Fresno State Football

For Bulldogs and Reyna, focus and execution errors leading to precipitous second-half drop-off

The numbers are out of whack. First half to second, something goes awry. Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna has hit 72.4% of his passes in the first half and 55.3% in the second; he has averaged 8.4 yards per attempt in the first half and 6.1 yards in the second; he has thrown five touchdown passes with one interception in the first half and five with five in the second, including overtime.

And he is not alone.

Five of the top six quarterbacks in the Mountain West have better splits in the first half compared to the second including Hawaii’s Cole McDonald, the top passer in the conference, who the Bulldogs will play Saturday at Aloha Stadium in what essentially is a West Division elimination game.

Here are the three biggest drop-offs, with the quarterback’s conference rating:

No. 5 Jorge Reyna, Fresno State

First half: 72.4%, 8.4 ypa, 5-1 TD-Int

Second half: 55.3%, 6.1 ypa, 5-5 TD-Int

No. 2 Josh Love, San Jose State

First half: 64.6%, 9.6 ypa, 10-2 TD-Int

Second half: 53.3%, 6.2 ypa, 5-1 TD-Int

No. 1 Cole McDonald, Hawaii

First half: 69.2%, 8.7 ypa, 17-6 TD-Int

Second half: 60.3%, 7.2 ypa, 7-5 TD-Int

That wasn’t the case last season when the top six quarterbacks all were fairly consistent first half to second half including the Bulldogs’ Marcus McMaryion – 68.7% in the first half, 66.8% in the second.

Reyna, whose splits are put into focus by a 43-24 loss at Air Force in which he completed 17 of 18 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and then just 3 of 9 passes for 19 yards with an interception in the second, didn’t deflect or dance around it.

Reyna on the troubles

“Personally, I can’t speak on other people’s behalf,” he said. “For us, we just have to execute better in the second half. That’s one thing we’re trying to figure out – what the heck is going on?

“I’ve had some mishaps in the second half that cause a tumble and that’s my fault. I need to be better and execute at a higher level, past the first half, and hopefully that gives us the juice to push on and have a complete game.”

So, what’s at play there and can it be fixed?

A lot, and they’re working on it.

Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna throws after being forced out of the pocket by the UNLV defense during their game at Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

“I think it’s doing our best to help him continue with good adjustments after halftime and making sure that we are making some changes or staying with what has been good,” quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said.

“Some of the issues, whether its ball placement or a tipped ball or a dropped ball, all of that works together and it’s hard to just pin it on one person. It’s a lot of making sure we’re all on the same page and we’re throwing the ball accurately, we’re getting the ball out quick and we’re helping the protection, all those things.”

But it also runs much deeper than the Bulldogs’ quarterback with an offense that returned only three starters, has played five starting combinations on the offensive line and had 11 players make their first career starts. A lack of focus or execution has hurt, most recently in a loss to Colorado State.

Third-down breakdowns

Fresno State (3-4, 1-2 in the MW) had four third-and-short plays in that game and failed to convert any of them. On one, the Rams had the right call against the Bulldogs, blitzing their middle linebacker at Reyna on a naked bootleg.

The other three, there were breakdowns in execution.

On a third-and-2 in the second quarter, the Bulldogs had tight ends Jared Rice and Juan Rodriguez on routes to the right of the formation designed to jam up the defenders in coverage, and just as Rodriguez was breaking open Reyna checked the ball down to running back Josh Hokit, who was hit for a 2-yard loss.

Rice and Rodriguez got tangled briefly, throwing off the timing of the play. But had the rub been cleaner or had Reyna waited a split-second longer, the Bulldogs would’ve had a chance to turn a short pass completion into a big play.

“We as an offense have to do a much better job with focus,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “I’ve said it for weeks and the guys know it. We have to keep coaching it hard that way and forcing them to do it.

“The attention to detail and focus in practice has to carry over to the game. If you’re a player or a unit or a side of the ball that can’t maintain focus, you’re going to have trouble. I think that’s something we’re still working on.”

The Bulldogs have had games where they have dropped passes. The run game has been inconsistent. Pass protection has been an issue with a line in flux – Fresno State has allowed 14.0 sacks in seven games, after giving up just 12.0 in 14 games last season.

Porous MW defenses

Fresno State isn’t in a stretch of playing upper-echelon Mountain West defenses.

Colorado State was ranked sixth in the conference in total defense when playing the Bulldogs. UNLV was 10th when it visited Bulldog Stadium the week before.

This week, the Rainbow Warriors (5-3, 2-2) are 10th, allowing 437.4 yards per game. They also have allowed 28 points in the second half of each of their past three Mountain West games – a loss at Boise State, a loss to Air Force and a victory last week at New Mexico, which is 2-6 and ninth in the conference in scoring offense at just 25.1 points per game.

“Different teams throw little wrinkles in here and there,” Reyna said. “Other than that, it’s on us and especially me. I need to execute and be better.

“We’re trying different looks, different stuff. But we can’t put too much blame on anything else when we’re not executing at a high level like we do in the first half. It’s one of those things – we need to look internal, can’t complain or blame anything else. The plays are great. Everything is great. We just need to execute.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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