The clock is ticking, even as Kalen DeBoer is making his way to the locker room from the coach’s booth in the press box, where the Fresno State Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator eyeballs opposing defenses, makes notes, calls plays and communicates throughout a game with coach Jeff Tedford and quarterback Marcus McMaryion.
It’s halftime, 20 minutes, and a good chunk of it is spent on the run: press box to elevator to ground level to locker room; locker room to ground level to elevator to press box.
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There is a quick meeting with the offensive staff and then the coaches break off with their position groups; DeBoer with the quarterbacks, McMaryion and Jorge Reyna, primarily, the No. 1 and No. 2. They don’t get much time – four minutes, three minutes and counting, if that. But in that time the Bulldogs, offense and defense, have been able to make meaningful adjustments, to tweak plans and change the flow of games on the field.
Fresno State last season was the only team in the Mountain West Conference to both score 100 points in the third quarter and allow less than 50.
This season, it has scored more points in the third than any other quarter.
In their last game, a 38-14 victory Sept. 15 at UCLA, the Bulldogs went from a second quarter in which they averaged just 1.4 yards on 21 plays and scored three points to a third quarter in which they averaged 9.1 yards on 19 plays and scored 15 points; 22 if adding in a drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth with a touchdown.
Here is a peek into that window …
DeBoer – “At the Rose Bowl they had carts for us, but at Minnesota you run. It probably took five minutes to get down, five minutes to get up, the clock is running pretty quick. You literally have 12 minutes you allow for going up and down and then you have to leave a couple minute window in case things don’t go perfectly.”
Offensive line coach Ryan Grubb – “We try to get together and start talking before they get down there. (Running backs coach Jamie Christian, tight ends coach Scott Thompson) and I will talk about run game: ‘OK, what do we like, what do we not like?’ Then Jamie, Scott and (wide receivers coach Kirby Moore) will talk about pass game. By the time Kalen is down there, we have our minds made up on what we’re seeing.”
During the game, the Bulldogs’ graduate assistants put together a chart with openers that Fresno State has run, explosive plays, third-down calls that have worked, third-down calls that haven’t, short-yardage concepts, pass plays. They run through that, DeBoer runs through his play sheet, checking, making notes. They discuss needed adjustments, whether it’s switching up a blocking scheme, how to handle a certain pressure or attack a coverage.
DeBoer – “Really, your whole week of preparation is about having the adjustments in place, so it isn’t that you’re really doing anything new. The plays are still the plays we run. It’s about, ‘Hey, they’re stopping this, let’ go this direction ...’ “
McMaryion – “They do a great job of recognizing what the defense is giving us and attacking it when we come out in the second half.”
When DeBoer meets with McMaryion and Reyna, it’s a collaborative effort.
McMaryion – “I think it’s more an opportunity for him to tell me what he sees from the box and me being able to tell him what I see from the field, what I think is working, what the guys want to run. We just bounce ideas off of each other.”
Reyna – “He listens to everybody’s input and after hearing all of ours he’ll tell us our plan and we work with it.”
McMaryion – “He jots down all these notes ...”
DeBoer – “The adjustments are built in. You plan ahead for those moments.”
Reyna – “It’s empowering.”
Always, the clock is ticking.
McMaryion – “It’s a quick discussion.”
DeBoer – “One thing that I try to also do is when I get back up in the booth, if there’s time, is get Marcus back on the headphones. Now, I’ve had more time to gather my thoughts and I can relay to him the final thoughts that I have and which direction we’re going.”
Grubb – “It’s a pretty fine-tuned little machine that we do at halftime.”
At UCLA, the Bulldogs didn’t need to make a lot of changes. Fresno State had opened the game with two 75-yard touchdown drives, the first 13 plays, the second eight plays. It had expected to see UCLA in a lot of man coverage, and in the second half it did. McMaryion was able to get the Bulldogs in the right plays, and they took advantage.
DeBoer – “They came up and pressed KeeSean (Johnson) and within those play calls those options were available to throw the football. In fact, one of them was a run play where Marcus has the option to throw it and he put it up there.”
McMaryion – “Whatever play call that comes in, our offense has the flexibility to get into an even better call, to change a call or to execute the call that’s there.”
Reyna – “We found some tendencies that we wanted to exploit and we did that. We picked it up from the game, we confirmed it from the stuff that we saw on film and we just stuck to our game plan and Coach DeBoer called an amazing game.”
That third quarter didn’t start auspiciously. The Bulldogs’ defense forced a three-and-out, but Johnson muffed the Bruins’ punt. UCLA scored following the turnover to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 16-14. But Johnson had 50 of his 85 receiving yards in the game in the third quarter after the turnover including explosive plays of 23 and 24 yards, taking apart UCLA corners Darnay Holmes on one play and Elijah Gates on the next.
On the first fade route, Johnson out-muscled Holmes for the ball, then stayed on his feet for about eight seconds as the UCLA cornerback tried to wrestle him to the ground.
DeBoer – “I saw another level of intensity with KeeSean after the punt. It was really neat to see that response, because I think our guys fed off that.”
Fresno State, which returns from a bye week to play Toledo on Saturday at Bulldog Stadium, scored a touchdown on three consecutive series.
McMaryion led them 73 yards, 51 yards and 55 yards for the scores and the Bulldogs locked up the win with a long fourth-quarter drive that didn’t produce any points but lasted 13 plays and took 9:15 off the clock.
McMaryioni quarterback finished with four rushing touchdowns while completing 22 of 33 passes (66.7 percent) for 270 yards and one touchdown in one of his best performances at Fresno State.
DeBoer – “This season has already presented some moments of growth for him. The response that he’s going to have, I saw it at UCLA, that he has made a decision that he’s going to move forward and he’s going to be positive and he’s going to learn from the things that happened and improve our chances for success the rest of the game. His attitude was phenomenal the entire game.”
McMaryion – “There’s usually something on the field that’s open. I kind of put more pressure on myself to take responsibility for that if the offense is operating well and if it’s not operating well then there’s something I should be doing a little better to get points on the board and do what we have to do.”