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September 25, 2013

Fresno State looking for ground game answers

Fresno State entered last Friday's game with Boise State needing not only a win, but an improvement in their running game for short-yardage situations. Well, the Bulldogs left with the win, but they also left with more questions about their run-game than they probably had before.

Bulldog running backs Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller have a combined 213 yards on 60 carries. That averages out to 3.55 yards per carry. Yet, for whatever reason, Fresno State is 109th in the nation in overall rushing offense. Considering that the Bulldogs have beaten their only two FBS opponents by a combined 2 points, it's probably safe to say that the Bulldog running game needs to improve if this team hopes to remain in BCS contention.

Not all is doom and gloom for the Bulldogs, however. Coach Tim DeRuyter and his staff have noted that their quick passing game is an extension of their run game. But with that said, quarterback Derek Carr is still the team's third-leading rusher. That will have to change as the Bulldogs enter conference play.

Here's where things get interesting for the Bulldogs. Six of their remaining eight regular-season games are against defenses ranked 70th or worse in total defense. Theoretically, Fresno State should be able to establish a running game against defenses that bad. But this is a team that only managed 62 yards against Boise State, ranked 80th in the country in total defense. The Broncos did fall to 98th after playing the Bulldogs, however.

As of right now, there isn't a team on Fresno State's schedule with a defense ranked higher than 50th in the nation. If the Bulldogs expect to hold off other BCS-busters, they're going to need to win those games by more than a single point.

Surprisingly, Fresno State's opponent this weekend, Hawaii, has the third-toughest defense remaining on the Bulldogs' schedule. San Jose State is currently ranked 50th and UNLV checks in at 61st. Fresno State's defense checks in at 111th in the country.

This fact raises concerns over the Bulldogs' ability to stop anyone else from running the football down the stretch. Here is where things get really interesting for the Bulldogs. Of the teams remaining on their regular-season schedule, only Wyoming and New Mexico have rushing offenses ranked 30th or better. New Mexico has the nation's 18th best rushing offense. Wyoming comes in at a very respectable 29th.

Wyoming looms large, as does an upcoming game with UNLV. The Rebels are one of the more complete teams in the Mountain West. UNLV, New Mexico, and Wyoming are the only teams remaining on Fresno State's schedule to have their total defense and rushing offense rankings in the double digits. Every other team on the Bulldogs' schedule has a triple digit ranking in one of those two categories.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Mountain West isn't a very good conference this year, at least not coming out of the gate. The Mid-American Conference is more top-heavy, but features a BCS-buster from last year. Northern Illinois is currently undefeated along with the Bulldogs and the Huskies have avenged their only loss from last year.

Aesthetics matter to BCS voters. They enjoy playing games of 'what-if' and often make sweeping generalizations that end up being completely inaccurate by the time bowl season is over. Though many may not like it, the Southeastern Conference is the standard-bearer by which all BCS candidates are judged. Teams can get by with little-to-no defense, but a team with 18 trips to the red-zone and only 3 rushing touchdowns isn't likely to turn any heads. The Bulldogs have almost 3.7 times as many passing yards as they do running yards. This is about as one-dimensional of a team as there is in college football right now.

The Bulldogs have a great stretch of games coming up where they can look to establish the run. Including Hawaii, three of the Bulldogs' next five opponents have a defense ranked 100th or worse. None of them are any higher than 61st in the nation. This may be the time to get Malique Micenheimer more involved on offense. Micenheimer currently has 18 times more receiving yards than he does rushing yards. Fresno State has primarily been operating a two-person backfield, and that needs to change moving forward.

The Bulldogs are too talented to be that far behind the pack when it comes to running the football. If nothing else, they have too much talent on that offensive line to be unable to pick up critical first downs. This is a team that was supposed to make a BCS run, but they're having trouble making any run, let alone one that ends in a BCS victory.

DeRuyter mentions the tough yards every chance he gets. This is a team that knows they need the tough yards. The Bulldogs have found a way to build a program that just overcame its biggest hurdle. Overcoming their inability to run the football should be a walk in the park, right?

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the Fresno State Bulldogs' 2013 season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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