Fresno State

Marked territory: Dogs regrouping after another 1-2 start

FRESNO -- It looks oh so familiar at Fresno State...

Doesn't it?

The 1-2 record.

An emotional loss followed

by an embarrassing one.

Injuries mounting.

And now a bye week to correct mistakes and heal wounds before returning to Bulldog Stadium to play an opponent Fresno State is favored against.

This certainly resembles the start of the 2006 season, which mutated into a seven-game losing streak and concluded with a 4-8 campaign and no bowl game.

Then and now, Fresno State runs into a crossroads at this point into its season -- one leading to disaster, the other respectability.

Can the Bulldogs avoid another free fall?

Few players and coaches like to talk about last season. There might not be a need with the Bulldogs in danger of reliving it.

"Everyone on this team has seen the downfall of this program from last year," senior cornerback Damon Jenkins said. "We know what it's going to take to not [make] the same mistakes as last year.

"OK, so we lost two (nonconference) games. At the end of the day, we've known our goal is to win the (Western Athletic Conference)."

New players in new places

It's starts a week from today, with Fresno State (1-2, 0-0 WAC) hosting Louisiana Tech (1-2, 0-1).

Some could say taking the road in the right direction started last Sunday when Fresno State shifted its focus from a 54-21 loss at Oregon to self improvement -- no game planning for an opponent.

That's how Fresno State has spent the bye week, implementing new plays, working in new rotations and refining plays and sets already used.

With two offensive linemen still out with injury (left guard Cole Popovich and left guard Adam McDowell), the Bulldogs have worked in new players.

The unit, with replacement starters Pierce Masse and Andrew Jackson, did not do well against a bigger and faster Oregon defensive line. The Bulldogs allowed quarterback Tom Brandstater to get hit on too many occasions.

So Fresno State has worked in redshirt freshman Joe Bernardi at center and slid four-year starter Ryan Wendell back to guard, where he started for 2 3/4 seasons.

True freshman Devan Cunningham, a promising lineman with size (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) and quick feet, also received repetitions with the first team at tackle.

The problems, however, extend beyond the patchwork offensive line.

The defensive line appears in dire need, too, after starting defensive end Jason Roberts was lost for the season with a broken leg.

Fresno State has now lost three starters to season-ending injuries (linebacker Ahijah Lane and receiver Chastin West are the others). And each time the Bulldogs were forced to turn to the youth, further depleting their depth.

Against Oregon, nine of Fresno State's 22 starters were sophomores or younger. And of the 66 players who travelled, 22 were freshmen.

Youth and injuries, however, doesn't explain Fresno State's turnover problems -- six lost fumbles and two interceptions.

Entering this week, the Bulldogs were tied with the sixth-worst turnover margin in the nation.

Off-field issues

There are also off-field issues.

The health of defensive coordinator Dan Brown remains unclear after the 11-year Fresno State assistant underwent surgery last month to remove a tumor from his head.

Meanwhile, backup linebacker Michael Cheese is under investigation by Fresno State police and was suspended one game. Cheese continues to practice but it is unclear if he will be suspended further.

Starting linebacker Quaadir Brown just pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vandalism and trespassing charges Wednesday and defensive end Chris Lewis pleaded not guilty last month to two misdemeanor charges.

"We're going through some growing pains right now, but our expectations is still to win," coach Pat Hill said. "And we've got to win with whoever is on the field.

"We're going to do whatever we have to do to make our team the most competitive it can be."