In the Fresno State Bulldogs’ third and final fall camp scrimmage, the defense didn’t do coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm many favors in trying to separate the three quarterbacks vying to start the Sept. 3 opener against Abilene Christian.
Neither did the receivers, offensive line or running backs, who did not bring much life to the party.
But while that three-way competition continues, the defense continues to flash improved play that will allow it to get back to pressuring opposing quarterbacks after a season where issues in the secondary and an inconsistency getting home with its blitzes forced it to scale back rather than aggressively attack.
After racking up nine sacks in the second scrimmage last week, the defense got another Monday from linebackers Robert Stanley and Brandon Hughes as well as a key play with the offense inside the 10-yard line when outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine knocked down a pass coming off the edge during an 84-play scrimmage where the threes and fours got a majority of the work.
“If the situation fits, we have to make sure that we’re trying to be who we are. We’re not trying to be soft,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “I think we’re trending the right way with that.
“I’m excited about where we’re at. One thing I like about us compared to maybe last year and even the year before, I think we have a real sense of confidence about ourselves and they’ve responded every time there has been adversity in camp. ... There hasn’t been a sense of, ‘Hey, we gave that up. We’re not any good and we’re going to tank.’ I think last year we had a hard time with that. With the inconsistency we had and the changeup on the lineup and not a whole lot of leadership there, I don’t think we responded well to adversity.”
Every time they’ve had a drive on us, we’ve responded to that situation.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth
As for the quarterbacks Monday, they were plagued by dropped passes and penalties. The best work they did came in live situational drills when backed up to the 1-yard line and then at the end of the half with less than one minute (59 seconds) on the game clock and pressing to score.
Ford Childress, the junior transfer, made a nice play in finding tight end David Tangipa for 23 yards and a first down on first-and-10 from the 1-yard line. Redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee then pushed the No. 1 offense to a first down on three running plays. In the end-of-half drill, Greenlee got the Bulldogs to the 7-yard line before settling for a field goal and Childress checked down to running back Dejonte O’Neal to pick up 22 yards to the 28-yard line before the unit stalled there and kicked a field goal.
Freshman Chason Virgil also made some plays, including what was called a 52-yard touchdown run off a zone read fake to running back Malique Micenheimer – the quarterbacks were not live and strong safety Stratton Brown had a free shot at Virgil. In a true game situation, Brown likely would have flattened Virgil a good 30 yards short of the end zone.
But the defense continues to make progress. The secondary in particular is playing much more physically and aggressively than a year ago, which will allow the Bulldogs to dial up the pressures when warranted. The first time the offense got into the red zone, down to the 1-yard line, Malcolm Washington and Charles Washington made plays to break up passes in the end zone.
30 Fresno State’s sack total in 2014, down from 40 in ’13
Fresno State last season didn’t apply much pressure, the number of sacks falling from 40 to 30. And opposing quarterbacks operated as if unfettered, with a passing efficiency rating of 156.17, up from 139.76. The 156.17 ranked 11th of 12 in the Mountain West Conference and 120th of 128 in the nation.
“When we were good we were putting some heat on our corners, but those quarterbacks knew that they can’t just sit back there,” DeRuyter said. “Last year we kind of had the worst of both worlds – we weren’t getting close to the quarterback with our pressures and on the back end we were leaving guys wide open.
“But I like how our secondary has played with a chip on their shoulder really since spring ball. They’ve been challenged. The true test is a week from Thursday and as we go through the season, but I think they’ve responded the way we’d like them to. I think our coaches are doing a good job having those guys be very, very physical.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Pumped up for kickoff
▪ Season opener: 7 p.m. Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian at Bulldog Stadium
▪ In Saturday’s Bee: Fresno State football special section, including position and opponent breakdowns.