Thursday, November 22, 2007

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

Fresno State’s Tom Brandstater didn’t do half bad, with maybe his best game ever at Hawaii two weeks ago. Brandstater was 15 of 26 for 209 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brandstater should surpass that 2,000-yard mark on the season Saturday, as he currently sits at 1,851 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s completed 59.8% of his passes. This game would mark his first win over a BCS-conference team as a starter – something Fresno State quarterbacks are measured by.

The ‘Dogs are no strangers to facing some of the nation’s best passers, as is the case again this week with Kansas State sophomore Josh Freeman (6-6, 250). Freeman has completed 289 passes on the year (30 more than Brandstater has attempted) for 3,097 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s completed 63.1%. This guy is only going to get better in the next two years.
Edge: Wildcats

Running Backs
The biggest question for Fresno State’s running game is whether true freshman Ryan Mathews will return from an ankle injury that cost him to miss the Hawaii game. Mathews leads the team with 751 yards and 12 touchdowns (a freshman best) while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Lonyae Miller returned from his injury to rush for 78 yards on 17 carries against Hawaii. He’s second on the team with 480 yards and six scores on 4.4 yards per attempt. But the biggest bright spot right now is senior Clifton Smith, who has proved to be capable of carrying an every-down load at times, with 105 yards against Hawaii and 127 against Utah State. Suddenly, Smith is right behind Miller on the season with 472 yards and three touchdowns (6 yards per carry), and is also third on the team with 302 yards receiving. Smith and fullback Nate Adams will have plenty of emotion on Senior Day.

Kansas State’s running game features one back – senior James Johnson (5-11, 200). Johnson has 1,035 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns (6.3 per carry) with 222 receiving on the year. Reserve sophomore Leon Patton (5-7, 187) might remind Bulldogs fans of Kansas State’s back the last time these two teams met in 2004, Darren Sproles. But Patton has blossomed into that type of player yet, through he is second on the Wildcats with 338 yards and three scores (4.2 per carry).
Edge: Even

It’s not often this year the Bulldogs have gotten yards after the catch. But sophomore Marlon Moore made sure it happened late at Hawaii, and it was almost enough to win. Moore caught three passes for 59 yards and two scores. Despite missing 2½ games, Moore leads the wideouts with 374 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Seyi Ajirotutu has developed into the team’s best deep threat, and is second amongst wideouts with 330 yards (16.5 per catch). The biggest problem for the receiving corps is whether tight end Bear Pascoe, the team’s leader with 474 yards and four touchdowns, can return from an injury that sidelined him in the second half at Hawaii. He has been limited in practice this week.

It’s all about senior Jordy Nelson (6-3, 217) for Kansas State. Nelson is second in the nation with 1,441 yards receiving on 107 catches and has 10 touchdowns. Nelson’s size could be a problem for Fresno State, but unlike Hawaii, Kansas State allows the ‘Dogs to key on one receiver. Although, junior Deon Murphy (5-10, 170) can keep defenses honest with his 568 yards and five touchdowns.
Edge: Wildcats

Offensive Line
A Bulldog Stadium crowd will bid farewell to four-year starter Ryan Wendell, who lines up at center. Fresno State allowed a season-high five sacks at Hawaii after ranking atop the WAC with just 12 sacks allowed previously. Kansas State has sacked the quarterback 30 times on the year. As a team, the ‘Dogs average 4.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Kansas State’s average isn’t far behind at 4.4 yards per carry. The Wildcats’ Logan Robinson (6-8, 318) could be playing in his final game as a senior. Something has got to give as Kansas State has allowed 16 sacks on the season and the Bulldogs have recorded 31 sacks.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Line
End Tyler Clutts enters his final home game as a Bulldog tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks and tied for third with seven tackles for losses. You can bet he’ll be amped to go out on top. A interesting side note will be how true freshman end Chris Carter is used. He was inserted into the lineup at Hawaii and immediately the ‘Dogs defense started applying pressure on the quarterback. But Carter is still greatly undersized for an end, especially against a Big XII offensive front. Junior tackle Jon Monga is tied with Clutts with 5.5 sacks and is second with 9.5 tackles for losses.

The Wildcats play a 3-4 defense, a scheme Fresno State has done well against this year (Nevada). Senior California-native end Moses Manu (6-2, 260) is tops amongst the line with 32 tackles and is second on the team with 5.5 for losses. He has two sacks. Kansas State nose tackle junior Brandon Balkcom (6-0, 266) will have to rely on athleticism against Fresno State’s bigger interior protection.
Edge: Bulldogs

Marcus Riley. Senior Day. Watch out. Riley made himself into an instant YouTube star by knocking out Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, and leads the Bulldogs with 103 tackles (10.5 for losses). He also grabbed his first interception in the end zone at Hawaii, and has forced three fumbles. Riley has turned into the WAC’s most aggressive defender. Redshirt freshman Ben Jacobs is second with 65 tackles (five for losses).

Wilcats senior Justin Roland (6-0, 245) is second on the team with 63 tackles (4.5 for losses). If he has his way, he’ll be joined in the Bulldogs backfield often with junior Reggie Walker (6-1, 231), who is tied for third with 60 tackles and tied for second with five for losses. Junior Ian Campbell (6-4, 249) leads Kansas State with 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for losses.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Backs
Fresno State has to find the guy to cover Jordy Nelson, and that duty will fall to either senior Damon Jenkins (30 tackles, 1 pass broken up, 1 deflected) or sophomore Damion Owens (29 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 interception, 3 breakups, 4 deflections). Owens has propelled himself as the team’s go-to guy at corner, but the hits come from redshirt freshman safety Lorne Bell (51 tackles, 3.5 for losses) and sophomore safety Moses Harris (46 tackles, 3.5 for losses).

Kansas State senior corner Justin McKinney (5-9, 191) leads the Wildcats with 69 tackles and is second with three interceptions. Sophomore reserve free safety Chris Carney (6-1, 190) has a team-high four picks. Senior free safety Marcus Watts (6-1, 189) is another to watch out for with 58 tackles (3 for losses) and an interception.
Edge: Even

Special Teams
Two straight weeks Fresno State’s A.J. Jefferson has returned kickoffs for touchdowns, with a 98-yarder at Hawaii. Jefferson leads the nation with 35.8 per return. Clifton Smith is seventh in the nation with 15.4 yards per punt return and also has two touchdowns on the year, and a Fresno State record five in his career. Smith would like nothing more than to get one more in his Bulldog Stadium finale. Kicker Clint Stitser and punter Kyle Zimmerman also are playing their final home game. Stitser is 11 of 18 on field goals, and Zimmerman averages 39.5 yards per punt and has pinned 20 of 43 inside the 20-yard line. The Bulldogs have blocked four kicks on the year.

Kansas State’s Deon Murphy leads the nation with 17.2 yards per punt return and has one score. But the Wildcats’ kick return game is below average with Leon Patton’s 22.2 yards per attempt. Junior kicker Brooks Rossman (6-0, 178) has connected on 22 of 28 field goals, with a long of 52 yards. Senior punter Tim Reyer (5-11, 201) averages 44.3 yards per punt.
Edge: Bulldogs

Pat Hill and Ron Prince have never faced each other. Hill, in his 11th year with the Bulldogs, has earned the reputation as a giant-slayer against BCS-conference opponents. Prince, in his second season, has led Kansas State to a 20-point win over Texas earlier this season and a near-win against No. 2 Kansas, but has his team on the brink of missing a bowl game with a loss Saturday.
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State hasn’t beaten a BCS-conference team since it’s 37-34 overtime win against No. 17 Virginia in the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl. That same season, the ‘Dogs handed No. 13 Kansas State a 45-21 shellacking in Manhattan, Kan. in a game which former standout running back Dwayne Wright suffered a two-season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter. It’s Senior Day for the Bulldogs in front of a national television audience that has viewed all four of the Bulldogs’ losses this season, but it’s hard to say how many fans will show up. A Red Wave sellout alone would give Fresno State the edge. Kansas State must win this game to improve to .500 and become bowl eligible. That counts for a lot.
Edge: Even

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