If Fresno State could suddenly transform its offense into a run-reliant triple option, this would be the week to do it.
In two games facing triple-option teams, Boise State surrendered better than 45% of the total rushing yards it allowed during the entire regular season. The Broncos gave up 792 yards against Air Force and New Mexico, struggling to play assignment-sound defense.
But since Fresno State (6-6) isn’t about to veer from its no-huddle spread, the Bulldogs will have to find other ways to get their running game going in Saturday’s Mountain West Championship game at Boise State.
And that likely will require a heavier dose of running back Marteze Waller, as well as the Bulldogs stepping up their physical play.
“I’m ready,” Waller said. “If (running backs) coach (Joe) Wade wants to play me more, I’m fine with that. If he wants me to wait, I’ll wait and be patient until he puts me in.
“I think we’ve got a good game plan for Boise. I’m always excited to play and help the team. We got to win, no question about that.”
Boise State has done a solid job defending the run overall, ranking fourth in the Mountain West and No. 45 in the nation with an average of 147.4 yards allowed per game.
But in several of the games in which they have lost or trailed by at least two touchdowns before winning, the Broncos have shown a degree of vulnerability against the run.
The Broncos gave up 287 rushing yards in a 28-14 loss to Air Force, 505 in a 60-49 come-from-behind win at New Mexico and 169 in 38-29 come-from-behind victory against San Diego State.
Fresno State had success on the ground against Boise State in their regular-season meeting, gaining 186 yards. But the Broncos pulled away for a 37-27 victory Oct. 17.
The 5-foot-11, 209-pound Waller rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The Bulldogs oddly limited Waller’s carries, despite him averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, particularly down the stretch when he had just one carry after the Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter tied 27-27.
The Bulldogs also struggled to consistently generate first-down yardage.
Waller did have a 76-yard touchdown run and another 35-yard gain on first down. But aside from those, the Bulldogs averaged 2.8 yards per first-down run, including five that went for no gain or negative yards.
“Those 2-yard gains drive me nuts,” Bulldogs offensive line coach Cameron Norcross said. “I’d rather have no 60-yard gains and all 4-, 5-yard gains. I want that consistency. And I think we’ve been doing a better job of that lately. We’re getting on blocks, sustaining those blocks, being more physical, more assignment sound.
“Running game’s going to be important against these guys.”
Fresno State has averaged 204.3 rushing yards in the three-game winning streak it will carry into the championship — and that’s with Waller limited to just six of the 12 quarters because of a shoulder and head injuries.
Waller, who finished the regular season ranked 14th in the nation with an average of 6.51 yards per carry, is coming off a 137-yard, two-touchdown game against Hawaii. Josh Quezada has stepped up, averaging 79.3 rushing yards in the past three games.
“I think we’re doing we’re doing a good job getting a push, our running backs are doing a good job whether it’s been Josh or Tez,” third-year Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’re running the ball much better than any time in the three years.”
In all, the Bulldogs are 4-0 when topping 200 rushing yards.
Fresno State’s strong rushing performances also have helped opened the passing attack, as well as providing a breather for Fresno State’s defense by keeping the other team’s offense off the field.
“The run game isn’t just the five (offensive linemen) and the running back,” Norcross said. “It’s 11 guys, it’s everyone working together. We’re starting to get a little more cohesion.
“We have to continue to have that physical mind-set that we’re going to get after guys, knock them around.”