Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth on spring: ‘You can’t be the same player/coach you were last year’

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.

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Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm: Spring focus on fixing things that cost victories

Dave Schramm says the Bulldogs’ spring focus will be on cutting down on sacks and turnovers, and improving third-down and red-zone efficiency.

With quarterback Derek Carr, running back Robbie Rouse and Davante Adams, Fresno State did a lot of good things on offense last season in winning a share of the Mountain West Conference football title — the Bulldogs were 12th in the bowl subdivision in passing offense, 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring.

But there were some things that definitely needed improvement, the things offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said cost the Bulldogs possessions and games.

On third downs, in the red zone and with turnovers, the Bulldogs had some rough stretches. Though running better than 77 plays per game, Schramm also said the Bulldogs need to play at a better tempo.

So there will be an emphasis for the Bulldogs this spring on clean up, perhaps just as much as finding replacements for Rouse, starting center Richard Helepiko, starting left guard Matt Hunt and wide out Rashad Evans, along with developing depth in the line and at the receiver positions.

There is a lot of work to do in the 15 spring practices, which start Monday morning. Schramm discussed some of what is ahead for the Bulldogs and his expectations.

Question: You guys got a lot of stuff done last year, put up a lot of points, even with some depth issues on the line and at the receiver positions. For the first year in the system, I’d have to think you’re pretty happy with at least some of the aspects of that …

Schramm: It’s a good start. We did a lot of good things. We’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but I’m certainly happy with the start we had in the first year and looking forward to building on that.

Obviously you showed a lot with some of the trick plays. But, in that first year, how deep did you get into the offensive playbook. How much is still there?

A lot of what we do is personnel-based, and I’ve said it since the day I got here: It’s a player’s offense. It isn’t about the plays, it’s about the players and what we can and can’t do and what we believe our strengths are. We try to always play to our players’ strengths, and at the same time don’t ask them to do stuff that we don’t think they’re good at. When you start to do that, and you start to get stubborn about the scheme … you know, the scheme isn’t any good if the players can’t do it.

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