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Hill, Fresno State take pride in their growing rock collection

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FRESNO, Calif. » Fresno State football coach Pat Hill maintains that his approach to offense really isn’t from the stone age.

But arrayed right there next to him on the stage yesterday in the Duncan Center, home of the Bulldogs’ auditorium-sized team meeting room, was … an assortment of rocks.

Large 10- to 20-pounders, actually, each with the name of an opponent, game score and date prominently painted on it.

They symbolize, Hill said, "carrying the rock" — proud testament to 200-yard and better rushing games in his tenure at Fresno State — and signed by running backs and members of the participating offensive line from the game.

From Hill, a man not given to subtlety, the message was clear: The Bulldogs hope to "rock" the University of Hawaii when they meet here Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.

For all his talk about a "balanced" Bulldogs offense, when it comes to playing the Warriors of the run-and-shoot era, Hill has historically preferred to pound the rock and, if he can, the Warriors. Recall the 503-yard bruising the Bulldogs put on Hawaii in a 70-14 blowout at Bulldog Stadium.

For Fresno State the 200-yard figure has been something of a magic number, especially against the Warriors, who the Bulldogs have lost to just once when hitting or surpassing the target.

Now, with UH coming in as the No. 1 passing team in the country, Hill admitted, "I don’t think it is in our best interests to go into a scoring game with them, even though we are averaging, 36, 37 (actually 36.2 points) a game."

That’s because, as Hill notes, "our points don’t come on big plays (but) Hawaii is capable of going three and out and the next time going 80 yards if you’re not taking care of business."

And the Bulldogs’ business, especially when UH comes to the San Joaquin Valley, is running the rock. In the past, Hill’s gone to double tight ends, put a 270-pound offensive lineman in the backfield as a blocker, you name it.

All with the expressed purpose of fielding a formidable running game that can control the ball — and the clock — to keep his defense fresh and the Warriors’ high-scoring offense off the field.

The problem this year is the Bulldogs’ running game has lacked some of its usual bite. Of course, it is also missing Ryan Mathews, a first-round NFL Draft selection of the San Diego Chargers. Things have been further complicated by injuries that have hobbled Robbie Rouse and A. J. Ellis, the top two heir apparents. Rouse returned last week on a tender ankle with 70 yards on 14 carries. Meanwhile Ellis, who had taken his place, is now sidelined with a toe injury.

For the most part, the Bulldogs now run by committee, looking for someone, anyone, to get into a rhythm.

Not by coincidence have the Bulldogs struggled with their trademark running game, ranking 74th in the NCAA and averaging 140 yards a game, well below past years. And the bulk of that was assembled against Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) and Utah State.

So this week the rocks are out for all to see, a reminder of the task at hand and afoot. There is even talk, Hill says proudly, of using them to build a rushing wall of fame of sorts adjacent to the practice field when there are a few more stones to put into place.

"On the road we go looking for rocks to bring back," Hill said. "We got one under the overpass (by the Rose Bowl) when we beat UCLA. We’ve gotten ’em in Louisiana, Utah, wherever we’ve (gotten the yards). We look for them as part of our Friday walkthrough at practice."

Next to the Bulldogs’ home field, there is no shortage of rocks to further the collection, Hill says.

But first, the ritual dictates, the Bulldogs have to get those 200 yards against Hawaii.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

 

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