This is it, the final year for Fresno State football in the Western Athletic Conference. So as the Bulldogs prepare to close this chapter of their athletic history, and attempt to win their first WAC title since 1999, here is coach Pat Hill's look back at his most memorable moments in conference games.
Just a few plays into Saturday's scrimmage, new Fresno State starting quarterback Derek Carr connected with receiver Devon Wylie on a deep-ball touchdown.
And from there, everybody knew: Carr is legit and the Bulldogs offense seems intent on attacking differently, with more aggressiveness through the air, than in the recent past.
"The offense played at a high level," Carr said. "Receivers were making big plays for me. Everybody should expect to see this kind of stuff -- expect big plays."
Saturday was just the beginning.
Coach Pat Hill said the Bulldogs will focus on developing their passing game further over the next two weeks now that practices are closed to the public and media, and a few veteran receivers are expected to return from injury.
Fullback Austin Raphael carries the ball close to the goal line as he is brought down from behind by defensive back Phillip Thomas during a Fresno State football scrimmage Saturday night. Also pictured is tight end Ryan Skidmore (84).
Among those sitting out the two-hour scrimmage with minor injuries were junior Rashad Evans and sophomores Isaiah Burse and Jalen Saunders.
In their absence, redshirt freshman Josh Harper got to shine and made three impressive receptions in midair, including a jump-ball catch over starting cornerback L.J. Jones for a touchdown.
"I wanted to have a lot more [passing plays] in at this point, but we started off with eight [receivers] and played the last three practices with three receivers," Hill said. "So this next week as we close practice, we're really going to start working on our passing game.
"We should have most guys back [today]."
Defensively, the first-team unit had its troubles slowing down Carr and his first-team partners. But defenders dominated when the second- and third-team squads entered.
Fans are left to wonder if the second- and third-team defen- ses are that far ahead of the offensive counterparts, or if the second-and third-team offenses struggled because reserve quarterbacks Greg Watson and Kelly O'Brien are still getting acclimated to the system.
The out-of-sync look was evident when Watson and O'Brien both bobbled errant shotgun snaps.
Defensive bright spots included sophomore defensive end Nat Harrison causing a fumble, which could help him in his quest to win a starting spot. Junior cornerback Beau Fryer made an interception along the sidelines.
"Tonight, the offense made plays on us, but defensively, we're doing some good things," senior cornerback Isaiah Green said. "The last two nights the defense had been dominating.
"We've got some young guys coming through the ranks that are showing they can contribute."
Hill said as many as seven true freshmen could receive playing time this season. Defensive end Donovan Lewis worked with the first-team unit to provide pass rushing off the edge. Linebackers Kyrie Wilson and Karl Mickelson took second-team reps, as did defensive tackle Todd Hunt.
But the man many came out to see Saturday was Carr.
He showed off his accuracy on an array of passes, connecting on out-routes, screen passes, dump-off passes and the deep balls. And there were the simpler yet just as important techniques displayed, such as Carr handing it off to Robbie Rouse for the first touchdown of the game.
"I liked the way Derek played, that's obvious," Hill said.
Carr believes this offense, despite the receivers' early injuries, is ahead of where the Bulldogs were a year ago.
"Coming into Day 1, we were doing things that we didn't put in until Day 5 of last year," said Carr, who will get his first regular-season test Sept. 3 against Cal. "We came with the mentality that if we want to start fast, maybe we should start doing that kind of stuff earlier."
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