Allowing Rutgers’ Paul James to break runs of 65 and 55 yards in one quarter raised unexpected concerns about Fresno State's run defense early in the season. The defense has given up just one rush of 30 yards or more in their last three games; a 35 yard touchdown to Boise State’s Aaron Baltazar. Fresno State held the Broncos just under their current average of 209 rushing yards per game after running 53 times in the game. The Bulldogs’ talent level showed at the line of scrimmage against Hawaii and Idaho, as they held the two teams to a combined 1.9 yards per carry on 78 attempts.
By the Numbers
143.4 yards allowed per game (47th in FBS)
3.38 yards allowed per carry (28th in FBS)
9.8 Tackles for loss per game (3rd in FBS)
Game by Game
vs. Rutgers: 32 att, 195 yards, 6.1 ypc
vs. Cal Poly: 49 att, 172 yards, 3.5 ypc
vs. Boise State: 53 att, 200 yards, 3.8 ypc
vs. Hawaii: 35 att, 54 yards, 1.5 ypc
vs. Idaho: 43 att, 96 yards, 2.2 ypc
Fresno State’s defensive line has been effective at creating pressure at the line of scrimmage. There have been missed assignments behind them however that have resulted in big runs. The starting defensive line has combined for 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 of which have come against the run. Nikko Motta leads the unit with over half of the TFLs, with 5.5 (3.5 against the run).
Inside linebackers Karl Mickelsen and Kyrie Wilson have led the Bulldogs in tackles through five games with 40 and 36 respectively. Jeremiah Toma has continued to play at a high level in a reserve role and Patrick Su’a is now back in the mix as well. Well timed blitzes from the inside linebackers have resulted in big collisions with running backs at, or behind, the line of scrimmage. Fresno State has not faced a team with a read option presence, resulting in outside linebackers Donavon Lewis and Ejiro Ederaine doing most of their damage against the pass rush.
Fresno State’s safeties have missed opportunities to stop big runs before they ever got started, but Charles Washington and Derron Smith have also made multiple touchdown-saving tackles on big runs.
Overall Grade: B
Fresno State’s run defense had two solid games against run-oriented teams to open the season, but were tainted by three runs of over 50 yards. Without the three 50+ yard gains, the Bulldogs would be giving up 2.6 yards per carry on the season. Fresno State’s three remaining home games all come against teams with high powered rushing attacks in UNLV, Nevada, and New Mexico. If the run defense continues to prevent the big plays, Derek Carr and the Fresno State offense could open up big leads.