Fresno State Football

Fresno State football: Linebacker sees slowing down as path to improvement

Rate it or grade it — 1 to 10 or A to F — but for Fresno State's defense, the answer is not good.

For two games, opponents have been zipping through the Bulldogs. First USC, then Utah.

The Trojans and Utes put up 701 and 526 yards, 52 and 59 points. Tempo has been a factor — Fresno State has been on the field for 186 plays and no team in the nation has defended more.

Put it to Karl Mickelsen and the senior said to get right the Bulldogs do not need to speed up, they need to slow down.

As Fresno State's inside (Mike) linebacker, the one who makes the calls and adjusts the defense, Mickelsen started listing the areas needing attention: Play the proper technique, stay fundamentally sound, don't rush ...

"With me, just knowing the defense and knowing everything, you kind of get ahead of yourself," said Mickelsen, who last season led the team with 97 tackles including 64 solo. "You know what's coming, but you overreact and you miss it because you're over-running something. You're playing it too fast. You just have to slow down and play the game. ...

"It's everyone. We're rushing things and getting ahead of it."

Get that, and the Bulldogs could get much better defensively, though the task Saturday against Nebraska, No. 21 in USA Today coaches' poll, is no easier than it was at USC or Utah.

The Cornhuskers rank sixth in the nation in total offense at 610.5 yards per game, including 346.5 on the ground.

Fresno State will have to contend with senior Ameer Abdullah, who this season could become the first running back in Nebraska history with 1,000 rushing yards in three seasons.

The Bulldogs have to defend the zone-read game sparked by quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who has averaged 10.7 yards when he rushes the football and 8.6 yards per play when he passes it.

It isn't easy when all that comes into play, on either side of the equation.

"Karl is a really smart kid, and I think he can overthink some things, which can slow him down and put him in the wrong spot," defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "He also is emotional at times -- he plays this thing like his hair is on fire and when he gets emotional sometimes he loses focus.

"With him, it's a combination of things. Sometimes he overanalyzes and sometimes he's so wrapped up in the game he doesn't analyze. Both of the starts the last two games, he's been so amped up for that game that it's hurt him. It has hurt him in the early series in those games, and we can't have it. It doesn't matter what position, but especially when you're the vocal guy in our defense, the Mike or the Will, you can't be that. It doesn't matter about good things or bad things, after success or after failure, you have to be even in there and you have to be in control.

"I think some of that is the early part of the year, I think part of that is maybe him trying to overcompensate and the third thing is we're playing some good competition."

The thinking also is Mickelsen will be able to reel it in, along with his teammates.

"He hasn't played as well as he has at times, and he knows that," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He takes a lot of pride in it. It's very important to him. I expect him to play better and I know he will."

Mickelsen said he takes his role as a team leader seriously.

"It's all about trusting yourself," said Mickelsen, who has been in on eight tackles in the two games. "You have to trust yourself that you're going to make the play and make the tackle, make the right calls, make the right adjustments. You just have to have faith in yourself and your brothers there playing next to you. That's how you find that balance. A lot of us are going through the same thing. We just have to be on the same page at all times and we'll be fine.

"For me, being a senior, in your last year, every day you have to take advantage of the opportunity you have at hand. You have to take the role of being a leader because the younger guys look up to you. I remember when I was a young, I was looking up to the older guys, Travis Brown and Jeremiah Toma, Patrick Su'a, and they told me just take advantage of every opportunity, so it's all about being a leader and going out there and play your game."