Lobo Points of Interest: Hello, Fresno State!

No Bull, Dog! Fresno State visits the Lobos FRIDAY night. (I know, lame. But not as lame if the fans don't show for this nationally televised game.) Anthony, A.K.A. LetTheFurFly, takes the 'Dogs for a walk, looking at the coaching staff, offense and defense.

Hello once again everyone and welcome to the 2014 preview of the Fresno State Bulldogs.

TRM's Lobo Points of Interest has a few new ripples for Lobo fans this year and there's no time like the present to spill them. So let's go.

This year begins some new beginnings for both sides in the Mountain West Conference. Friday night's ESPN 2, nationally televised, hot air balloon glowing, homecoming turquoise uniform infused, football field should bring an exciting start to conference play.

Also: $1 popcorn. Limit 8. You are not allowed to wear empty popcorn receptacles as hats at any time.

This isn't a stadium rule as much as it's an unwritten law of modern humanity. If you stack more than twelve empty receptacles on your head (and it stays upright longer than one quarter) I'm obligated to buying you at least another free one out of general accomplishment clauses. Unwritten rules are chalk full of them, it turns out.   

Bring your friends to share the popcorn and put on your best cherry bow tie: It's a special kind of slowly-turning autumn night in Albuquerque and there's a lot to change against the Bulldogs.

If you find me there, free high fives. Yes. We're getting crazy this week and pulling out the stops.

A relatively short series history between the schools (FSU 10-4 all time) still has an unusually colorful match up history. That is, when both squads get around to actually running into each other a lot tends to happen. Recent MWC history writes a story that puts UNM on the back end of a lot of spent effort and on the receiving end of some labored hits. Football is a never-ending game of cycles and the Lobos have weathered them all.

A relatively short series history between the schools...(but it) still has an unusually colorful match up history


One of my favorite times of year is autumn in Albuquerque. Whether from months for some things or handfuls of years in others, this city changes when fall arrives. This time around, every kind of leaf seems to be changing at the right time.

Coaching

Fresno has its season for change (along with ours) and you definitely need to know about it.

If you're searching for some form of continuity, Fresno's coaching staff still fits the part...rather amazingly.

FSU is one of the few non-resource 5 schools to maintain their entire coaching staff through one MWC co-championship and a second outright the next year (care of the inaugural championship game). Head Coach Tim DeRuyter brings his batch of former Texas A&M coaches unscathed. If only the same were true for their student athletes themselves. DeRuyter is a former A&M DC with the same experience from time at Air Force (07-09), defending the triple option. DeRuyter worked alongside our current OC DeBesse when he was a receivers coach there.  

OC Dave Schramm returns to stabilize Fresno's hurry up option spread and continues his career after seven years at Utah (to 11')....another Urban Meyer connection to go with our own coaching staff. Schramm was at Utah during it's most successful pre-PAC 12 years and the similarities continue to show in what is being built in Fresno.

DC Nick Toth is another A&M connection and ran into DeRuyter as an Aggie linebackers' coach. He heads up Fresno's attacking linebacker fest (otherwise known as a 3-4) to complement Fresno's affinity for offensive track meets. This is his third year at the defensive helm.

Offense

Fresno has lost a good one...which is to say, they lost a player "the right way" (to graduation and the NFL) thankfully. The reps have been signed for, cashed and deposited completely.

Derek Carr is now a Raider...

DEREK CARR IS GONE. DEREK CARR IS GONE. DEREK CARR IS GONE.

...and the program must brace for his four year starting experience. After a banner QB year, the MWC and the Bulldogs are now in prep mode for their next run. Fresno will now live off of Tim DeRuyter recruits exclusively.

Right up front, there's one concept that the Bulldogs treasure over anything else: high powered offense. This is "the show". This is the identify and the initiative and the main course sitting under the silver serving lid when everyone shows up to eat. Fresno State is built around scoring a lot of spread points and doing it quicker than anyone they play. Hopefully.

It's a fast way to turn regular scoring into a 0-0 game late, but the Bulldogs are paced to try to get that last touchdown or stack the scoreboard up in the process. Let's take a look at the basics.

Fresno always works out of the shotgun in true spread form. There are some principles to this style however.


First, similar to NMSU last week, Fresno uses sizable O-lineman stacks and sizable backs for a true spread. Due to hometown Californian (and Texan) recruiting ties, a good number of skill positions and lineman get scholarship priority to feed the offense. The O-line runs a bit over the 300 range across the board on average and the prime RB's are just over 205-210. That's one of the details easily overlooked when you think about the Fresno style of football.

The above image is a basic draw/zone read formation, lining up the tight end for blocking.

With the field spread out a minimum of three wide receivers each, and with 6-4" to 6-8" tight ends to boot (yes, there's one TE that's 6'8"), the size of the running game/O-line uses power running blocking schemes to carve an already isolated front six/seven. The play above shows a combing zone block (from the O-line) with a tight end cut blocking to set the edge. The QB can also pull the ball and follow the tight end if the flow of the defense doesn't contain....in this case, momentum completely shifting left.

As a defense, you're already isolated and put into a one-on-one assignment bottle in the front seven. Inside that bottle you are then cut blocked from a tight end or a pulled guard. When/if you do get to where you need to go, the back is larger (and still fairly quick) when you get there. This is how Fresno runs the ball. The blocking scheme has a light harkening to Air Force in a way, accept its being run as fast as possible and tucked into the core of a spread.

The shotgun does slow down the ball carriers' development. That's the good news. The RB can get a head of steam if unaffected however.

As Fresno looks for consistency in their speedy offense, they also need time to get enough reps (see: muscle memory on quick throws) for their new set of QB's....all of which are now competing and playing their first true go round in this system. We'll break down the three headed QB roster in a minute, but for now, consider what Fresno will try to use on the way back to an automatic starter and an ultra quick lateral pass game.

Fresno is still not bashful about using four and five receiver sets, although their scheme does use the underneath outlet well. You can see healthy outlets underneath as their receivers clear the field on routes. Forcing man coverage with so many weapons spread out pre-snap, outlets are a way Fresno bends a defense protecting against covering receivers and countering screens/lateral passes. We've seen these tendencies in the past  (and it's still relevant to their game plan), although how much of it is trusted to the main weapon of the offense - the quarterback - is yet to be seen.

It's a complicated vehicle to drive and they now must trust a new driver not to grind the gears.

Because of this, our personnel looks will start with the main enchilada: the QB.

Fresno is going between three QBs at the moment and dealing with injury bugs throughout. These QBs do have a few things in common: All of them are still fairly big (6'1-6'4 and 200-210lbs+) which helps a few of them that are lighter on their toes. We'll have to look at them all. DeRuyter has kept to not naming a starter until game time Friday but acknowledged that people can probably "figure it out" based on last Saturday's game.

This, of course, means nothing. You still get ready for them all.

Brandon Connette is an immediately eligible Duke Transfer that has shown the fastest fleet of foot (SR; 6-2; 213). Connette has experienced some injuries with his throwing hand (in which DeRuyter has acknowledged affected his throws in last week's SUU game) but can be considered dual threat at his core. Connette may be green-lighted for the UNM game if Fresno takes lots of running priority. At the very least he's a package option. Fresno's scheme welcomes a dual threat QB, although it really pops with a precise pocket thrower who can audible.

Brian Burrell is a champion of alliteration and Fresno's professional back up behind Carr. Now a Junior, he's seen his first real FBS snaps this coming season. Burrell (6-4; 221) can be described as a rounded QB with moderate pass and run ability but has spent the most time in the system...if only by default. He might be that bridge QB DeRuyter is looking for (as other QB's redshirt) but needs more exercise with precision and raw arm strength. He's big enough and just fast enough to be a varied run/scramble threat too. Well rounded in lots of categories but at the expense of excelling in others.. 

Zach Greenlee is fresh off a redshirt (RS FR; 6-1; 200) and took some swings last week against FCS opponent Southern Utah. How can you tell he's new? His profile action photo on the school website has him calling signals on the sidelines. Very, very small sample size here, but he did show a slightly increased throwing ability down field. This is an available, but distant, third choice to start and run the regular offense consistently. If you can't run the regular offense, there's no variety to the play call. No variety to the play call and you get shut down eventually.

What you find here are less stable options at one of the most crucial fulcrums of Fresno State's offense health (and ultimately their defense's health too). As the QB goes, so goes the bulldogs. Running the bread and butter plays of the offense will take some time....and somewhat limit the coaching staff play call until they can be run quickly and cleanly.

Without a consistent thrower versed in this offense style, they're going to struggle to operate as fast as they want to and they don't seem to have their type on the roster yet....at least, not at the moment.

At RB, Fresno uses two 210lbs backs. Waller and Quezada (JR and SR) take up most of the running duties and some pure speed backs have arrived on campus recruited behind them. Waller and Quezada have healthy speed and use less shifts to get the job done.

WR is experiencing a good amount of turnover from the NFL draft, but Josh Harper (SR; 6'1; 185) still leads from his playing experience last year. Fresno houses lots of receivers that are 6-0 to 6-3 across the board. Just like NMSU last week, they look to haul in the ball when their down field opportunity arrives. That size is also useful to block in Fresno's (traditionally) active screen game. Fresno's slot WR's could compare to some MWC program's outside guys and Fresno recruits them very tall and lengthy.

Fresno has three receiving TE's around the 6'4"-6'6" 220 variety and few blocking TE's around 250. Here is Mr. 6' 8". Nice, big long reach for these guys, who work out the most of any special teams role. Both types are fairly active and will probably see much more activity while Fresno secures their backfield.

Defense

So, if Fresno values offense so much...how do they counteract the investment? Everything has a cost and Fresno's 3-4 is formulated to attack, attack, attack in order to get the offense the ball back as soon as possible.

D-line gap shifts, faster linebackers/safeties and several directions to blitz from are their tools. They depend on physicality, pressure and negative plays to set up turnovers and punts...while having the offense swing points the other way.

One of the perks of this format is a minimal formation style carry over and a general good ol' fashioned clash of philosophy with the triple option. In short, Fresno can't completely sell out or direct a one sided blitz against a running read offense. You can't attack an offense that doesn't need much of a pocket and the ball (if read correctly) can be moved away from pressure. Assignment football makes an attacking defense tap the brakes...or the defense gets outmaneuvered.

Also, given the nature of the bulldog offense (speed, producing lots of points)...if the offense is shaky it leaves this defensive system hung out to dry. An attacking defense comes from being flexible with roster size (and recruiting investment) and defense that isn't big enough in the right areas has a hard time playing the contain game. They can be beat up or slowly worn out, the longer the defense has to be on the field.

Here's a defense look in a running situation.


This is a poor man's 4-4 defense formation with an offense using lots of tight ends. To show how Fresno might counter the run, this could be a good example. I'm begging for WR reverse (or a motioned TE) to the weak side above. Look at all that space. Damn.

Anyway, FSU doesn't hide that it's going to come at you and even if the option slows it down, Fresno will still try to mess with our run blocking with D-line gap shifts. They want penetration with their linebackers assignments occupying the LB/SS. Directing traffic from the center position and switching up your snap count will be key.

Fresno's D-line is a lighter, quicker variety that will try to mess with our gaps and out quick/muscle our blockers. Lots of end sized personnel with less true tackles (max: 309 with large gaps) The complementing linebackers are generally good tacklers with long reach, but less of a load to throw around weight wise. Lots of physical 230s for moving laterally and some 240 (Max: 263lbs) in the middle for run stopping situations.

Fresno's defense isn't experiencing a ton of turnover and totes the reigning MWC defensive player of the year, Derron Smith, at safety. Lots of interception harvesting in this scheme but the secondary will have to converge from the backfield or press their chances moving up to help stop the run.

There's talent in this field but it needs an offense to assist in its mission more than most. INT production in four games is at a stand still (Smith broke records with 14 INTs last year) and there's some conflicting philosophies in this match up the defense has to adjust to. They can hang in there where they can but they're going to need some help eventually.

Another hard part of gauging this defense's performance - at least stat wise - is the difficult OOC nature of the Bulldogs first three games and the FCS blowout win last week against Southern Utah. Given the offensive factor stated above, the three blowout losses Fresno experienced skews the numbers mightily and watching them operate outside of the way their defense was intended leaves analysis with nothing but questions and few answers. Extreme stats all over the place does not an average (or trend) make.

How do you analyze race results if a driver's car isn't operated properly? You don't really, you just wonder what you have. But I'll tell you one thing: lots of positive trends remain for others that line up to race against it.

That's where UNM stands. That's where our position points and now there's just time.

Time left waiting for that color to change.

Cue the wolves.  

So that should conclude this look at Fresno State. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it. And I'll be happy to take any questions anyone might have.

Go Lobos! Get out to the Stadium for Homecoming! Have some fun.


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