Fresno State might have caught another break for a second straight week, expecting to face another Mountain West Conference opponent without its primary quarterback.
San Diego State (2-2, 1-0) will turn to true freshman Nick Bawden for Friday’s game against Fresno State (2-3, 1-0) at Bulldog Stadium after starter Quinn Kaehler suffered a shoulder injury last weekend in the fourth quarter of a 34-17 win against UNLV, Aztecs coach Rocky Long told the San Diego Union Tribune.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bawden has played in two games but has yet to attempt a pass, having entered twice in mop-up duty.
Bawden, rated a three-star recruit coming out of Los Gatos High, was recruited by Fresno State and participated in the Bulldogs’ 2013 summer camp. He passed for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions as a high school senior. Bawden also received private tutoring from quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson, who’s credited for helping develop high-profiled players such as NFL starting quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Locker, and Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow.
“He’s a young man who we think has a lot of talent,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said of Bawden. “He’s an athletic guy with good size. We liked him. We recruited him. He chose to go to San Diego State.
“We saw him just at the end of the game last week, so we don’t know a ton about what he’s done there. If he’s starting for them, I’m sure he’ll be coached up. They’ve got other quarterbacks on their roster. He beat those guys out. We anticipate it’ll be someone who can come in and effectively run their offense.”
Fresno State benefited from a quarterback injury last week after a continued hamstring injury sidelined New Mexico’s Cole Gautsche. The Bulldogs went on to win 35-24 while limiting the Lobos quarterbacks to rush for a mere 37 yards combined out of New Mexico’s run-intensive triple-option offense -- 81.5 yards less than Gautsche’s rushing average per game this season.
Kaehler, a senior, wasn’t exactly having a stellar season through five game, completing 71 of 121 passes for 861 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. But Kaehler does have experience that Bawden lacks, as well as a track record against Fresno State after passing for 337 yards last year and nearly leading the Aztecs to an upset before the Bulldogs prevailed 35-28 in overtime.
Bulldogs defensive coordinator Nick Toth began Monday’s practice by quickly informing his unit of San Diego State’s likely quarterback change, then reminded players of the Aztecs’ preference to run the ball and set up downfield throws with play-action.
Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey is tied for second in the nation with nine rushing touchdowns and ranks 17th in the country with an average of 116.8 rushing yards per game. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Pumphrey is coming off a 167-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance against UNLV.
“We’re moving forward,” Toth said. “They’ve got a great back. Nick Bawden can throw it really well. There’s not going to be a huge fall-off. He’s actually more athletic than the other kid. That gives them another dimension that we have to defend. But I don’t think their game plan changes a whole bunch.
“They’re still going to try to run the ball. They have a really good offensive line. We’ve just got to try to fit inside. Make sure that rookie has got to throw the ball.”
Defensive captain Derron Smith said he likes the general idea of facing a rookie quarterback but he also wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Personally, I’m thinking they’re going to try to rely heavily on the running game and get some easy throws early,” Smith said. “But he got a scholarship for a reason, so he must have some talent. So we’re going to come in prepared and focused, not overlook anything or anyone.”
Night in Navy
Fresno State will debut its navy uniforms and chrome helmets Friday for the “Night in Navy” game, which also marks the 1,000th game in program history. Fresno State fans are asked to wear navy blue to the game, too.
Players wore their chrome helmets during Monday’s practice to begin breaking them in.
“I think this game is going to be huge for a number of reasons,” DeRutyer said. “We’re Western Division rivals. We have the ‘Night of Navy’ going on. Our players are excited to wear their new navy uniforms. It’s also the only home game the Red Wave can come watch us in October (at Bulldog Stadium)."