Little things that matter for Bulldogs football

Fresno State reserves see more action as team works on the small stuff.

April 22, 2008 

Fresno State quarterback Tom Brandstater spent more time on the field with a pen in his hand instead of a football Saturday.

Running back Ryan Mathews failed to wow the crowd as he had the past two scrimmages, unable to produce a long run.

Fourteen players, including five starters, sat out with various injuries. All the while, one of the Bulldogs' top linebackers was nowhere to be found.

Yes, the final scrimmage of Fresno State's spring camp hardly left fans feeling confident the Bulldogs are ready to handle the high expectations awaiting next season.

But it was the smaller things from Saturday's 90-minute scrimmage at Bulldog Stadium that had coaches and players believing that the question marks surrounding the Bulldogs entering the spring either had been solved or would be with more practice.

The Sept. 1 season opener at Rutgers, after all, still is 134 days away.

"I think we made a lot of strides," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said of the three-week spring camp, which actually concludes Wednesday with a final practice that will be closed to the public. "I feel really good about our returning players."

That's good news for Fresno State fans considering the Bulldogs return the majority of the team, including 15 starters, that went 9-4 last season.

Brandstater was lights out on the one drive he participated in, driving the first-team offense against the first-team defense for 73 yards on 4 of 5 passing. His last pass was a 3-yard touchdown to receiver Seyi Ajirotutu.

Brandstater, a two-year starter, then was given a headset and allowed to take the rest of the day off. He spent about 30 minutes after the scrimmage signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.

"I'm very pleased with Tom," said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who is in his first season with the Bulldogs. "He's done everything we've asked. I really like the progress he's made. It's good for us to get that right, that we can count on him and that we know he's on top of his game."

But when the veteran players went out and reserves entered, production dropped. And most of Saturday's scrimmage featured players most likely to begin next season as reserves.

Backup quarterback Ryan Colburn did little Saturday to secure the No. 2 role. Third-string quarterback Matt Faulkner failed to impress as well.

That could open a role for prized recruit Ebahn Feathers of Washington High to get important snaps sooner than expected. Feathers was one of several recruits who attended the scrimmage.

"We have to work on the development of our No. 2 quarterback," Hill said.

Fourth-string running back Kyle Duffy was the top performer, with two touchdowns that caused a mostly subdued crowd of about 2,500 to cheer for something.

Duffy scored on a 45-yard run and a 25-yard screen pass.

Duffy got a lot of playing time because running backs Mathews and Lonyae Miller were intentionally limited in participation, and third-string back Anthony Harding has been out after cutting his gums and bottom lip during the previous scrimmage.

Harding is expected to make a quick and full recovery.

The same can't be said of the 13 others who sat out Saturday, a list that includes starting left guard Cole Popovich and starting left tackle Bobby Lepori, starting center Joe Bernardi, linebackers Ryan McKinley, Eric Brown and Frank Padilla, defensive end Kenny Borg and defensive tackle Cornell Banks, defensive backs Terrance Dennis, Lorne Bell and Marvin Haynes, tight end Drew Lubinsky and receiver Chastin West (limited to noncontact drills).

Linebacker Quaadir Brown was excused from Saturday's scrimmage to take care of a personal matter, Hill said.

"That's not our whole team out there," said Nico Herron, who projects to start at strongside linebacker. "I think we had a good spring. But when we get everybody back and healthy, we'll be even better."

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