Fresno State offensive linemen compete in blocking drills during Monday’s practice session. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
When Tim DeRuyter looked at his football players in 2014, he didn’t see enough resolve in their eyes.
The Fresno State head coach noticed too many dazed looks when things didn’t go right for the team.
“We came off the USC game a year ago and quite frankly our guys were discouraged,” DeRuyter said. “We weren’t able to do a whole lot on either side of the football.”
After a 73-21 loss against Ole Miss last week, DeRuyter said he noticed something different.
“Our guys kept competing,” DeRuyter said. “They didn’t care what the scoreboard said. That’s difficult to do when you’re in that environment. You do start to look at the scoreboard, but we didn’t have that. Ejiro [Ederaine] did a nice job of keeping the defense dialed in. That encourages me. A year ago, we didn’t have that at times.”
The Bulldogs’ resolve will be tested again on Saturday when No. 21 Utah comes to Fresno.
The nationally ranked Utes enter Saturday’s game with a 2-0 record, having defeated Michigan and Utah State at home.
The ‘Dogs’ offense will have a tall task against the Utes’ defense, which has only given up 364 yards per game this year.
The Utes also come in with the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing just 96.5 yards per contest on the ground.
The anchor of the Utes’ defense is senior linebacker Gionni Paul, who has led the team with 21 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one interception and a recovered fumble.
“(Utah) is very physical up front,” DeRuyter said. “They’ll play a lot of eight-man fronts and force you to throw the football.”
As for the ‘Dogs, they’re still trying to figure out who throws the ball on Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Zack Greenlee started the first two games of the season, but true freshman Chason Virgil took up most of the playing time against Ole Miss last week.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for DeRuyter as he contemplates who will start at quarterback Saturday.
“We’re gonna evaluate this week and probably make a gametime decision,” DeRuyter said. “[Virgil] did some good things, but he has to protect the ball much better than he did last week. [Greenlee] was efficient, but he has to continue to get better at his reads and leading us.”
But the ‘Dogs are not the only ones who remain indecisive on the quarterback situation.
Senior Kendal Thompson could start for the Utes if Travis Wilson remains sidelined due to a shoulder injury he suffered in last week’s 24-14 win over Utah State.
Wilson threw for 208 yards against Michigan, then got injured in the second quarter against Utah State. The senior also rushed for two touchdowns in the first two games.
Thompson replaced Wilson against Utah State and threw for 56 yards while rushing for a touchdown.
The ‘Dogs have prepared all week to stop either quarterback from running the ball.
“Regardless of the quarterback, you have to be ready for the quarterback run game,” DeRuyter said.
The Utes’ passing game has also been well-documented.
“Utah will test us vertically, and we need to be ready for that,” DeRuyter said. “(Utah’s) receiving corps might be the best I’ve seen in college football.”
The ‘Dogs, however, feel confident in the black jerseys they will sport Saturday night.
“We don’t lose in the black,” senior safety Shannon Edwards said. “The fans expect you to win in certain uniforms.”