Lack of suc­cess stop­ping third downs catch­ing up to Bull­dogs

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ROBERT KUWADA [email protected]­nobee.com

Fresno State is 0-2, a record that would sug­gest the Bull­dogs have a few things to work out.

Among the most glar­ing: third-down de­fense, where some mi­nor break­downs and as­sign­ment er­rors have added up to some rough re­sults.

“I think it’s part of the growth process when you have a new group, as we do,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bert Watts said. “We’ve got sev­eral new guys out there and at times we have more than that, de­pend­ing on who is ro­tat­ing in and that kind of stuff.

“Any­time you have new guys out there, there is going to be a process of jelling and iden­ti­fy­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tors and what roles to put guys in to make sure that ev­ery­thing is getting worked out and the as­sign­ments are getting nailed down. I think that’s what we’re going through, we just have to

con­tinue grow­ing.”

In losses at USC and to Min­nesota, the Bull­dogs have had a lot of trou­ble getting off the field. Fresno State is last in the Moun­tain West and tied for 123rd in the na­tion in al­low­ing op­po­nents to con­vert 15 of 28 third­down plays into first downs, 53.6%.

The Bull­dogs al­ready have al­lowed five touch­down drives that went 10 plays or longer.

A year ago, Fresno State was fourth in the con­fer­ence and 23rd in the na­tion in third-down de­fense and it al­lowed only seven touch­down drives that lasted at least 10 plays. The Bull­dogs didn’t give up a fifth ex­tended touch­down drive un­til they played at Boise State, their 10th game of the sea­son.

The easy ex­pla­na­tion is the Bull­dogs are in too many third-and-short sit­u­a­tions – and they are: on 11 of their 28 third downs the op­po­nent needed to gain only 1 to 3 yards to move the chains.

BOISE STATE COM­PAR­I­SON

Boise State by com­par­i­son has de­fended 21 third­down plays and, in­cred­i­bly, none of them has been a third-and-short. It’s not a flat­ter­ing look for the Bull­dogs.

Fresno State

Third-and-1 to 3 – 11 plays de­fended

Third-and-4 to 6 – 5 plays

Third-and-7 to 9 – 6 plays

Third-and-10-plus – 6 plays

Boise State

Third-and-1 to 3 – 0 plays de­fended

Third-and-4 to 6 – 4 plays

Third-and-7 to 9 – 6 plays

Third-and-10-plus – 11 plays

On 17 of the 21 third­down plays Boise State has de­fended, its op­po­nent has been in a thir­dand-long. No sur­prise, then, that the Bron­cos are tied for third in the na­tion in third-down de­fense.

THIRD DOWN A NIGHT­MARE

But whether third-and­short, third-and-medium or third-and-long, the Bull­dogs have strug­gled.

On 10 rush­ing plays when in a third-and-short, they have al­lowed an av­er­age of 6.0 yards, in­clud­ing a 27-yard burst by USC back Stephen Carr. But take that out of the equa­tion, and Fresno State still is av­er­ag­ing 3.7 yards per play, which would rank 11th in the 12-team con­fer­ence.

The Bull­dogs have al­lowed a first down on eight of those plays, with a ninth re­sult­ing in a touch­down on a third-and-goal from the 1.

Fresno State did have an­other stop on a thir­dand-1 at USC but was pe­nal­ized for a per­sonal foul on the play, giv­ing the Tro­jans a fresh set of downs.

On the one pass the Bull­dogs have de­fended on a third-and-short, they al­lowed an 8-yard pass that was both a first down and a touch­down.

The third-and-long? Just as trou­ble­some.

In the dou­ble over­time loss to Min­nesota, the Golden Go­phers con­verted a third-and-18 pass play for a first down, lead­ing to a ty­ing touch­down with 46 sec­onds re­main­ing in reg­u­la­tion.

Fresno State has strug­gled even on those plays, al­low­ing op­po­nents to hit 5 of 7 passes (71.4%) with four of the com­ple­tions re­sult­ing in first downs.

In the Moun­tain West, that is the high­est op­po­nent com­ple­tion per­cent­age on third-and-7 or longer. No team in the con­fer­ence has al­lowed more first downs in that sit­u­a­tion.

One more: The Bull­dogs are al­low­ing a pass­ing ef­fi­ciency rat­ing on all third downs of 187.32, which is last in the Moun­tain West by a large mar­gin and 127th of 130 in the na­tion.

Last sea­son Fresno State was 97.32, sec­ond and 17th.

The qual­ity of the Bull­dogs’ op­po­nents could be a mit­i­gat­ing fac­tor, hav­ing played two Power Five op­po­nents when few Group of Five teams have.

POWER FIVE? SOLVED BY OTH­ERS

But Fresno State was 2-1 in those games last sea­son and the Moun­tain West has proven al­ready this sea­son the gap be­tween the Power Five and Group of Five has been clos­ing; Hawaii has wins over Ari­zona and Ore­gon State, San Diego State beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Boise State won at Florida State, Ne­vada knocked off Pur­due and Wy­oming beat Mis­souri.

“The big thing is we have to make plays,” safety Juju Hughes said. “You see in those crit­i­cal mo­ments those big third downs, some­times it’s just lit­tle mis­cues that we had, mi­nor er­rors, but they give the of­fense a chance to make plays, which they did. I have to give credit to our op­po­nents, as well – they went and made those plays. But it’s re­ally on us.”

The Bull­dogs tin­kered with their lineup against Min­nesota, moving Mykal Walker from line­backer to de­fen­sive end at the start (he played end all of last sea­son) and play­ing Justin Rice at mid­dle line­backer.

Fresno State had to play much of the game with­out line­backer Ar­ron Mosby, who was ejected in the sec­ond quar­ter due to a tar­get­ing penalty; Mosby, the former Sanger High star, was in on five tack­les in­clud­ing three solo and one tackle for loss.

The Bull­dogs also lost start­ing cor­ner­back Chris Gas­ton with an in­jury two plays later.

They need to find some an­swers, and don’t fig­ure to know whether any­thing has re­ally clicked be­fore open­ing con­fer­ence play at Air Force on Oct. 12.

Fresno State is on a bye week, comes back to play FCS Sacra­mento State (1-1 with a game Saturday night against North­ern Colorado) on Sept. 21 at Bull­dog Sta­dium and then plays at New Mex­ico State (0-2 with a game against San Diego State on Saturday night) on Sept. 28.

“We know as a de­fense what we need to do to get bet­ter and we’re tak­ing those steps to get bet­ter,” Hughes said. “We have to clean some stuff up and get it right, and we will.”

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA [email protected]­nobee.com

Fresno State’s Mykal Walker chases Min­nesota quar­ter­back Tan­ner Mor­gan dur­ing the Sept. 7 game at Bull­dog Sta­dium. Min­nesota won 38-35 in dou­ble over­time.

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