Fresno State’s first-team offense did, in fact, get off to a fast start, which was its charge in the second scrimmage of fall camp.
On the second of 112 plays run Saturday morning at Bulldog Stadium, quarterback Chason Virgil took advantage of a bust in coverage and hit inside receiver Jamire Jordan with a short pass that checked all the boxes – right read, on time, accurate throw – and once clear there was no catching the fleet receiver, angle or not. Jordan, as a senior in high school, was one of the top track athletes in the state and simply outran the nearest defensive backs 65 yards to the end zone.
The offense, all the way down to the threes, made some plays.
But it also set itself back several times with penalties and mental or physical errors – too many times for coach Tim DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau.
“When you shoot yourself in the foot, it’s hard to get anything going continuity-wise with your offense, and we have to get those things cleaned up,” DeRuyter said.
Fresno State last season scored an average of 4.3 points in the first quarter of its games against FBS opponents. In the Mountain West, only Wyoming and Hawaii scored fewer points.
“We’ve got too much talent and you see it in spurts, but when you’re second-and-15 or second-and-20 or second-and-25 because of dumb penalties, those are hard to overcome.”
They ran the gamut, as well.
In a scrimmage that was heavy in situational periods – coming off the 1-yard line, goal line, end of half, red zone – the offense was called for a pass-interference penalty when a receiver was blocking on a bubble screen and also flagged for having an ineligible receiver downfield. There was a procedure penalty on a wideout. There was a false start on the offensive line in a goal-line situation.
There also were dropped passes, at least five. “I stopped counting after a while,” said DeRuyter, who challenged the group afterward to grow up and get out of its own way.
“You have to hold them accountable. You have to go out and play. We’ve done more live reps this fall camp than we’ve done since I’ve been here. We have to grow up and get better. The only thing you can do is keep working hard.”
We started off a lot faster, scored some touchdowns early, but the overall picture is just too inconsistent.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau
Kiesau had challenged the offense to get off to a better start than it had one week earlier in the first fall scrimmage – it took nine series to score and 13 to get into the end zone. But the overall performance also had to be taken into account.
“We started off a lot faster, scored some touchdowns early, but the overall picture is just too inconsistent,” he said. “Too many dropped balls and then we had too many penalties we have to clean up, so there was a lot of good, there also was a lot of bad.”
Virgil, who took his reps with the No. 1 offense and has kept at a distance challenges from graduate transfer Zach Kline, JC transfer Christian Rossi and freshman James Quentin Davis in the quarterback competition, is confident everything will be cleaned up.
The only glaring mistake by Virgil was a poor decision on a late throw in the red zone that was picked off by cornerback Jamal Ellis. Davis, who missed some time last week with inflammation in his right shoulder, did not take any reps.
“I thought all three of them did some good things,” DeRuyter said. “Chason, I think, up until the last part – he had a bad turnover there in the red zone – but up until then I thought he led the team pretty well. Christian Rossi is continuing to get better, so we still have competition there.”
The Bulldogs could make a decision on a starter for the Sept. 3 opener at Nebraska early this week.
“We had a better day than what we had. From the last scrimmage to this scrimmage it was a big improvement for us,” Virgil said. “We came out faster. That was the biggest thing we needed to do going into the games, just being able to come out fast and play hard and hone in on the little details and be able to move the ball on a really good defense and I think we did that today.”
The mistakes, he said, will be a driving force this week, which will include some work on the Cornhuskers.
The Bulldogs averaged 39.3 penalty yards per game last season, third fewest in the conference behind San Jose State and Air Force.
“It’s adversity – you never know when you’re going to get it,” Virgil said. “You just have to work through it. It was good to get put in those adverse situations (Saturday), that way we could work through them and just show our coaches that we have next-play mentality, which is what he has been preaching.”
James joins in – Running back Dontel James, who had minor knee surgery Aug. 12, continues to press his rehab, and before the scrimmage did individual work and took part in a 7-on-7.
The expectation is he will be in some contact this week, a big deal for a position group that has been hit hard. Bryson Oglesby and Wesley Hill were lost with knee injuries in the spring; in fall camp, Justin Rice went down with a fractured bone in his foot, Deonte Perry hurt his knee and Saevion Johnson suffered a hamstring injury.
“He’s progressing really quickly. It’s great to see,” DeRuyter said. “He’ll be in practice at some point next week where we can hit him live, which is great because he’ll have at least a week or a little bit over to get ready for Nebraska.”
With six running backs down, the Bulldogs last week had three in practice, all on the small side. Dejonte O’Neal is 5-foot-6 and 169 pounds, Treyvon Green is 5-8 and 165 and Austin Harper is 5-8 and 170.
They haven’t been shy rushing the football or in pass protection, though.
He has quietly had a good camp, so (defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward) has been bringing him along and trying to get him some reps with the first two units.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on safety Jalen Smith
O’Neal, in the scrimmage, cleared room for Virgil to escape a collapsing pocket and gain a first down, taking on 290-pound defensive end Nate Madsen.
Not since 2008 – It was a scrimmage and doesn’t count. But the Bulldogs, who have a new special-teams coordinator this season in Dave Ungerer, returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Da’Mari Scott went about 95 yards.
Fresno State has not returned a kickoff for a score in a game since 2008, when A.J. Jefferson took one back 92 yards in a 41-28 loss to Nevada – 96 games and counting.
Safety first – Redshirt freshman Jalen Smith is starting to challenge for playing time at free safety, getting some work with the first and second defenses at free safety.
“He has been flashing,” DeRuyter said. “He has been a guy that, because of his shoulder injury a year ago, was a little bit slow developing. He showed some flashes in the spring. He has quietly had a good camp, so (defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward) has been bringing him along and trying to get him some reps with the first two units to see how he’s doing and he has been flashing.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State 2016 schedule
Home games in CAPS
Sept. 3: at Nebraska, 5 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Sept. 10: SACRAMENTO STATE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Toledo, noon (ESPN3)
Sept. 24: TULSA, 1:30 p.m. (MWN)
Oct. 1: at UNLV, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 8: at Nevada, TBA (ESPN network TBD)
Oct. 14: SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 22: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Oct. 28: AIR FORCE, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 5: at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (ROOT SPORTS/MWN)
Nov. 12: BYE
Nov. 19: HAWAII, 4 p.m.
Nov. 26: SAN JOSE STATE, 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Dec. 3: Mountain West Championship, TBA