Thursday, November 1, 2007

Game Preview: Fresno State (5-3, 4-1) vs. Utah State (0-8, 0-4)

Junior Tom Brandstater’s season-high 263 yards passing against Boise State last week aren’t necessarily what Fresno State wants to see. The Bulldog seem to do better when the running game carries the load. Brandstater had one touchdown and one interception last week, although the pick was a late-game desperation pass. He’s thrown for 1,511 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions on the year (59.1% completions).

Utah State senior Leon Jackson III (6-1, 206) presents more of a danger to the Bulldogs when he’s on the run than when he’s passing (Fresno State has struggled against running quarterbacks this season). Though Jackson has completed 65.2% of his passes, he’s thrown for just 960 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s rushed for 248 yards and four scores on 90 attempts (2.8 per carry). Sophomore Jase McCormick (6-1, 190) has passed for 201 yards, two scores and two picks in three games. In Utah State’s win last season, quarterback Riley Nelson led the way, but he’s on his two-year Mormon mission this season.
Edge: Bulldogs

Running Backs
Fans were shocked to see the Bulldogs’ running game tamed last week, with just 89 yards total for a group that is averaging 190 yards per game. True freshman standout Ryan Mathews had just 49 yards on 15 carries, but has 645 yards (6 per carry) and 10 touchdowns on the year. Sophomore starter Lonyae Miller missed the Boise State game with injury, and will be a big boost if he can return this week. Miller has 402 yards (4.3 per carry) and six touchdowns on the year. Senior Clifton Smith led the team with 65 yards on five carries last week, and has 241 yards (6.9 per carry) and three rushing touchdowns this year. Smith is also second on the team with 24 receptions for 263 yards.

The Aggies average just 3 yards per carry as a team, and are led by redshirt freshman Derrvin Speight (5-9, 201), a player who’s not even listed in the two-deep chart. Speight has 80 carries for 286 yards and three touchdowns on the year. Quarterback Leon Jackson III is the team’s second-leading rusher. True freshman Curtis Marsh (6-0, 190) is third with 182 yards and a touchdown on 55 carries. Redshirt freshman fullback Jacob Actkinson (6-0, 218) has just 42 yards rushing, but is second on the team with 143 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Edge: Bulldogs

Junior tight end Bear Pascoe (6-5, 260) continues to stand apart from his teammates with a team-leading 33 catches, 427 yards and four touchdowns. But this could be a breakout game for sophomore wideout Marlon Moore, who returned from injury two weeks ago and led the ‘Dogs with six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown grab that was No. 5 on ESPN’s top 10 plays last week. Despite missing 2 ½ games, Moore is second on the team with 293 yards and third with 23 receptions. Sophomore Seyi Ajirotutu is looking better each week and getting more attention in the offense because of it. He’s caught 15 passes for 257 yards (17.1 per catch).

The Aggies are led by former Hoover High standout Kevin Robinson (6-0, 199), a senior who has 39 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns. Robinson was passed on by the Bulldogs, but got a taste of revenge last season with a game-winning 30-yard touchdown catch with 55 seconds to go. Junior Otis Nelson (6-2, 214) is third on the team with 119 yards and a touchdown on 15 grabs. No other wideout has hit the 100-yard mark on the year.
Edge: Bulldogs

Offensive Line
The injury bug stung the Bulldogs again last week when redshirt freshman center Joe Bernardi was lost for the year. Since he took over the starting job against Louisiana Tech, the unit had solidified. Now, senior All-WAC standout Ryan Wendell slides back over to center with junior All-WAC Cole Popovich returning from injury to fill the left guard spot. The group struggled to slow Boise State’s blitzing schemes and never seemed to adjust. Its 12 sacks allowed this season match last season’s total, with the team averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Utah State has one of the WAC’s biggest lines, with center Ryan Tonnemacher (6-3, 288) the shortest of the starters, and redshirt freshman left tackle Spencer Johnson (6-5, 283) the lightest. Senior Pace Jorgensen (6-5, 335) is the leader of the unit that has remained intact all season and allowed a modest 16 sacks. The problem is the running game just doesn’t seem to go.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Line
Senior Tyler Clutts is well on his way to a first-team All-WAC selection as the conference leader with seven sacks (43 tackles). Right behind him is junior tackle Jon Monga with six. Clutts and Monga are also among the leaders in tackles for losses with nine apiece. Senior Charles Tolbert has stepped his game up since taking over for suspended Jason Shirley. Tolbert has three sacks and six tackles for losses. Sophomore Wilson Ramos is quietly climbing the list too, with two sacks and seven tackles for losses.

Along with Clutts, Utah State junior end Ben Calderwood (6-2, 268) are the only two WAC players on the Hendricks Award watch list for the nation’s best defensive lineman. Calderwood is second on the team with 2.5 sacks on the year. Senior end Carl Singleton (6-2, 235) leads the Aggies with 3.5 sacks and is tied for second with senior Frank Maile (6-1, 275) with four tackles for losses.
Edge: Bulldogs

The more games that are played, the more Fresno State senior Marcus Riley improves his candidacy for WAC defensive player of the year. Riley leads the team with 80 tackles, including 10 for losses (tied for WAC-high). He had a game-high 12 tackles, including three for losses, against Boise State. Redshirt freshman Ben Jacobs is on his way to a Freshman All-America campaign, and is second on the team with 48 tackles. The ‘Dogs will need sophomore Quaadir Brown (39 tackles) to use his speed to keep Leon Jackson III contained.

Utah State’s three starting linebackers make the majority of the team’s stops. Junior Jake Hutton (6-0, 231) leads the team with 62 tackles, while sophomore Paul Igobeli (6-0, 206) and junior De’von Hall (6-3, 220) are tied for second with 58 tackles apiece. While Fresno State should be able to push through Utah State’s defensive line, these guys will need to step up to slow the running game and keep this contest close.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Backs
The Bulldogs’ secondary is much improved from a season ago, though sophomore Damion Owens has the team’s only interception. Coming out of a reserve role, redshirt freshman Lorne Bell is fourth on the team with 40 tackles (four for losses). Don’t be surprised if he picks off a pass or two before all is said and done this season. The Bulldogs are second in the WAC in pass defense (190.1 yards per game) and are the only team in the conference to allow fewer than 10 passing touchdowns (nine).

Aggies junior free safety Caleb Taylor (6-3, 197) is tied for second on the team with 58 tackles. Taylor’s two interceptions are tied with backup free safety junior Roy Hurst (5-9, 187) for the team lead. Sophomore strong safety James Brindley (5-10, 191) is fifth on the team with 44 stops. Sophomore corner Kejon Murphy (5-8, 160) is an Edison High alum returning to his roots for the first time.
Edge: Bulldogs

Special Teams
Where or where has the Clint Stitser we’re used to gone? Stitser was 0 for 2 against Boise State, having a field goal blocked for the first time in his career. He’s now 9 of 16 on the year, for the second-worst percentage in the WAC. Punter Kyle Zimmerman is second in the conference, averaging 41 yards per punt. Clifton Smith’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown against Boise State was the fifth of his career – a new Fresno State record. Bulldogs kick returner corner A.J. Jefferson, is second in the nation with 32.9 yards per return.

Utah State’s Kevin Robinson is 12th in the nation with 30.5 yards per kick return. He’s taken two back for touchdowns this season. He’s also returned a punt for a score, and leads the WAC with 19.6 yards per attempt. Quarterback/punter Leon Jackson III leads the WAC with 42.3 yards per punt, and true freshman Peter Caldwell is 10 of 14 on field goals with a long of 47 yards.
Edge: Even

While Pat Hill is trying to get the Bulldogs bowl eligible for the eighth time in nine years, Utah State’s Brent Guy is trying to win for the first time this season and the second time in two years. But he’s 1-1 all-time against Hill.
Edge: Bulldogs

Besides becoming bowl eligible, the Bulldogs can set up another showdown game next week at No. 12 Hawaii by improving to 5-1 in the WAC. Playing at home, the Bulldogs might also have a hint of revenge on their minds after the most embarrassing loss in program history 13-12 at Utah State last season. That said, Utah State has nothing to lose and a few Valley products who will be amped for the game.
Edge: Bulldogs


  1. You said it: "...the most embarrassing loss in Bulldog history" was laid on us last year in their house. Nothing we do this year can atone for that fiasco, but I almost feel sorry for the Aggies coming into Bulldog Stadium this year.

    I said, "almost."

    Steve Burnes

    ps-Bulldogs by 35 points!

  2. I just hope the crowd shows up and fills that stadium. The last couple weeks I felt the buzz around town, but that seems to be missing so far this week.

    Wake up Red Wave!!!

  3. people complain about those friday night games, so we get some saturday afternoon games and look what happens. it was pathetic in that stadium today. i will take a night game on any day of the week over a 2pm game any day.


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