Location: Fresno, California | Coach: Tim DeRuyter (29-23, fifth season) | Record (2015): 3-9 (2-6 Mountain West) | Ranking: None
OFFENSIVE RATING: 4
Offensive averages / national rank (2015)
22.3 / 107
315.2 / 121
136.8 / 104
178.4 / 107
DEFENSIVE RATING: 3
Defensive averages / national rank (2015)
38.1 / 118
446.2 / 101
234.7 / 116
211.5 / 49
SPECIAL-TEAMS RATING: 4
Special-teams averages / national rank (2015)
20.3 / 84
10.6 / 39
You have free articles remaining.
37.3 / 63
Why you may need the Rolaids
1. It’s probably not cause for great concern, but it’s worth noting Fresno State Tim DeRuyter, entering his fifth season and coming off a 3-9 season, has dipped into the Southeastern Conference ranks for new coordinators. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, whose expertise is defensive backs, spent the last seven seasons at South Carolina as defensive coordinator. Eric Kiesau joins the Bulldogs as offensive coordinator after serving as an offensive analyst at Alabama. They’re part of a major staff overhaul — six new assistants — after Fresno State endured its worst season since going 3-8 in 1978.
2. If Fresno State lights up Nebraska’s secondary, which says it’s more cohesive and locked into the defensive scheme, then you might as well stock up on Rolaids for the entire season. The Bulldogs averaged a mere 178.3 passing yards per game last season and will start a redshirt freshman, Chason Virgil (5), at Memorial Stadium. Under Kiesau, the Bulldogs plan on utilizing the tight end more often. Keep an eye on junior Chad Olsen (46), who has 32 career receptions and 379 yards with seven touchdowns.
3. The Bulldogs’ team strength is probably in the secondary, although they’ll be matched up with the strongest part of Nebraska’s team, too. Cornerback Jamal Ellis (2) has 20 career starts, the most of any player on the team, and Tyquwan Glass (25), a juco transfer last season, made a strong impression with a team-high four interceptions and 62 tackles. Ellis, over his last five games of last season, had 22 tackles, 4½ for loss, three breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Why you might chill
1. Fresno State ranked No. 100 or higher in seven of nine major national statistical categories on offense and defense last season. Its highest mark came at No. 49 on passing defense, and that’s largely because teams didn’t have to throw that much (27 attempts per game, average) against a defense that was a sieve against the run. We saw what Nebraska did in its bowl game against a UCLA team that couldn’t stop the run. Perhaps we’ll see more of the same, with quarterback Tommy Armstrong leading the early charge.
2. Fresno State’s offense was simply putrid last season, the reason for a change in coordinator. What, exactly, can Kiesau do to give the Bulldogs a spark? That remains to be seen, although he was a key in helping install an up-tempo offense last season at Alabama and was coordinator for a Washington team that averaged 499.3 yards and 37.9 points in 2013. There’s nowhere to go but up for the Bulldogs’ offense, but it likely won’t be enough to challenge Nebraska.
3. It’s hard to imagine a team with the coaching turnover and overall youth that Fresno State brings to Lincoln muscling up much of a challenge before more than 90,000 fans in a road game to begin the season. Not only do the Bulldogs have six new assistants, but 67 of their 103 players on the fall camp roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Only 15 seniors are on the team. Yes, it’s difficult to prepare for a team with so much unknown, but Nebraska’s experience and talent should prevail easily.
By the numbers
Victories Fresno State boasts, in as many games, against Nebraska coach Mike Riley. It came in Riley’s second game in his second coaching stint at Oregon State. The Bulldogs won 16-14 in 2003 thanks to a 47-yard field goal with 31 seconds left.
Nonconference road games, since 1998, Fresno State has played against Power Five conference teams. The Bulldogs have a 15-31 record in those games, with victories against California, Cincinnati, Colorado (twice), Illinois (twice), Kansas State (twice), Oregon State (twice), Rutgers (twice), UCLA, Washington and Wisconsin.
Victories by Tim DeRuyter in his first four seasons as coach, the second-most by any Fresno State coach after four seasons (Cecil Coleman, 33, 1959-62).
Anthony Galaviz in a beat reporter who covers Fresno State football for the Fresno Bee newspaper.
What’s the pulse on the Fresno State offense with a new coordinator from Alabama? We’ve heard up-tempo, but does that mean more run or more pass?
The players love Eric Kiesau, who has rejuvenated the offense that lacked a lot last season under former coordinator Dave Schramm. First time the players met Kiesau there was an instant camaraderie on the offense. The Bulldogs' offense will still use an up-tempo offense, hoping to get defenses tired in all facets as coach Tim DeRuyter indicated in his Monday press conference — meaning they will use a combination of run and pass, any way to get the defense off-balance. The main thing is can they keep drives going? If it's quick three-and-out, then they’ll be in trouble.
The Bulldogs also have new coordinator on defense. How much has he changed the scheme, and will Fresno State be better suited to slow the running game this season?
Lorenzo Ward brings a lot of experience from his time at South Carolina. The defense under him will look a lot different this time around after the Bulldogs looked dreadful last season, giving up many points. Ward said he wants his guys to attack people and feels he has 15 to 18 players that he can count on, including cornerback Tyquwan Glass. They’re pretty deep in that position and he likes the core. He has several defensive linemen and linebackers he’s hoping can stop the run and force a three-and-out. The Bulldogs looked much improved on defense, but that’s just practice and the question is can that carry over to gamedays, and they’ll find out Saturday against Nebraska.
Six new assistants after a 3-9 season means DeRuyter is serious about turning the program in the other direction. How much of these changes were solely his idea, and how much did boosters, administration, etc., affect the process of so much change?
Yes, Tim DeRuyter is serious about turning the program around, but the hiring of the new coordinators were likely athletic director Jim Bartko’s idea. He wants to see favorable results this time around. After a 3-9 finish, that didn’t sit well with him, the boosters and the community. A change was needed. Bartko and DeRuyter want to see immediate results, whether it’s an above .500 finish or close to .500 mark, but the ultimate goal is to win the Mountain West championship that they haven’t done since Derek Carr was the quarterback in his final season in 2013. The Bulldogs are 9-17 the past two seasons since Carr was drafted.
What’s the one area you expect the biggest improvement in from Fresno State from last season, and why?
Quarterback. No matter who is in, Fresno State will see an improvement at the position. It helps that Chason Virgil is back as a redshirt freshman and he’ll get the start. He was injured in the third game of the season in 2015 against Utah. In three games, he had thrown for three TDs. Against Ole Miss, Virgil passed for 140 yards and two TDs in the second game. If he happens to go down, the Bulldogs will not see a drop-off at the position, as they have backup transfer Zach Kline, formerly of Cal, and juco transfer Christian Rossi. Both QBs have impressed coaches in practice.
Is there any area that may not see as much improvement as needed, and why?
All areas will likely be improved since last season. First, the Bulldogs had to name their new coaches and all have experience and were successful with their previous teams: TEs coach Joe Bernardi (Oregon), OL coach Mark Weber (Utah State), RBs coach Dave Ungerer (Utah State) and WRs coach Burl Toler III (Cal). All bring experience and players welcomed them with open arms knowing they have a successful résumé.