Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno State’s running backs gear up for big opportunity against Aggies

The Bulldogs are at their best when the run game gets going.

Running backs Ronnie Rivers and Josh Hokit give the ‘Dogs’ offense a consistency and stability that will be needed as they wrap up their non-conference schedule Saturday at New Mexico State.

Fresno State is averaging 136 rushing yards per game, which ranks in the bottom half nationally. But against an excellent run defense in Sacramento State last week, the ‘Dogs had 145 yards on the ground, which ultimately sealed the win.

Looking ahead at New Mexico State, the Aggies have a bottom-10 run defense, although they have played a very tough schedule to start the season (Washington State, Alabama, San Diego State and New Mexico).

Here’s how many rushing yards and yards per carry New Mexico State has given up in each of its first four games: 

  • Washington State: 111 yards; 5.6 ypc
  • Alabama: 318 yards; 9.9 ypc
  • San Diego State: 281 yards; 6 ypc
  • New Mexico: 243 yards, 4.8 ypc

So it’s clear: The Aggies are struggling to stop the run. This plays right into Fresno State’s hands.

With Hokit’s strong second-half performance last week, the Bulldogs’ running backs have the momentum moving forward.

Hokit ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns against Sacramento State. He also made his physical presence felt by breaking a tackle en route to a receiving touchdown. All of his runs came in the second half, and he averaged six yards a carry.

“You just keep attacking something, that’s my whole mentality,” Hokit said. “You keep attacking, and eventually the person’s not going to be there. One of us is going to have to break, and I would bet on myself nine out of ten times that it’s not going to be me. That’s just my mentality.”

Most importantly, Hokit’s performance showed that the rushing attack doesn’t lie solely on Rivers.

“The thing about Josh to me is he can do anything – not just a power runner – he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can block. Both of those kids to me are complete backs. Either one of them in there at any time, I feel comfortable in what we’re doing in our game plan. I kind of treat both of those guys like starters, that’s how I look at it. So if one’s hot, he’ll be in.”

It’s Hokit’s physical play and personality that impacts the offense outside the box score. His play encourages, inspires and sets the tone for his teammates.

“Once it came to the second half, we really just wanted to impose our will on them, and we wanted to show that we can run the ball at all times, no matter what, and that’s what we needed,” center Matt Smith said. “O-line dug deep, Josh Hokit ran his butt off – can’t say enough about him. That really inspires us to keep blocking and just working for him.”

Despite New Mexico State’s 0-4 record, Christian said the ‘Dogs can’t overlook the Aggies. Establishing the run early will be key.  And he said the Aggies have showed the ability to stop the run at times this season, pointing to the Alabama game.

Take away the 75-yard touchdown run on Alabama’s first play of the game, and the Aggies allowed 69 yards to Alabama running backs in the first half, holding them to one yard gains multiple times.

So the Aggies are a capable team, and they’ll present their challenges. It won’t be a walk in the park like the numbers suggest. But the front-seven won’t be as complicated as Sacramento State’s was. The Aggies line up and have very little movement, Christian said.

“They pretty much tell you what they’re doing,” Christian said.

With Rivers averaging 4.2 yards per carry this season, the running game should be in for another solid game. Hokit and Rivers should lead the way for the Bulldogs Saturday.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.