Fresno State’s early instability at quarterback hasn’t made coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm conservative on fourth down.
The Bulldogs (2-3, 1-0 Mountain West) are on pace to finish among the top 10 in the nation in fourth-down attempts for the third straight season.
Through five games, Fresno State has converted 5 of 12. ranking sixth in the nation in attempts — the combined result of having an aggressive offense and an unreliable kicking game that is dependent on a freshman walk-on kicker.
Fresno State and Boise State are tied atop the Mountain West in fourth-down attempts. The Bulldogs’ success rate of 41.7% rates 78th in the country; the Broncos are at 33.3%.
“I think we’ve shown the last two years (that) once we get in the area past the 50, we start thinking about going for it on fourth,” DeRuyter said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our offense. We’ve got to do better at it. Our percentage is down from a year ago. But that’s something that we’re going to continue to do.
“Coach Schramm and I are communicating all the time on third down — depending on the down and distance if we have two downs to get it — and it definitely effects the calls.”
Because the Bulldogs lost scholarship kicker Colin McGuire after one game (he left the team for personal reasons), Fresno State has turned to walk-on Kody Kroening. Kroening’s consistent field-goal range appears to be about 30 yards and in. He has made a kick from 27 and missed from 30 in his only two attempts.
The Bulldogs have bypassed a chance to try field goals from 18, 34, 35, 36, 47 and 49 yards this season, instead going for it on fourth. The numbers show that’s nothing new for the Bulldogs under DeRuyter.
Last year, Fresno State converted 21 of 32 fourth downs to rank fourth in attempts and 17th with a 66% success rate. During DeRuyter’s first season in 2012, the Bulldogs made 16 of 32 to finish eighth in attempts and 55th in conversion rate.
This year’s Bulldogs have gotten off to slow starts in each of the past two games on fourth-down attempts. But that’s done little to make DeRuyter back off.
During a 35-24 win last week at New Mexico, Fresno State failed to convert on fourth-and-1 from the Lobos 17 on a Martze Waller run up the middle during the Bulldogs’ second drive of the game.
The Bulldogs did come through on a fourth-and-goal run for a 1-yard touchdown by running back Josh Quezada later in the second half.
But in the fourth quarter, Fresno State fell just short again on fourth-and-4r from the Lobos 18 when quarterback Brandon Connette flicked a 3-yard pass to linebacker Jeff Camilli on a fakeed field goal.
Two weeks ago in a 56-16 win against Southern Utah, Fresno State was stopped on its first two fourth-down attempts.
On fourth-and-2 from the Southern Utah 17, Waller caught a swing pass but was tackled a yard short of the first-down marker. Quezada later was stopped for no yards during a run up the middle on fourth-and-1 from the Southern Utah 32.
But the Bulldogs came through on their third attempt when Quezada ran for 16 yards on fourth-and-1 from the Southern Utah 30. Fresno State went on to score a touchdown.
“Every game is kind of (an) individual (case),” DeRuyter said. “If we think that we’ve got an advantage running plays, we’re going to continue to do it. It’s something that we think about.
“It’s not ‘Whatever I feel at that moment.’ It’s something that we plan for, for when we get in that range, really between the 40 and the 20 (is when) we might go for it.”
San Diego State at Fresno State
7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
Bulldogs 2-3, 1-0 MW; Aztecs 2-2, 1-0
CBS Sports Network
KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)