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Bulldog Football Outlook: More Explosive Offense, a Potential Game-Wrecker on Defense
STEVEN HEADSHOT 1
By Steven Sanchez
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 3, 2024

QB Mikey Keene says he's 100% healthy and eager to build upon his successful Fresno State debut season. (GV Wire/Steven Sanchez)

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In 2023, the Fresno State Bulldogs football team finished the season with a 9-4 overall record with a win over New Mexico State in the Isleta New Mexico Bowl.

Many programs would be happy with that level of success. But the expectations are much higher for coach Jeff Tedford’s program.

Thus, the theme of this year’s spring camp was to build on last year’s strengths while paying close attention to the areas needing improvement.

“You try to get as much learning as possible, get some young guys reps, see what your depth looks like, and hopefully come out as healthy as you can,” Tedford said of the camp that ended this past Saturday with a scrimmage at Valley Children’s Stadium.

“We had some injuries through spring, but we should recover in time. That’s what you want in spring is improvement — day to day. A lot of the young guys from day 1 to the 15th practice, we saw a lot of improvement and that’s what it’s about.”

Coaching and Leadership

Tedford looked spry and energetic out there, which is vital to the Bulldogs. Last December, he dismissed himself from participating in the bowl game to deal with an undisclosed health issue and turned the team over to assistant head coach and linebackers coach Tim Skipper.

According to players and coaches, it’s as if Tedford never took time off.

“It’s been business as usual. From December on, you wouldn’t recognizing anything different,” said offensive coordinator Pat McCann.

That might be the theme for spring camp — taking care of business.

Coach Jeff Tedford surveys the scene at Fresno State’s spring scrimmage, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (GV Wire/Steven Sanchez)

Offense and Identity

Last season, the offense struggled for an identity. Are they a running team or throwing one? Are they aggressive or rely on finesse? The identity of the offense falls into the hands of starting quarterback Mikey Keene.

He dealt with an injury in 2023 and it was his first year with the program after two seasons at the University of Central Florida (2021-2022). He transferred to Fresno State as a redshirt sophomore. Now that he’s healthy, Keene is itching to showcase everything in his toolbox.

“I’m back to full 100%. Nobody is 100% in college football. Teams have to find their edge to get healthy as possible as the season continues but I’ve been feeling good lately,” said Keene.

Cut the Interceptions, Throw Deep More Often

The coaches have been impressed with Keene’s progress.

“We can reduce the interceptions, we can be more efficient in completing the ball in higher percentage and pushing the ball down the field.”Quarterbacks coach Matt Wade

“I think Mikey has a lot of room for growth. We talked about it and set some goals this offseason,” said quarterbacks coach Matt Wade. “We can reduce the interceptions, we can be more efficient in completing the ball in higher percentage and pushing the ball down the field.

“We’ve done a great job of doing that when we got opportunities, and it was something we struggled with at times in certain games. I think we’re making progress towards meeting those goals.”

Keene is predicting that fans will see a better version of himself this fall.

“The transition from year 1 to year 2 is where you’re going to grow the most as a person and as a player in the system. I’m loving my time here in Fresno and my comfortability with the system has improved a lot since last season,” Keene said. “My chemistry with the receivers, the o-line in communication aspects, and the running backs has taken off to a new level from last year, and filling in a leadership role is a big thing for me.”

Team Confidence and Trust

The Bulldogs expect to lean on veteran leadership as they face their Mountain West rivals and a non-conference schedule that includes defending national champion Michigan, Washington State, and UCLA.

They return 14 starters: eight on offense, five on defense and one specialist. In all, they have 25 players who are looking at their final year of eligibility. This experience is giving the Bulldogs a sense of confidence because so many players know the system and have bought into it.

“Having everybody together, and knowing what we did last year, and the trust we can build, going through this spring brings to light the trust, and chemistry that the whole offense has,” said senior wide receiver Mac Dalena.

“I think it’s really good to know who you’re playing around. Now I trust who’s playing next to me, he’ll be doing his job, trusting the o-line to communicate their calls upfront so Mikey has time to give me the ball. Having people I can trust and knowing they’ll be doing their job gives me confidence for me to play to the best of my ability.”

View the Bulldogs 2024 schedule at this link.

Program Stability From Players to Coaches

Not only is there veteran leadership with the players but among the coaches as well. The Bulldogs saw just one change among the full-time staff. Former Bulldog player and graduate assistant (2022-23) Matt Smith assumed the role of offensive line coach.

“It’s helpful because when you get a new coach, Matt Smith, (who) has been with the program the last eight years,” Wade said. “We don’t need to teach a new coach on how we do things, what the plays are, and the little coaching techniques. Now we’re really diving into the nuances of every play and having our staff meetings be built around that so we can move at a faster pace.”

Speaking of fast pace, that’s what the offense worked on this spring. “Explosiveness” is the consensus term being used by players and coaches to describing next season’s offense.

Player Performance and Expectations

Senior running back and All-Mountain West honorable mention Malik Sherrod showed big-play ability in 2023 while accumulating 1,462 all-purpose yards. But there are expectations for greater contributions from the entire running back room.

“I would love to say that we’re going to be more balanced than what we were. A lot of that comes down to the fact that we got to run the ball better.”Offensive coordinator Pat McCann

“I would love to say that we’re going to be more balanced than what we were. A lot of that comes down to the fact that we got to run the ball better,” McCann said. “We weren’t as effective in the run game that we could’ve been. It’s not about running more but running it better and when you do that, we’ll naturally run it more. We got a really good quarterback and got guys to distribute the ball to.”

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs appear stacked at wide receiver. They return their top four wideouts: Dalena, junior Josiah Freeman, junior Tim Grear Jr., and sophomore Jalen Moss.

“We have a lot of guys that can play a multitude of positions. We just got to get them assignment wise to be there and locked in,” Moss said. “We got guys who can make plays. I’m confident in all of our guys. We have a good receiving room and we just got to keep working and getting better each day.”

Down in the Trenches

But the battle is often won in the trenches. Back on the offensive line are senior Mose Vavao who was second-team All-Mountain West, senior Julian Polendo, and Mountain West honorable mention senior Jacob Spomer, among others. The veterans can set the tone for the success of the offense between the hashmarks or through the air.

Julian Polendo

“We can do things without the ball, we can be playmakers as well. That’s the identity we want to have especially with the o-line, be the most physical unit.” — Senior offensive lineman Julian Polendo

“We play hard. Coach McCann preaches playing hard and giving fanatical effort,” said Polendo. “We can do things without the ball, we can be playmakers as well. That’s the identity we want to have especially with the o-line, be the most physical unit.

“Coach Smith harps it every day, the best o-lines he’s been a part of they’re the most physical group. He upholds that standard with us and pushes us to be physical, communicate, and play hard.”

The defense was stout for much of last season. Now they’re building upon that with new recruits and the transfer portal.

Defensive end Korey Foreman, who transferred from USC, arrives as a former five-star recruit. He’s best known for his game-winning interception in 2022 against UCLA. His presence will contribute greatly to an already stable defense.

Defensive End Korey Foreman, right, transferred from USC. He was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Trojans. (GV Wire/Steven Sanchez)

“He’s doing great. He’s done a nice job of acclimating to the way we do things. He’s a good teammate, very happy, and there’s no question he makes us better,” said Tedford.

Week One Epitomizes ‘Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere’

The Bulldogs will have their biggest test in week 1, facing Michigan at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor. However, coaches and players collectively said they’re treating it as another game.  The program has molded their culture by the motto, “Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere,” and they plan to apply that against the Wolverines.

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Steven Sanchez,
Content Manager/Entertainment Editor
Steven Sanchez, a resident of Clovis, graduated from Buchanan High School in the class of 2007 and obtained his film degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Steven is a multifaceted artist, working as a filmmaker, writer, photographer, videographer, and published author. He has a profound passion for movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A dedicated football enthusiast, he cheers for the Las Vegas Raiders. In his leisure time, he indulges in reading and collecting vinyl records. Steven is often found attending rock shows in town, a keen enthusiast of live music. He holds a special fondness for his grandma's homemade meals and spending time with his twin sister.

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