Thursday, October 25, 2007

Game Preview: Fresno State (5-2, 4-0) vs. Boise State (6-1, 3-0)

Tom Brandstater’s efficiency is not a question right now, but Fresno State hasn’t needed him to take the team on his shoulders in weeks. While Brandstater hasn’t thrown an interception in the past three games (he’s tied for fewest in the nation with three), he also hasn’t thrown a touchdown in the same time span. This is the type of win Brandstater needs to prove he’s stepped his game up another level. He’s completed 60% of his passes for 1,248 yards and six touchdowns.

Boise State hasn’t seen much of a fall-off since Jared Zabransky’s departure – senior Taylor Tharp (6-2, 206) actually might be an improvement. The numbers would suggest as much, as Tharp leads the WAC with a 157.25 rating. He’s completed 65.3% of his throws for 1,857 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Boise State could present the biggest passing threat Fresno State has faced so far this season.
Edge: Broncos

Running Backs
True freshman Ryan Mathews is looking more special by the week. After racking up 144 yards and two touchdowns on 9 yards per carry last week against San Jose State, Mathews leads the Bulldogs with 596 yards and nine scores. His 58-yard touchdown run last week was his third run for more than 54 yards on the year. Sophomore Lonyae Miller, who’s missed some practice this week but is expected to play Friday, is second on the team with 402 yards and six touchdowns (4.3 yards per carry). Throw in senior Clifton Smith (176 yards and three touchdowns on 5.9 per carry) and sophomore Anthony Harding (131 yards and two scores) and the Bulldogs have the deepest and most talented backfield in the conference.

But, with all the Bulldogs’ youth, Boise State has the WAC’s best tailback in senior Ian Johnson, an All-American candidate who coach Chris Petersen said won’t play for the second straight week because of a kidney injury. Taking his place as starter is redshirt freshman Jeremy Avery (5-9, 173), who has 383 yards and four touchdowns with a 6.4-yard average. Johnson leads the Broncos with 693 yards and nine touchdowns. True freshman D.J. Harper (5-10, 185) has 162 yards and three scores.
Edge: Bulldogs

The Bulldogs’ passing game counts on tight end Bear Pascoe and running back Clifton Smith a great deal. Pascoe is the go-to guy with 28 receptions for 370 yards and four touchdowns. Smith is second with 19 catches for 215 yards. Sophomore wideout Marlon Moore, who returned from injury last week, should give the offense a big boost. Even after missing 2 ½ games, he has 17 catches for 214 yards. The team needs to use sophomore Seyi Ajirotutu to stretch Boise State’s defense and keep it honest.

Sophomore Jeremy Childs (6-0, 196) is in the midst of a breakout year for the Broncos with 47 catches for 679 yards and eight touchdowns (97 yards per game). On his own, Childs has two more touchdown catches than all of Fresno State’s receivers combined. True freshman Titus Young is second with 19 receptions for 372 yards and three scores (19.6 yards per catch). Ian Johnson’s 247 receiving yards will be missed if he doesn’t dress, and the Broncos are also without Vinny Perretta and his 120 yards.
Edge: Broncos

Offensive Line
Bad news for Boise State. Just when Fresno State’s line had solidified with the redshirt freshmen center Joe Bernardi and right guard Andrew Jackson filling in for injured starters – one of them is returning. All-WAC junior guard Cole Popovich is expected back for the fist time since the Texas A&M game on Sept. 8. The question is, if he plays, who does he replace? Fresno State is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and has given up just nine sacks on the year.

Boise State is the team that came into the season with the highly-touted line led by junior left tackle Ryan Clady (6-6, 317), a preseason first-team All-America selection. Seniors Jeff Cavender (6-2, 287) and Tad Miller (6-4, 296) and junior Andrew Woodruff (6-3, 328) add a ton of experience. Like Fresno State, Boise State has allowed just nine sacks this season, and the team averages 4.7 yards per carry (0.1 yards less than the Bulldogs).
Edge: Even

Defensive Line
No Jason Shirley (suspended indefinitely), no Jason Roberts (broken leg), no Chris Lewis (suspended for season), no Ikenna Ike (wrist injury), no Taylor Smith (shoulder injury). Yet – still – Fresno State’s line is thriving. Much credit goes to senior Tyler Clutts and junior Jon Monga, who are tied with a WAC-best six sacks apiece and each have 8 tackles for losses. Monga has developed into one of the best pass-rushing tackles in recent school history and Clutts is playing with a mean streak. Sophomore end Wilson Ramos has stepped up big at the other end spot.

Boise State has a couple talented ends of its own, led by junior Mike T. Williams (6-4, 245) and senior Nick Schlekeway (6-4, 262).Williams leads the team with four sacks and has five tackles for losses. Reserve redshirt freshman end Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 264) has a team-high 5.5 tackles for losses. They better be on the ball, as the ‘Dogs will try to run right at and through Boise State.
Edge: Bulldogs

Speaking of players with mean streaks, watch out for senior Marcus Riley, who is hitting with more aggression than ever before. Riley leads the team with 68 tackles (7 for losses) and is tied for a team-high two forced fumbles with sophomore Quaadir Brown, the team’s fastest linebacker. Brown didn’t start last week with the emergence of freshman walk-on Nick Bates, who has 13 tackles, 2 for losses. Redshirt freshman Ben Jacobs is second on the team with 52 tackles (4 for losses) and, like Riley, is all over the field.

Boise State is led by junior Kyle Gingg (5-11, 220) and his 52 tackles (4 for losses) and six pass break-ups. Junior Tim Brady (6-1, 207) is third on the team with 33 tackles. Junior David Shields (6-1, 220) was expected to have a breakout year, but has been average so far.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Backs
Hooray – the Bulldogs finally got an interception when sophomore Damion Owens picked off San Jose State’s first attempt last week and returned it 17 yards. When sophomore A.J. Jefferson was beaten for a deep pass in that game, junior Sharrod Davis (a former Oregon corner) saw his first significant playing time, making a key fourth-down stop. Safeties Marvin Haynes, Lorne Bell and Moses Harris have 36, 35 and 35 tackles, respectively. The ‘Dogs defense allows an average of 194.7 yards per game.

Senior free safety Marty Tadman (5-11, 185), a preseason All-America candidate, is second on the team with 50 tackles and tied for the lead with two interceptions. Junior corner Orlando Scandrick (5-11, 198) is fourth on the team with 32 tackles and also has two picks, as does sophomore corner Kyle Wilson (5-10, 190). The Broncos’ 187.9 passing yards per game against average leads the WAC. Fresno State averages 186.6 yards in the air.
Edge: Broncos

Special Teams
A.J. Jefferson built on his nation-best 36.1-yard kick return average with a 61-yarder in his only attempt last week. He and punt returner Clifton Smith will need to put the Bulldogs in good field position to win the game. Kicker Clint Stitser has quietly put together a streak, making 6 of his past 7 field goals, including 3 of 3 last week in strong winds. Punter Kyle Zimmerman is the reigning WAC special teams player of the week after averaging 49.8 yards on four punts last week. Zimmerman leads the WAC with a 42.6-yard average on the season. One of the Bulldogs’ trademark blocked kicks could be pivotal in this type of game.

Senior corner Rashaun Scott (5-10, 197) averages 23.9 yards per kick return, while Marty Tadman averages 11.4 per punt return. Redshirt freshman Kyle Brotzman (5-10, 170) has hit 7 of 9 field goals this year, with a long of 40 yards. True freshman punter Brad Elkin (6-3, 188) averages 38.3 yards and has landed 6 of 18 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Edge: Bulldogs

Pat Hill has his Bulldogs back in position to contend for a WAC title with a win over Boise State. A year after finishing a stunning 4-8, Fresno State is 5-2, 4-0 in the WAC and with a renewed confidence that will skyrocket if Fresno State wins this one.

Boise State’s Chris Petersen is the only coach since 1900 to win 13 games in his first season with a Division I team. He’s now 19-1 all-time since moving from offensive coordinator to head coach. Petersen led the Broncos to a 45-21 win in last season’s meeting. Boise State is 5-1 against Fresno State since joining the WAC, with the all-time series at 5-4.
Edge: Broncos

If you can’t get up for this game, you might not have a heartbeat. Bulldog Stadium will be rocking Friday evening with a Red Wave that might show up in black to "turn the lights out on Boise State." The crowd was loud and fired up for San Jose State, but the dislike for Boise State is exponentially higher. Boise State has won 42 of its past 43 WAC games – the lone loss in that span coming in its last visit to Fresno, when the Bulldogs laid a 27-7 spanking on the Broncos.
Edge: Bulldogs

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