Fresno State has struggled to stop the run all season, its injury-depleted defense last week giving up 458 yards on the ground in a loss at Air Force – the most gained by the Falcons against a FBS opponent in almost three years, 36 games.
It left the Bulldogs reeling. They are 124th of 128 teams in the nation in allowing 268.4 rushing yards per game against FBS teams.
And with another test expected Thursday from Nevada, and the Bulldogs coming off a bye, they will go outside the box a bit Sunday as they get deeper into their game prep.
5.0 Nevada’s average yardage per rushing attempt. Fresno State opponents are averaging 4.8, though that figure is skewed by FCS school Abilene Christian totaling just 34 yards in the opener.
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“It’s going to be physical. We have to get after them,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “We’re going to down the ball in practice. You have to be ready to do that. That’s the only way for us to scratch and claw our way out of this thing right now, to do it every day and do it all the time.
“You can’t make strides and then … we didn’t play well in the second half of that Air Force game. We played pretty poorly. Some of that was fundamentals, some of that was scheme. We know how to fix the fundamental part, so let’s go fix it.”
Fresno State (2-6, 0-3 Mountain West) has tackled to the ground in maybe a handful of practices this season, and when it has it has been in pass-heavy periods where the majority of plays finish with minimal contact to the ball carrier. It helps guard against injury, and the Bulldogs do not need any more to their defense. But this week, and what has come before it, is forcing a change.
It can’t be a deal where you’re saying again, ‘You know, there is 65 of them that we played really well and there are five of them that we didn’t and those five go for 200 yards.’
Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth on fixing an ailing Bulldogs run defense ahead of a game vs. Nevada
The Wolf Pack are fourth in the conference in rushing, averaging 212 yards per game. Sophomore James Butler is leading Nevada with 756 rushing yards at 6 yards per play, senior Don Jackson has gained 673 yards at 4.9 yards per play and utilizing the Pistol offense, the quarterback also is in play. Tyler Stewart has rushed the ball 65 times, averaging 4.2 yards per play, and has 17 runs of 10 or more yards.
“They’re just like they have been every year that we’ve been here,” Toth said. “They’re a physical team. They want to knock you off the ball. The Pistol is unique, so we have to make sure we’re sound, have to make sure we’re disciplined. The plays they’ve hurt us on the past couple of years we did not fit with discipline and it can’t be a deal where you’re saying again, ‘You know, there is 65 of them that we played really well and there are five of them that we didn’t and those five go for 200 yards.’
“That’s going to be the deal. Making sure we’re doing our job the right way and making sure we’re tackling well. Their running backs are slippery. The people that they’ve hurt, they’ve missed tackles on them. The quarterback, he’s a long-strider. When he gets out in the open and runs, that’s where he has done damage. People have missed him at the line of scrimmage and not wrapped him up.”
Good news on injury front – The Bulldogs are expecting nose guard Nate Madsen back in the starting lineup against the Wolf Pack.
“I’ve been going to rehab every day and getting treatment and just trying to get back to where I can play at 100 percent and play full speed,” he said. “I’m really excited to get back at it – I’ve been on the sidelines for a little bit. I’ve just been getting mentally ready. It’s not completely at 100 percent, but that happens to every player. You’re going to have an injury, you’re going to have to fight through it.”
The third-year sophomore, who had started the first seven games, did not play at Air Force because of a lower leg injury. The Bulldogs were forced to move defensive end Todd Hunt to the nose and redshirt freshman Kyle Hendrickson into the starting lineup at end.
“It makes a huge difference,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “He has been playing well at nose guard for us. A week ago, we had to put Todd in there and it’s tough to make that switch in a week, especially against that kind of offense. With Todd in there, he can play his natural positon. I like what (backup nose) Tyler Puccio is doing. He’s starting to give us some solid reps, but he’s not ready yet to go a whole game, so getting Nate back is going to be big.”
Et cetera – Nevada also will go into the game off a bye week. The Wolf Pack are 4-4 overall, 2-2 in conference play and 1-2 on the road. The victory was at Buffalo (24-21) and the losses at Texas A&M (44-27) and Wyoming (28-21). The Cowboys were 0-6 going into that victory over Nevada and are 0-2 since.
▪ Quarterback Kilton Anderson, who began the season as the Bulldogs’ fourth-string quarterback, did not get many reps in the offense from the middle of fall camp on. Now the starter, he is in a catch-up mode working with the inside and outside receivers. It is possible to get there, he said. “I think it is. I think I’ve always had great relationships with all the guys, so I had a great head start there. I think it’s definitely possible, but I think we need to keep building and not take steps back. We have to continue to stay positive and just keep working hard. That’s all we can do. We’re stuck in a corner and we have to fight our way out of it right now.”
▪ Fresno State has done a solid job against Nevada and its Pistol under DeRuyter and Toth. The Bulldogs are 3-0 and last season in a 40-20 victory held the Wolf Pack to 320 yards of offense on 66 plays. That included explosive running plays of 20, 55 and 60 yards and pass plays of 21 and 34 yards – for a total of 190 yards coming on those five plays and 130 on the other 61. The 20 points were the fewest scored by the Wolf Pack in a regular-season game; they lost their bowl to Louisiana-Lafayette 16-3.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA
- Thursday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 2-6, 1-4 Mountain West; Nevada 4-4, 2-2
- TV/radio: ESPN2; KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)