Fresno State Football

What to watch: Bulldogs targeting receivers and badly needed improvement on third-down plays

Third-down day went swimmingly this week for the Fresno State Bulldogs. They hit just about everything on the practice script, converting at an exceptional rate in the 90s.

Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb walked off the practice field buoyed a bit.

“We cleaned a lot of stuff up in one day,” he said. “I thought there was a little bit of rust on Tuesday coming out of the bye week. We were much more crisp. That was good to see.”

To avoid an upset bid by FCS Sacramento State on Saturday the Bulldogs will need to take that with them from the practice field because through two games, they haven’t.

Fresno State has converted only 8 of 26 third-downs plays, 30.8%, and ranks 11th of 12 in the Mountain West Conference and 116th of 130 in the nation.

Some regression was expected with the Bulldogs, though maybe not to the degree it has dipped.

Marcus McMaryion last year was in his second season as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback and with 14 games of experience in the offense took a huge jump with his third-down efficiency, completing 60.2% of his passes as a senior after hitting just 41.2% in his junior season.

McMaryion also had a savvy, veteran wideout in KeeSean Johnson, who could create and find holes in zones or win off the line of scrimmage against man. Johnson last year caught 18 passes on third down, second-most in the Mountain West, and 16 of them resulted in a first down.

Fresno State grim.JPG
Fresno State receiver Derrion Grim, right, hauls in a 34-yard touchdown pass over USC defensive back Chase Williams in the season-opener. Grim leads the Mountain West Conference in yards per catch at 24.0 (seven for 168 yards). Robert Gauthier TNS

The Bulldogs were third in the conference in converting on 44.6% of their third-down plays, up from 35.6% in 2017.

Quarterback Jorge Reyna is hitting his third-down throws at a higher rate than McMaryion did in his first season as a starter – he is 9 of 18, with five going for a first down.

But a go-to receiver on third down has yet to emerge from a young group of wideouts through two games …

  • Zane Pope – 5 targets, 0 receptions
  • Derrion Grim – 2 targets, 2 for 45, 1 first down
  • Juan Rodriguez – 2 targets, 2 for 11, 1
  • Jamal Glaspie – 2 targets, 1 for 14, 1
  • Ronnie Rivers – 2 targets, 1 for 7, 0
  • Jared Rice – 2 targets, 1 for 3, 0
  • Chris Coleman – 1 target, 1 for 27, 1
  • Cam Sutton – 1 target, 1 for 8, 1
  • Josh Hokit – 1 target, 0 receptions

It’s part of the building process for an offense that returns only three starters, and the Hornets do not figure to make it easy. Sacramento State has allowed opponents to convert on only 14 of 49 third downs (28.6%), ninth-best in the FCS.

But clearly it is an area targeted for improvement when the 0-2 Bulldogs hit a softer spot in their schedule with games against FCS Sacramento State and FBS independent New Mexico State the next two weeks,

“We need some progress there,” Grubb said.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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