Fresno State Football

What to watch: Start with Fresno State pass offense vs. Sacramento State defense

Fresno State plays FCS Sacramento State on Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium, coming off a bye week and following rough, late-game losses at USC and to Minnesota to open its season.

The Hornets will present some challenges, particularly with their run defense. They have not yielded much on the ground, limiting opponents to just 1.8 yards per rush and 59.3 yards per game. That includes a matchup against Arizona State, which went into the season with a healthy 78 returning starts along its offensive line (38th in the FBS) and one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 in Eno Benjamin.

But Sacramento State has been vulnerable to big plays through the air, an area that the Bulldogs have the skills to exploit starting with quarterback Jorge Reyna.

For a Bulldogs offense trying to put all of its pieces in good working order, things to watch in this matchup start there.

Fresno State took its shots downfield at USC, hitting three pass plays for 30-plus yards including a 34-yard touchdown to Derrion Grim.

It didn’t get to take as many deep shots against Minnesota, but still had five explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards against a defense that has allowed only three total in its other two games.

Fresno State ranks fifth in the Mountain West Conference in yards per completion, but three of the teams ahead of it have, shall we say, an element of surprise when even attempting a pass.

Air Force, which put it up just once in an opening victory over Colgate and has attempted just 13 passes in its first two games, is first at 22.1 yards per completion.

New Mexico, which has completed just 40.6 % of its pass attempts and ranks 129th of 130 in the FBS in completion percentage, is second at 15.1.

Wyoming, which is last in the nation at 39.1%, is third at 13.9 yards per completion.

The fourth is Boise State, at 13.2 yards per completion.

Reyna and the Bulldogs have misfired on a pass to tight end Cam Sutton from the 25-yard line in overtime against Minnesota. But they should find opportunity against the Hornets, who are 14th in the FCS in total defense, but only 73rd in passing defense and allowing 12.7 yards per completion.

They have four wideouts averaging more than 12 yards per reception and have spread the ball to nine receivers total:

  • Derrion Grim 7 for 168, 24.0
  • Chris Coleman 6 for 104, 17.3
  • Jamal Glaspie 1 for 14, 14.0
  • Zane Pope 9 for 109, 12.1
  • Josh Hokit 4 for 34, 8.5
  • Cam Sutton 1 for 8, 8.0
  • Ronnie Rivers 9 for 71, 7.9
  • Jared Rice 4 for 25, 6.3
  • Juan Rodriguez 2 for 11, 5.5

Grim at 24.0 yards per catch ranks first in the Mountain West. Coleman is seventh, and the Bulldogs and Colorado State are the only teams in the conference with two receivers in the top 10.

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Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna, center, passes against Minnesota Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 in Fresno. Reyna completed 24 of 35 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns, but had a pass intercepted in overtime that sealed the Bulldogs’ 38-35 loss to the Golden Gophers. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

The Hornets allowed four explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards in a rout of NAIA Southern Oregon including a 54-yard touchdown, and the Raiders had another pass play that went for 19 yards.

Arizona State had four big pass plays including a 72-yard touchdown to Benjamin with 4:42 remaining to go up 19-7. The Sun Devils also hit plays of 52 and 45 yards in averaging 17.9 yards per completion.

Northern Colorado, which is 0-3 and ranked 98th in the FCS in passing offense, couldn’t get much of anything done against Sacramento State last week in a 50-0 shutout loss. It did, though, have two long pass plays including one of 47 yards, its longest play from scrimmage this season.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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