Home field advantage can be a tricky situation.
Conventional wisdom has coaches and players believing that success in their own stadium can translate to success on the road. However, being on the road is a whole different situation.
“We need to play well on the road and improve on what we’ve done on the road so far,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
While Fresno State has outscored opponents 200-78 at home, on the road, points seem to come at a premium. In losses to Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State, the ’Dogs have only scored a total of 61 points.
But a lack of points is not the only flaw that Fresno State possesses. In the three road losses, the ’Dogs have a total of 20 penalties. Discipline is definitely a factor for the Bulldogs when it comes to playing in hostile territory.
The continued play of defensive backs Thomas and Derron Smith will be greatly needed if Fresno State hopes to win out in the Mountain West Conference. Already at 20 takeaways for the season, the Bulldogs defense will look to win the turnover margin in every game.
“He (Derron) tells me that by the end of the season, he’s going to have more than me,” Thomas said. “And I tell him, ‘go for it man.” I don’t mind it at all. We keep each other on our toes.”
Although the ’Dogs lost linebacker Patrick Su’a to an undisclosed injury in the defeat against Boise State, Fresno State was able to rebound against Wyoming. The Bulldogs forced two critical turnovers with Thomas’ pick-six and defensive back Sean Alston grabbing another interception.
Inside linebacker Jeremiah Toma stepped up admirably in place of Su’a last week, collecting two assisted tackles.
“Jeremiah is getting better. Each week he’s feeling better and better physically. And with more reps, he’s functionally better,” DeRuyter said.
Also the play of lineman Andy Jennings brought additional energy to the ’Dogs defense. Jennings had three solo tackles and two of them were tackles for a lost.
“He (Jennings) got dinged up last week, but we expect him to play this week,” DeRuyter said.
Fresno State’s offense passing game continued to be spectacular at home. The Bulldogs were able to spread the ball to seven different targets and accumulate three passing touchdowns. The Dog’s special teams were equally as impressive as the offense. Receiver Rashad Evans ran back a punt for a 78-yard touchdown.
“I thought that this was probably as good as a special teams game in a lot of ways we’ve played. And to see Rashad take one to the house was great,” DeRuyter said.
Overall, Fresno State played a complete package, again at home. Against New Mexico on the road, the ’Dogs will look to bring their whole package. Doing this will be critical in not only this game, but for the rest of the Bulldogs’ schedule both at home or on the road.
New Mexico brings a different type of offensive scheme that Fresno State has yet to face this year in the option running attack. The Lobos rank second in the conference in rushing yards and are fifth nationally with 296.9 yards.
“They’re doing a really good job of ball control. So we got to do a good job in our run defense,” DeRuyter said.
Fresno State will look to stop the Lobos option running attack by getting New Mexico into third-and-long situations.
“When you get them into third and six or seven plus, that takes them out of what they want to do,” DeRuyter said.
This unusual style of offense that the Lobos implement may pose problems for Fresno State. The Bulldogs are susceptible to the run game. They recently gave up a 28-yard touchdown to Boise State running back D.J. Harper.
Also, Thomas and Smith may have a hard time getting into the takeaway column in Saturday’s game. In order to keep them defensively involved, coach Toth will need to find various schemes to keep Smith and Thomas mentally and physically sharp.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be cheated up to the line a little because they do run the ball a lot,” Thomas said.
If the ’Dogs can begin to solve their mysterious road problems, they have a strong chance to win in New Mexico. The key to winning will be in how fast they can start both offensively and defensively. Thus, bringing all phases of Fresno State’s football team will be essential to victory.
“I was please with the tape in getting a good conference win last weekend,” DeRuyter said. “I thought we started the game really well. And I thought we complemented ourselves in all three phases.”