterbacks to have a shot. An improved showing from the receivers after they dropped a handful of passes and failed to block physically enough on the outside should help the quarterbacks.

"It's all about growth," DeRuyter said. "Last week, we did some good things and things not so good. They were able to learn from some of that, tape-wise.

"Now it's getting back on your feet, going out and seeing what we do on the field."

Related stories from Fresno Bee

  Comments