Fresno State kicker Garrett Swanson punts the ball during the Bulldogs’ weekly practice Wednesday. The Bulldogs will host the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday. Photo by Darlene Wendels/The Collegian
The Fresno State football team will use the two beatings it has suffered so far this season as learning experiences to prepare it for its next contest.
After giving up six scores through the air Saturday against Utah, one of the Bulldogs’ focus this week will include shoring up the defense, particularly the secondary.
Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said in Monday’s press conference that correcting defensive issues is a must before the Bulldogs’ home opener Saturday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, led by head coach Bo Pelini.
“When we have 10 guys playing really, really well and one guy not playing well, we end up giving up big plays, DeRuyter said. “We have to get that corrected, and we will.”
Despite the big plays allowed, the third-year head coach liked the way the defense battled in third-down situations and found something in Saturday’s contest that the defense can build on.
“After we gave up the first big play of the game Saturday, our defense responded and went three and out from that point and made [Utah] kick a field goal,” DeRuyter said. “Those are the kind of things that you start to get encouraged about. But we’re deficient right now at a couple positions, and we have things to correct, so we’re looking at all possibilities right now.”
A combination of lack of technique and lack of personnel to match up against the Pac-12’s physical receivers has contributed the Bulldogs’ 0-2 start.
“We’re not playing the techniques correctly at times, and part of it is personnel,” DeRuyter said. “The first two weeks we played against probably two of the best receiving crews in the country. When you have a slight personnel disadvantage, you better play your technique right. You better have your eyes right because when you don’t, it gets exposed.”
DeRuyter also said he and the coaching staff will emphasize open-field tackling drills this week after struggling in that area the past two games.
“Clearly I miscalculated the amount [of open-field tackling drills], and so we’re going to try to correct that now,” DeRuyter said. “We’re going to uncover every rock. We’re going to try to work in any way to improve to help our players so that, come Saturday, they’ve been in positions and have the reps and technique down where it becomes natural because, right now, we’re not where we need to be at some positions.”
The Bulldogs defense will have to be at its best Saturday, as it will be facing a Cornhuskers offense loaded with explosive skill players. The Huskers offensive unit features one of the country’s top running backs in Ameer Abdullah. The senior has racked up 286 yards and two touchdowns so far this season and has generated Heisman Trophy buzz.
Wide receiver Kenny Bell, the Huskers’ go-to receiver is another skill player who could potentially pose problems for the Bulldogs. The fifth-year wide out is first on the team with 2,031 career receiving yards and is one that the Fresno State defensive backs will have to account for on every play.
Despite back-to-back blowout losses, DeRuyter just wants his team to regain its confidence and play up to its potential from here on out.
“We realize that we played against two tough opponents,” DeRuyter said. “I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about how we are playing, how we are competing, and we didn’t do a very good job of that.
“We have to get our guys competing at the highest level we can compete at. It’s a challenge when you have guys start to doubt their ability or start to doubt the guy next to them. We have had too many situations where we are starting to lose that trust, and we have to get that back.”