With a change in scheme, the Fresno State Bulldogs went from one of the worst defensive football teams in the bowl subdivision to one of the best, particularly when it came to takeaways.
Just one year after ranking in a tie for 119th and last with only nine turnovers gained, they were fifth with 35. Playing a defense brought in by coach Tim DeRuyter and taught by defensive coordinator Nick Toth, line coach Pete Germano, and secondary coaches Tim McDonald and Jordan Peterson, the Bulldogs also took significant strides up the rankings in passing, total and scoring defense.
It was not all just scheme, of course. Fresno State played with a confidence it was not close to having the previous season, the Bulldogs more aggressive and more physical. This spring, Toth wants to make sure they recapture that, even as they try to find replacements for some key contributors starting with strong safety Phillip Thomas and including SAM linebackers Shawn Plummer and Tristan Okpalaugo.
That is the goal this spring and it is a challenge to every player and every coach. Written on the board in his office is this: “You can’t be the same player/coach you were last year.”
Toth wants the Bulldogs better, and to be building. He talked about that and more in this Q&A leading in to spring practice, the first of 15 for the Bulldogs scheduled for Monday.
Question: Well, you have some bodies to replace …
Answer: Yeah, we’ve got a couple guys … not a whole lot (he was joking, obviously). We have some work to do. We definitely have some work to do. But it has been good. The winter workouts have gone well, so hopefully we get these 15 practice days and go.
What’s the priority this spring for this defense?
We want to make sure, No. 1 that we re-establish our identity. I think the first thing we did when we got here is say, “Hey, we’re going to go out and run around on defense.” That was the big thing. We are going to run to the ball. We are going to try to be physical. And, regardless of what is happening with the offense, we’re going to control what we can control and that’s our attitude, our physicality and our energy level. We’re coming out to re-establish that, and take it to a higher level. That’s the thing that our kids have been talking about, that we’ve been talking about, throughout winter workouts.