Former UC Berkeley head coach Jeff Tedford will return to familiar grounds on Saturday when his Fresno State Bulldogs take on our Bruins.
While he is known for most for his 11 seasons as the Golden Bears head coach, coaching at Fresno State is actually a homecoming for Tedford.
He played quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1981-1982 after playing two seasons at Cerritos College. He then went on to play six seasons in the CFL for four different teams before he went home to serve the Bulldogs as a volunteer assistant coach.
At UC Berkeley, Tedford was able to improve the Golden Bears, despite the fact that they always seemed to fall short of their potential. The thing about Tedford is that he built the Bears up to a level they hadn’t seen in years, but he couldn’t get them to the Rose Bowl. In many ways, his time at Berkeley resembled Jim Mora’s tenure at UCLA.
So, in some respects, it isn’t a surprise that Tedford went 10-4 in his first season with the Bulldogs.
Kalen DeBoer is in his second year as Fresno State’s offensive coordinator. Last year, he guided quarterback Marcus McMaryion to a successful 2017 season with a 62.1 completion percentage, good enough for third in the Mountain West Conference.
This efficiency can be attributed to an offensive line with the ability to hold, as they only allowed 10 sacks in 14 games, which was third in the FBS. Six teams they faced didn’t record a single sack.
This offense is a force to be reckoned with. The Bulldogs put up 79 points against Idaho to start the season. In last week’s loss to Minnesota on a last minute Gopher touchdown, 21-17, suspect play calling and missed opportunities by McMaryion were called out as reasons for the loss. Additionally, a trick play in the red zone left many Bulldog fans scratching their heads.
In The Bulldogs’ victory over Idaho, all but one of their touchdowns was on the ground. McMaryion went 19 of 26 for 207 yards, but didn’t pass for a single touchdown. Back-up quarterback Jorge Reyna came in late in the game, went 2 of 3 for 40 yards, and threw the lone touchdown pass. Against Minnesota, McMaryion 23 of 32 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Defensive coordinator Bert Watts is also in his second year at Fresno State. Watts, who was the team’s linebackers coach last season, was promoted by Tedford after Orlondo Steinauer took a job with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL. Watts helped infuse some dramatic improvement in the Fresno State defense, which ranked 10th in the FBS in scoring defense at 17.9 points per game and 15th in total defense with 320.6 yards allowed per game last season. Watts’ history with Jeff Tedford dates back to his playing days at Cal and later as a graduate assistant at Cal.
While the Bulldog defense has only allowed four touchdowns in their first two games, three of them came last week against Minnesota. Because Idaho is an FCS team, it’s hard to use that game as a gauge of anything, but the Bulldogs were able to hold the Golden Gophers to just 175 yards passing and 132 yards rushing.
One of the battles that can’t be overlooked in college football is that of field position. Fresno State’s average kickoff return has been a little over 13 yards this season, but their opponents have averaged almost 20, which means that, if UCLA can get some key blocks when the ball comes our way, the Bruins may be able to take advantage and get the offense in a better position to start their drives.
On punt returns, KeeSean Johnson looks to be the guy. Johnson returned four punts last season and has the Bulldogs only two so far this season. Ronnie Rivers actually handled more punts than Johnson last year, but his season ended early in week six when he suffered an elbow injury against New Mexico. Rivers also suffered a foot injury during the spring and he has returned to game action as of yet.
When it comes to kick returns, Jamire Jordan and Brian Burt each have two returns so far this season. The Fresno State depth chart lists Dejonte O’Neal and Burt as the two starting kick returners, but O’Neal hasn’t returned a kick yet this season.
Field goals are another story. If we’re talking field goal defense, Jaron Bryant blocked field goal attempts in the Bulldogs’ first game against Idaho and returned both for a touchdown. Now, I don’t expect J.J. Molson to kick so low that Fresno State can block all day, but we need to be aware that this could be an issue.
As far as kicking their own, the Bulldogs are replacing reliable Jimmy Camacho who graduated last year and went 25 of 32 on extra point attempts. Asa Fuller has only attempted two field goals so far. He made the one from 33 yards and missed the 50-yard attempt. He’s made 12 of 13 extra points so far this year. Fuller has handled all 15 kickoffs with one going out of bounds and five going for a touchback.
Junior Blake Cusick will handle the punting. Cusick is averaging 44.44 yards per punt on nine punts. That’s up almost two yards from his 42.5-yard average last season. His season long so far is 60 yards and his career long is 66 yards.
The progress Tedford has made in one year at Fresno State is something like what he did at UC Berkeley. If we’re just talking wins and losses, Tedford has really turned things around. But, at Berkeley, Tedford wasn’t able to sustain the progress. UCLA’s Chip Kelly and Tedford have faced each other as conference opponents four times while Kelly was at Oregon and Tedford was at Berkeley 2009-2012. In all four match ups, Kelly was the victor. Hopefully this means that Kelly will out-coach Tedford on Saturday and the Bruins will get their first win.