The play of sophomore quarterback Zack Greenlee will determine the fate of Fresno State’s offense moving forward. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
After three straight blowout losses, Fresno State’s defense was left looking for answers.
Defensive coordinator Nick Toth’s unit had hoped to improve and get back on track leading up to the matchup over the weekend with in-state rival San Diego State. The ‘Dogs did better in containing the Aztec offense – but could not get the same contribution from the offense.
On offense, the ‘Dogs put together an opening drive of 41 yards before turning the ball over on downs and produced a 28-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter following a San Diego State turnover. The two were the longest drives the ‘Dogs would mount in the game.
The offense ended up with a total of 89 yards for the entire game – the lowest total since the 2003 opener at Tennessee – leaving them searching for their identity and strengths.
“Our guys have a resolve to get this fixed, as do our coaches,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Going into the matchup against a struggling Aztec defense, the Fresno State offense had averaged just over 25 points per game and just north of 342 yards per game. After being physically manhandled for what seemed to be all game, the ‘Dogs had their lowest outputs of the season on that end.
“It’s not just the quarterback position, we’ve got a number of positions that are not performing the way they are supposed to,” DeRuyter said.
The offensive line – which was supposed to be the bread and butter for this team – had a tough time with the exotic schemes SDSU’s defense threw at them Saturday. The offensive line allowed quarterback Zack Greenlee to be sacked three times – just shy of the four it allowed in the first four games combined.
“That’s the thing, we’ve got to stay consistent as a group,” senior offensive lineman Bo Bonnheim said. “We all have to do our jobs. We needed to protect Zack [Greenlee] better.”
Fresno State has had three different starting quarterbacks this year and has been unable to get any type of a rhythm going offensively. Now that the team has lost two of the three to season-ending injuries, the offense can get settled in with Greenlee at the helm.
Greenlee – who’s had his own issues off the field – has arguably been the most consistent quarterback this season. He currently has seven touchdowns to just one interception which he threw back in Week 1 against Abilene Christian.
The different looks that San Diego State brought to the table Saturday really affected his play. Greenlee did finish the night with the lone touchdown for the ‘Dogs but was only able to connect on 12-of-25 pass attempts for a mere 77 yards throughout the game.
“He’s got to see the field. He’s got to trust the preparation,” DeRuyter said. “He’s got to settle in, trust what he’s prepared to do and go out and execute.”
DeRuyter said that a key for this game that the ‘Dogs did not handle well Saturday would be to get to a rhythm offensively. The ‘Dogs wanted to run a high-tempo offense Saturday but because there was no rhythm offensively, they could not execute it. That is one way the ‘Dogs can look to improve in facing another tough defense.
The ‘Dogs take on a Utah State defense this weekend that will do a lot of things similar to the way the Bulldogs operate defensively. The Aggies base out of an odd front. They’ll pressure a lot and, according to DeRuyter, they have the best front seven in the conference.
“We’ve got to go out on Saturday and execute,” he said. “And hopefully by making plays – getting the crowd into it – we can get back on a roll.”
Coming into the game, the Aggie defense is allowing an average of 323 yards and 20 ½ points per game this season.
“Their defense is definitely their strong side of their team,” Bonnheim said. “It’s a challenge for the offense. We need to step up.”