Fresno State will open its football season in one week with a Saturday game against Idaho. But the Bulldogs still are working through two critical issues that could have a defining impact on what could be a historic season.
One, the kicking game. Two, punt return.
Asa Fuller and Shane Ciucci, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman, are competing to replace kicker Jimmy Camacho, who was a second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection last season when he hit 25 of 32 field goal attempts and 41 of 42 extra points.
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Coach Jeff Tedford is likely to ramp up the pressure on the kicks in practice, but neither Fuller nor Ciucci has kicked at the FBS level. How they react, particularly in non-conference road games at Minnesota and at UCLA, could play large in the end results and there is no discounting the importance of that piece to the Bulldogs’ offense.
When Camacho won the job in camp last season, he had to make some kicks with his teammates surrounding him, yelling and waving their arms.
“I think it’s better when you have a lot of distraction around them,” Tedford said. “Sometimes, I think complete silence is the most pressure you can have. They perform when we have a lot of energy, a lot of noise around them.”
Fresno State is expected to be more efficient in the red zone this season with quarterback Marcus McMaryion working with more of a base in the offense. But it could be better, and the Bulldogs still could find themselves relying heavily on that kicking game.
They were a long way from optimum last season: McMaryion completed just 17 of 36 passes inside an opponent’s 20-yard line (47.2 percent) and the Bulldogs’ run game generated 3.2 yards on 99 red zone rushing plays.
The 32 field goals it attempted last season were the third most in the nation.
On punt return, wideouts KeeSean Johnson, Michiah Quick, Jamire Jordan, Chris Coleman and Delvon Hardaway remain in competition.
Johnson has the most experience in that group with 10 returns over the past three seasons and Quick had three punt returns when at Oklahoma.
Job One is to catch and secure the football under pressure.
“There still are a group of guys there that are doing it, but we have a pretty good idea of who it’s going to be,” Tedford said. “But we’re still going to give them a chance. We’re doing a lot of drills with creating havoc around them and things like that just to see.”
Fresno State dropped three punts last season, recovering two, and the third proved costly coming late in the third quarter with the score tied in a 26-16 loss to UNLV.
Running back Ronnie Rivers, who handled punt returns last season before suffering an elbow injury in a Week Six victory over New Mexico, is working his way back from a foot injury suffered during spring practices.