Buried under an avalanche of busted coverages, missed tackles, wayward passes, sacks and tackles for loss allowed -- among other debris from three consecutive blowout losses to start the season -- is one simple fact. Fresno State, which is 0-3 and looked bad getting there, still has its primary goal of winning a third consecutive Mountain West Conference championship ahead of it.
But in the aftermath of a 55-19 loss to Nebraska, there was some concern how deep a mark those losses might leave on the Bulldogs, that the past will impact the future as they prepare for an opportunity to reset their season on Saturday against Southern Utah, a championship subdivision program.
Coach Tim DeRuyter addressed it immediately after the game, the coaching staff will harp on it all week in meetings and on the practice field. The Bulldogs coach also spoke with free safety Derron Smith and wideout Josh Harper about it after the loss to the Cornhuskers, late into the night.
He sat down with Smith, pulled Harper aside.
"It's got to be internalized by player leadership and clearly those guys are the voice of the team," DeRuyter said. "The team looks to them for answers and direction and they're doing a good job of leading our guys and talking to our guys about what we have to do going forward.
"The message to them is, internally, they've got to keep pushing guys and holding themselves accountable so that we can hold everybody accountable. We've got to be wary of guys huddling in groups in the dark corners of the locker room and complaining. Winners gather as a team and figure out how to get this thing right. We challenged the whole team with that (Saturday).
"It's easy to point fingers. But winning teams, championship teams, they don't do that. They look at themselves in the mirror and they say, 'Hey, what can I do to get better' and I know the character of those guys, they're going to do the same thing."
Fresno State, 0-3 for the first time since 1998, will need to in order to regain its footing. Little has gone right, and Southern Utah, while 0-3, lost only 28-19 at Nevada and to two Top 10 teams in the FCS in No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana and No. 10 South Dakota State.
"As a head coach, you're always concerned about those kinds of things," DeRuyter said. "I know our coaches are going to work like heck and challenge our guys, but being able to not focus on the past but focus on what we can control and that's getting better individually, getting better together and getting better as a team. That's something we definitely have control over. Spending time worrying about, woe is me, you'll never get better and we're not going to let our guys do that.
"We know the critics are going to come out, but we have to have a bunch of guys that are thumb pointers not finger pointers. They understand that and they're going to do a great job regrouping this thing and help us get stronger once we get through it."
Running back depth hurt
The Bulldogs took another hit to their running back depth, losing senior Malique Micenheimer to a shoulder injury for what likely will be an extended period.
Fresno State already was down redshirt freshman Dontel James for at least another month due to a lower leg injury suffered at USC and freshman Kurt Scoby indefinitely with a severe concussion suffered in the first scrimmage in fall camp. Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller, who accounted for 807 and 646 of the Bulldogs' 1,967 rushing yards a year ago, are at the head of the position group and senior Daryl Cash will move up in the playing rotation.
"We thought we had a pretty good stable of backs when we started camp, but now a couple of them are down for a while," DeRuyter said. "I really like Marteze and Josh and they're going to have to press on."
Waller is leading the Bulldogs with 177 rushing yards on 38 plays, 4.7 per play. Quezada, who did not play in the opener at USC after getting dinged up in fall camp, has 24 yards on 13 plays.
Micenheimer, though a senior, does have a redshirt year available.
If he is out for an extended period Fresno State could apply for a medical hardship waiver to get the season back -- by rule, the player may not have participated in more than 20% of a team's games and the injury must occur in the first half of the season.
Connette expected back
Quarterback Brandon Connette is expected to be cleared and in practice on Monday after sitting out the loss to Nebraska with a right hand injury that limited his team reps last week.
And while Connette and Brian Burrell continue to try to gain some separation in the competition at the position, DeRuyter said time is running short for both to make in impression. The Bulldogs open conference play on Sept. 26 at New Mexico, and the preference would be for one to play well enough and consistently enough to earn the starting position.
"Hopefully this week, we'll get some clarity on it," he said.
Burrell against Nebraska completed 30 of 59 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown and on the season he has hit 49 of 94 throws (52.1%) for 439 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Connette has completed 23 of 41 (56.1%) for 245 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Fresno State moved up to 77th in the FBS in passing offense at 228.0 yards per game. But the Bulldogs are tied for 122nd averaging only 5.1 yards per pass play and 120th with an efficiency rating of 9.74.