There will be no backing off the physicality of practices, Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter vowed as the Bulldogs prepared for the Hawaii Bowl against Rice on Dec. 24.
Fresno State will conduct its typical practice routine this week with its most physically demanding practices Tuesday and Wednesday as usual.
Then after reaching Hawaii on Friday, the Bulldogs will have physical workouts Saturday and Sunday as DeRuyter tinkers with his team’s bowl preparations in hopes of changing Fresno State’s postseason fortunes.
The Bulldogs (6-7) ares seeking their first win in a bowl since 2007 and are coming off the program’s two worst postseason beatings, both in DeRuyter’s first two seasons at Fresno State, including 43-10 against Southern Methodist in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl.
“We’re going to have some tough practices out there on the island,” DeRuyter said Monday. “We kind of backed things off the last time we were there and did most of our hard work here. And then we did less hitting there. We’re going to hit out on the island.
“I know natural comparisons are: It’s the same Hawaii Bowl. But really, it’s a different football team and the energy of our guys. This season is not over. Two years ago, maybe they thought the (Mountain West) championship was it. But this season, clearly we need to win this football game and get these guys winning a bowl game.”>
While increasing the practice intensity, the coaching staff also must balance keeping players fresh for the actual game — the Bulldogs’ 14th of the season. Fresno State has played 14 games three times previously, going 11-3 in 2001, 9-5 in 2002 and 9-5 in 2003. And in those seasons, Fresno State went a combined 2-1 in bowls.
“I’m sore, but everybody on the teams is and every other team in the nation in a bowl is sore, too,” Bulldogs safety Derron Smith said. “You’ve just got to push through it. It’s part of playing football. At the next level (the NFL), they play 16 and the playoffs if they get that.
“I’m looking forward to this bowl. Just going out there, having a good time, my last time playing with these guys, the camaraderie and fun we’ll have together.”
Of course, managing the “fun” could be another challenge, given the island distractions and four straight days of bowl events for the teams. Just last year, Boise State starting quarterback Joe Southwick was sent home six days before the Hawaii Bowl against Oregon State, reportedly for urinating off a hotel balcony.
Fresno State didn’t have any discipline issues during the last Hawaii Bowl trip, but players admitted to having perhaps too much fun before the game and not focusing on the matchup enough. DeRuyter did not enforce an official curfew the first couple of days at the 2012 Hawaii Bowl but conceded to such a notion this time, though he’s yet to lay out his curfew specifics.
“Two years ago, I think when we got the bowl bid, it was almost anticlimactic,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t want to demean the bowl at all, but we had put everything into winning the (Mountain West) championship. And we won it that last week in the season; guys were so excited about that.
“I didn’t do a good enough job. We probably treated the bowl game as too much of a reward and didn’t realize how good of a team SMU could be. They came out and they prepared and outplayed us and outcoached us and kicked our tail.
“This year,” DeRuyter added, “I think our guys, because of how we started (0-3) and how we had to pick ourselves up, they’re looking at this as ... an opportunity to cement the legacy of these seniors (and) to finish the chapter of this season and say who we are.”
Senior wide receiver and offensive captain Josh Harper said the Bulldogs must balance football and fun, but keep the game as the priority.
“We’re going to have our fun — it’s our reward game,” Harper said. “At the same time, we want to leave the island with a win.”