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October 10, 2013

Bulldog defense finishing strong

Finishing hard is something the Bulldogs have struggled with lately. Much has been made of the defensive efforts in the second half and by the second-team defense late in the game. After about a month of winning games by a score or less, head coach Tim DeRuyter had seen enough and challenged his men to do better.

The Bulldogs responded in spades. Fresno State's defense tortured the Idaho Vandals into giving up everything but their play terminology. The Bulldog defense forced five turnovers in the game - recovering a fumble and intercepting four passes. The four interceptions matched a game-high during the DeRuyter era, tying last year's game against Colorado

The four Bulldogs with interceptions were Derron Smith, Nikko Motta, Charles Washington, and Curtis Riley. It was an interception coming-out party for everyone except Smith, who recorded the 10th of his career.

DeRuyter felt that Smith's interception set the tone for the game and that the defense played aggressively throughout.

"I thought we came in with great intensity," DeRuyter said. "Give Idaho credit. I thought the last couple weeks their offense was really starting to move the ball well. Those kids were playing with a lot of intensity and I thought our defense matched it. We went three-and-out to start. Then they had a drive going down and Derron [Smith] had a big pick to change the momentum a little bit. We were leery because we thought they had some playmakers. I thought their quarterback's a really good player. Schematically, they do some things that give you pause, but I thought our players played with a lot of intensity today."

Oddly enough, Smith said that it was cornerback Dillon Root, making his first start, who provided an additional spark to the defense.

"It's great," Smith said of Root's effort. "Dillon, he's been nothing but a good attitude about switching over to defense. We've welcomed him with open arms to the defensive side. He's made progress faster than a lot of us did coming in to this defense. To see him go out there and get two sacks in the game, it's nothing but joy.

"Even Darryl Cash got out there and got a touchdown. It's good to see guys that don't get a lot of playing time go out there and contribute and have a good time. That's our job as starters to keep everybody engaged in the game and have fun when everybody's making plays."

Washington said that team focused on finishing strong this week, but he even he avoiding praising Root for his defensive play.

"We just came out strong, just like every other week, came out strong," Washington said. "But this week we knew what we had to do as far as finishing the whole game and Dillon [Root] went in and got his first two sacks. So, that was good, seeing other people produce."

Specifically asked if the focus was playing a complete game, Washington added that the Bulldogs have already taken too much time off on defense and they've nearly paid for it.

"That was our main focus after last week, Washington said. "In Hawaii, we only played about 39-to-40 and it caught up to us in the end. So, we knew what we had to do this week, made adjustments throughout the week, and corrected everything. To a certain extent, we didn't do that against Hawaii. But we knew we had to do that this weekend. Like our coach said, we ignored the scoreboard, played 60 minutes, and it showed."

The message must have been received by the entire defense because Smith was quick to echo the words of Washington.

"I think that's kinda what happened in the first few games," Smith said. "It's easy to say 'don't look at the scoreboard,' but you kinda see it and everybody kinda lets up just little bit. That's all it takes for a team to get back in the game. It wasn't that easy this week, of looking at the scoreboard and letting it get to us. We already had our fair share of mistakes in the last few games. It was easier for us to look at the scoreboard as coach said: a liar. You know, not look at it and play as if the game was 0-0.

"The coaches were talking to us all week saying that the scoreboard is a liar, don't look at it, it is going to lie to you," Smith said. "We tried to go out there (in the second half) with the same mentality as when we first went out there and I think we did a good job of doing that."

With six sacks, five turnovers, and limiting the Vandal offense to a grand total of 275 total yards, some might say that the extra motivation helped. Smith believes it was a matter of coming together as a unit and finishing what they are more than capable of doing.

"They seemed a little bit (extra fired up), but I think it was more just trying to finish strong," Smith said. "Trying not to let up and let what happened in Hawaii happen here. We got too much talent on this team to not do what we did today. You know, go out, start fast, and finish strong. That's mainly what the coaches want from us and we got it done"

Even quarterback Derek Carr noticed the effort in the second half.

"If we don't learn from each week then we're doing something wrong," Carr said. "I see we're continuing progress. Progress is being made. Hopefully it continues. I definitely saw the fire in our eyes, so to speak, in this second half, in the half-time locker room. We knew what we needed to do when we came back out."

Finally, fans might have noticed the number of safety blitzes dialed up by defensive coordinator Nick Toth, they can be sure that the players noticed them, too. When asked about the safety blitzes post-game, all Washington could do was smile from ear-to-ear and thank his defensive coordinator for allowing to unleash hell.

"Oh yeah," Washington exclaimed. "This week Coach Toth put in some nice blitzes. I have to do a better job of timing them up, but, man, the schemes he put together as far as blitzing this week were crazy. He showed us a lot of love as far as blitzing. So, thanks to him. Derron actually landed one for a safety, which is good. Dalen and I, like I said, could have timed it up better, but Derron did a good job of timing up his safety."

Petrino might not feel that way, but then again, it sounded to us like he has some issue of his own to worry about.

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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