Defense Looks to Set Tempo

Derron Smith

Fresno State finds itself back in the underdog role in Oregon on Saturday. The Bulldogs put their new style of play up to the test against one of the top teams in the nation. Sophomore safety Derron Smith discusses how the ‘Dogs plan to slow down the Oregon offense, and reflects on a similar scenario in Lincoln, Nebraska a year ago…

Fresno State showed improvement in their first game under Defensive Coordinator Nick Toth's 3-4 defense. The Bulldogs held Weber State to 10 points, which had only been accomplished once in the previous two seasons. The fanatical defense limited Weber State to 274 yards of total offense and was able to force one turnover. Redshirt sophomore safety Derron Smith feels that there is still room for improvement.

"I feel it was a B or B+," Smith said of the defense's performance versus Weber State. "We did a lot of good things, but the first game you're going to have mistakes and penalties. I feel we had a few missed tackles and a few penalties. That's not a part of our character. Once we clean that up, I think we can just keep getting better."

Fresno State will face one of the fastest offenses in the nation in one of the most hostile environments in Eugene on Saturday. Smith compares the challenge to that of playing at Nebraska last season, who was then ranked 10th in the nation.

"The game against Nebraska was one of our biggest games last year… They were more of a pound it and power type option, even with Taylor Martinez's speed on the outside. But with this Oregon team, their speed is all over the place. They can spread it out to anybody. It's not like you can just key in on one player… It's going to be a tough task trying to contain the whole field."

Oregon showed their speed and playmaking ability a week ago against Arkansas State. Thanks to a three-and-out and a fumble by the Duck defense, Oregon jumped out to a 22-0 lead in just over 7 minutes of game play. The Red Wolves had taken only five offensive snaps.

Setting the tone early will be critical in keeping the Bulldogs in the game. Smith discusses how the defense will be mentally approaching The Opening minutes of Saturday's game.

"As a defense, we've got to set the tempo. We've got to get out there the first play of the game and put a hit on them or make a big play. We've got to let them know that we're here to play. We can't just roll in there and let them do whatever they want. We've got to make some stops and get our offense the ball because our offense has playmakers too. If we can get our offense the ball, I feel like they'll be able to put up points. Our job is to get them the ball back and keep us in the game."

Smith helped the Bulldog defense set the tempo against Nebraska a year ago. The Fresno State defense forced two straight three-and-outs to open the game, and Smith would haul in an interception in the first quarter. Fresno State will need to keep up with the strength and speed of Oregon for four quarters however, which was something they were unable to do last season versus the Cornhuskers. Smith explains that the ‘Dogs key focus is on Oregon's tempo.

"We're not really worried about replicating their speed. We're just worried about replicating the plays they run and the tempo. The tempo is the main thing. We play fast players almost every week. Maybe not (like De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner) at the same time, but if we can get our calls in and get lined up I think we'll be successful in stopping their offense."

Containing Oregon's speed out of the backfield will be critical for Fresno State. The Bulldogs struggled to stop the big play in 2011 and will put their new scheme to the test versus two of the most explosive backs in the nation.

"Getting our calls in and getting lined up. That's the main focus," said Smith. "If we can do that we should be able to limit the big plays… If we can limit that I think we'll be in good shape."

Running the offense at quarterback for the Ducks is redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. Mariota played in just the first half of Oregon's season opener versus Arkansas State, but completed 18-of-22 passes for 200 yards, and ran four times for 24 yards. Smith discusses how the ‘Dogs are preparing for Mariota with the limited game film.

"We don't really know a lot about him. He didn't play last year so we don't have previous tape on him. He only played the first half so we only have a little bit of film on him. We know he's a very athletic quarterback. He looks real composed in the pocket. We're going to have to get pressure on him and see how he handles it."

Pressuring the redshirt freshman will be important for the Bulldog defense, but it won't be the biggest factor in slowing down Oregon's fast paced offense. Smith says there is no better way to disrupt the Oregon offense than forcing turnovers.

"Turnovers," Smith answered. "If we get turnovers, their offense is off the field. Stopping them on third down and turnovers I'd say is the biggest key."

While the Bulldogs forced one turnover versus Weber State, the defense is locked in on increasing that number on Saturday.

"It's always good to get one, but that's definitely not enough. We want more. We need to get more shots on the ball; we need to get our hands on more balls in the air."



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