It was one play, and the Fresno State Bulldogs got everything that they possibly could have wanted out of it.
A counter run on third-and-6 from the UNLV 38, just 2:45 and counting to go in the game, produced a touchdown run by Marteze Waller that capped a fourth-quarter rally and pushed the Bulldogs to victory, and it was executed about as well as it could have been.
Center Bo Bonnheim said his block wasn’t the prettiest, but it was effective; the same for left tackle Alex Fifita and left guard Aaron Mitchell. Right tackle Justin Northern pulled and got two UNLV defenders stacked up, sealing the edge. Right guard Jacob Vazquez pulled and obliterated his objective with what he called a good block, which hints at the standard of living in the O-line meeting room; the Rebel ended up flat on his back, his arms and legs flailing away, so what constitutes a great block?
The linebacker and safety on the backside of the play were stuck right there, having to honor the legs and run potential of quarterback Kilton Anderson, who had pulled the football three times on third-down plays earlier in the game and three times rushed for a first down, including one touchdown.
Waller turned the corner without so much as a finger touching him, got a block from wideout Da’Mari Scott and went untouched into the end zone.
That one play points to the importance of the quarterback run in the Fresno State offense and to a line that found a rhythm for, really, the first time this season. One, obviously, impacts the other.
“When the quarterback can go through the full read progression, make a defense play honest, make the safety and linebackers have to play him in case he pulls it, it opens up the entire offense and gives the offensive line a better chance to have success,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
We knew we’d have to lean on them, particularly with how young Kilton is, and for them to step up and get some movement when we needed to get it, I thought they did a really nice job.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on the offensive line on the winning touchdown against UNLV
With both, the Bulldogs have a chance in the second half of their season to rally as they did against UNLV, if they can keep it going over the next six weeks.
“As a team, we needed that victory and I know as an offensive line to go out there and execute what we wanted was good, gave us confidence,” Bonnheim said. “You always start getting that doubt, the young guys start doubting stuff, when we’re not winning. It came at a perfect time. I know talking to guys we want to get to a bowl game and we have to keep winning. I think that it gave us a boost in confidence.
“Coach Norcross said to us after the game, he’s like, ‘That couldn’t have gone any better because we ran the ball to win the game.’ A lot of times when we’re in that situation we’re going to put the ball in the air and the coaching staff had confidence that we could run the ball and that we can give Tez a hole and win the game, and we did. I was proud of my guys. Like I said, that’s a big boost in confidence.”
Bonnheim said the feeling, watching the defense cut down a threat by the Rebels in a driving rain that started to fall late in the game, was euphoric.
Offensive-line coach Cameron Norcross said the Bulldogs’ finish is something they need to build off of.
“Hopefully the kids enjoy that feeling enough that they’ll continue to study film and know what’s going on. I think that’s a big thing,” Norcross said. “You get in a rut, losing, guys get down and maybe don’t do the things that they need to do to prepare. But when you get that feeling of winning, you say, ‘That’s pretty good,’ that euphoric feeling, and I don’t want to lose that. In my room, that’s what I’ve been preaching. If you want to continue that feeling, you have to prepare better than you did last week. Build on that.”
4th Air Force’s ranking in the Mountain West in rushing defense, allowing 3.8 yards per play and 137.5 yards per game
The Bulldogs visit Air Force on Saturday, and the Falcons have been solid against the run. They are ranked fourth in the Mountain West in rushing defense, allowing 3.8 yards per play and 137.5 yards per game, which includes a loss at No. 7 Michigan State last month in which the Spartans gained only 77 yards on 42 rushing plays, 1.8 per play. That was their lowest output in 32 games, before they gained only 58 yards on 33 plays in a victory at Michigan last week.
“It starts with practice, just practicing well,” Vazquez said. “We had good practices last week and I think that carried over. Air Force, that’s a great program. They have great guys and they’re really disciplined. They’re going to do their job, so it’s going to come down to who is going to do their job better. They’re very disciplined, hard-working guys, so we need to be ready for them.”
But, if need be, they can refer back to one play from the victory over UNLV.
“That was pretty impressive, a great call by (offensive coordinator Dave Schramm),” DeRuyter said. “It was executed the way you draw it up. We had hats on everybody and when Tez pulled around I think he was a little surprised that he didn’t have to do anything but run hard to the end zone, but when you get hats on everybody, life’s good.”
Added Norcross: “Da’Mari Scott made a great block down the field. We did a great job on the kickout, and Justin Northern was able to block two – they got stacked on each other. In reality, they might have had us outnumbered, but we had some guys with really good efforts on that play. Da’Mari, Justin and Jacob Vazquez did a great job.
“We were able to get him in the open and it felt good once again. It has been too long since we got him in the open. We’ve been struggling. He has been struggling. We finally got him his yards and what he deserves. It felt really good.”
Vazquez on his block: “I hadn’t run that play in a while because I’ve been playing at center mostly, so I was excited to kind of get out and trap pull again. I just turned my hips and started running and fortunately I got a good block, so I was thankful for that. … I could have run my feet a little more, but it felt good to get a good block and that led to the lead, so it was a good feeling.”
Freshman Bailey growing up – Freshman James Bailey made his first career start at the Sam outside linebacker position and had seven tackles, including 0.5 behind the line of scrimmage, in the victory over the Rebels and has had at least six in three of the past four games.
“For a guy that is for the first time playing college football and now we’re moving him around at a couple of positions, I’ve been proud of the way he plays,” DeRuyter said. “He has a ton of ability. When he starts figuring it out and is comfortable, he is going to be I think one of the better players in the Mountain West Conference.”
When Bailey signed a national letter of intent at Fresno State, he was listed at 180 pounds. He is listed at 202 now, but DeRuyter said he is closer to 210. In a couple of years, DeRuyter said he is hoping he will be pushing 230, which would be a scary proposition given his skill set.
“We’d probably keep him in a similar role, have him as a Sam, like Ejiro (Ederaine) is, and with as athletic as he is, I think he could still play nickel, because he can run with slot (receivers) and, you know how you try to throw a bubble, those receivers don’t want to block a 230-pound guy on the edge.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs had another rookie ball period in practice on Tuesday, with the players who are redshirting this season or on the scout teams getting a chance to go live. Freshman Mike Bell made a nice play, picking off a pass from quarterback Jesse Hanckel and returning it for a touchdown.
▪ Hanckel came back later in the period and threw a long touchdown pass to redshirt freshman receiver Justin Allen. Bell was a little late in coverage on that play.
▪ DeRuyter also made note of the play of freshman center Donnie Green. “He was in there slugging it out pretty good,” he said. “Up front, you don’t see a bunch of those guys until you see the tape, but I noticed him as I was watching the guys up front to see who was doing what.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada