Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Game Preview: Fresno State (4-2, 3-0) vs. San Jose State (3-4, 1-2)

Right now, Fresno State junior Tom Brandstater (6-5, 220) is doing everything he needs to to get the job done. He’s not putting up huge passing numbers, but he’s efficient, completing 60% of his passes for 1,116 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

On the other hand, San Jose State’s Adam Tafralis (6-2, 219) has to air it out to give the Spartans the best chance to win. He’s completed 65.7% of his throws for 1,663 yards, 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Tafralis threw 3 picks in last week’s soggy 42-35 overtime loss to Hawaii. Backups junior Jordan LaSecla (6-3, 198), Sean Flynn (6-4, 220) and sophomore Myles Eden (6-0, 182) have each seen action in multiple games this season.
Edge: Spartans

Running Backs
Sophomore Lonyae Miller (5-11, 215) and true freshman Ryan Mathews (5-11, 205) are getting scarier and scarier for opposing teams each week. Miller led the Bulldogs with 18 carries for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns at Idaho last week, while Mathews added 67 yards and two more scores. On the year, Mathews leads the team with 452 yards and 7 touchdowns, while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Miller has 360 yards and 5 touchdowns with 4.4 yards per carry. And don’t forget the most versatile weapon of them all Clifton Smith, who has 168 yards and 3 scores on the ground (6 yards per carry) with 177 yards receiving (11.1 per catch). Coach Pat Hill said on his weekly radio show that fullback Nate Adams (5-11, 240) was the offensive MVP against Idaho without ever touching the ball. And watch for sophomore tailback Anthony Harding (6-0, 215), who has 113 yards and 2 scores, to see more time at fullback this week because of a loaded backfield.

The Bulldogs’ strength is the Spartans’ weakness. The running game has been sad at best, with San Jose State averaging 2 yards per carry as a team with Yonus Davis, who rushed for 1,007 yards in 2006, and Patrick Perry out with injuries. Jacob French (5-10, 205) leads the team with 132 yards on 45 carries and James T. Callier (6-0, 220) has 131 yards and 3 touchdowns on 52 attempts.
Edge: Bulldogs

Junior tight end Bear Pascoe (6-5, 260) was back in the mix at Idaho with 6 catches for 69 yards. Pascoe leads the team with 24 receptions for 332 yards and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Marlon Moore (6-1, 185), who’s been out with injury for the past 2 ½ games but returned to practice, will be a big boost if he can return this week. He remains second on the team with 193 yards.Sophomore Seyi Ajirotutu (6-3, 205) has quietly developed into the team’s deep threat with 9 catches for 174 yards (19.3 yards per grab). And sophomore Jason Crawley (6-1, 185) is the possession receiver with 14 catches for 108 yards and is the only Bulldogs’ wideout with a touchdown.

The Spartans have plenty of guys racking up stats, with three receivers with as many or more receptions as Fresno State’s leader. Junior Kevin Jurovich, who had 117 yards against Hawaii, leads the team with 44 catches for 638 yards and 5 scores. JC junior transfer David Richmond (6-4, 200) has 34 grabs for 472 yards and 3 touchdowns, and running back French has 24 catches for 216 yards and a score. Big sophomore Jalal Beauchman (6-4, 220) has 122 yards on 18 receptions.
Edge: Spartans

Offensive Line
Fresno State had a shaky start with injuries to All-WAC Cole Popovich and Adam McDowell (season). They’re still out, but the line has solidified with redshirt freshmen Joe Bernardi (6-3, 280) and Andrew Jackson (6-5, 290) stepping in. The way Ryan Wendell (6-2, 285) has played since sliding over from center to left guard, he might be the WAC’s best up front. The team has given up just one sack in the past two games and plowed the way for a team average of 4.6 yards per carry.

San Jose State’s line is filled with youth, with three true freshmen starting in left tackle Fred Koloto (6-3, 290), left guard Isaac Leatiota (6-4, 295) and right guard Moa Ngatuvai (6-2, 303). The team has given up 13 sacks this year – one more than Fresno State gave up all of last season.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Line
NFL-bound tackle Jason Shirley remains suspended indefinitely, but end Tyler Clutts (6-2, 245) and junior tackle Jon Monga (6-2, 280) should have their way with the Spartans’ inexperienced line. Clutts and Monga are tied for the WAC lead with 5 sacks apiece. Charles Tolbert (5-11, 265) had 5 tackles (1 for loss) and a forced fumble last week.

Though listed as a reserve, sophomore end Carl Ihenacho (6-3, 245) leads the team with 4 sacks and 5 tackles for losses. Junior end Jarron Gilbert (6-6, 280) has 22 tackles (4 for losses) with 2 sacks. If this group can’t stop the run up front, the Spartans could be in trouble.
Edge: Bulldogs

The Marcus Riley and Ben Jacobs show continues in Fresno State’s bend-but-don’t-break defense that is allowing teams to score red zone touchdowns just 50% of the time (13 of 26). Riley (6-2, 220) is making a case for WAC defensive player of the year with a team-high 58 tackles (7 for losses) and 2 forced fumbles. Redshirt freshman Jacobs (6-3, 225) is second with 48 tackles (3 for losses). Sophomore Quaadir Brown (6-2, 215) is the fastest of the group and capable of being the impact player any given day.

Matt Castelo (5-10, 228) is the leader of the defense with a team-high 71 tackles (7.5 for losses) and an interception. Demetrius Jones (6-1, 230) is second with 67 tackles. Expect these two guys to be helping to stack the box against Fresno State’s run on Saturday.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Backs
The Bulldogs remain the only team in the country without an interception. But so far this year, they’ve given up very few big-play passes, holding opponents to 184.8 yards per game. The ‘Dogs know they can rely on a couple of safeties to deliver big hits in sophomore Moses Harris (6-1, 200) and redshirt freshman Lorne Bell (5-10, 195).

The strength of the Spartans’ defense lies here. Junior corner Christopher Owens (5-10, 170) leads the team with 4 interceptions and is third with 52 tackles. All-WAC corner Dwight Lowery (6-1, 185) has 3 picks after finishing with 9 last season. Junior safety Jonathan Harris (6-0, 190) also has 3 picks, after swiping 2 against Hawaii.
Edge: Spartans

Special Teams
Spartans coach Dick Tomey calls this the strength of Fresno State’s team. Kicker Clint Stitser finally put together a solid 3 for 4 performance in Idaho and Kyle Zimmerman averages 41.5 yards per punt. But the biggest threat might be sophomore corner A.J. Jefferson (5-11, 180), who leads the nation with 33.3 yards per kick return. And don’t forget about Clifton Smith, one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners. And don’t forget the ‘Dogs are one of the best kick-blocking teams in the country, as usual, with three this season.

San Jose State has struggled mightily in the kicking game, Jared Strubeck is 2 for 9 on field goals and Will Johnson is 0 for 1. Punter Waylon Prather averages 39.3 yards. Dwight Lowery is dangerous on punts, averaging 16.2 yards per return – with an 84-yard touchdown return.
Edge: Bulldogs

It’s too close to call here. Pat Hill has established Fresno State as one of the most powerful non-BCS conference programs around, and looks to have the ‘Dogs headed in the right direction after last season’s stunning 4-8 record. The ‘Dogs have already matched that win total this year. But San Jose State’s Dick Tomey, who once had Hill and Bulldogs special teams coach John Baxter on his staff at Arizona, is a longtime proven winner. He came in last season to breathe life into a downward spiraling San Jose State team that was once proud.
Edge: Even

The Bulldogs have played just two home games all season and are hungry to see the Red Wave. San Jose State hasn’t won at Bulldog Stadium since 1991 (losing in the past seven meetings in Fresno). The Spartans’ win last season was their first in 13 tries against the Bulldogs.
Edge: Bulldogs

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