Thursday, November 29, 2007

Game Preview: Fresno State (7-4, 5-2) at New Mexico State (4-8, 1-6)

Right now, more than ever, Fresno State’s Tom Brandstater has to be feeling confident. He finally looked like the impact player Pat Hill thought he would be last week against Kansas State, throwing for a career-high 313 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Heading into the regular season finale, Brandstater has completed 61.8% of his passes for 2,164 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions, compared to 54.5% for 1,490 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as a sophomore last season. Brandstater has thrown just two interceptions in his past seven games.

New Mexico State junior Chase Holbrook (6-5, 240) ranks eighth in the nation in total offense, thanks to passing for 3,543 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 71.3% completion rate. But, he’s been picked off 18 times – something that can happen when a guy puts the ball in the air 491 times. Usually, Holbrook would get the edge, but not the way Brandstater played last week.
Edge: Even

Running Backs
Sophomore Anthony Harding became the fourth Bulldogs back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season with 115 and a touchdown on 22 carries against Kansas State. Sophomore starter Lonyae Miller added 91 yards and a score, but also fumbled twice inside the opposing 5-yard line. Ryan Mathews, who leads the team with 767 yards and 13 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry (tops in the nation among freshmen), returned last week from injury but carried just six times for 16 yards and a score. He could see more of the load Friday. And there’s still senior Clifton Smith, the do-everything shifty runner who was limited with a hip pointer last week, but has 473 rushing yards and three scores to go with 295 receiving yards. He’s third on the team in each category. Senior fullback Nate Adams was praised for opening gaping holes for the tailbacks last week.

The biggest difference between New Mexico State’s offense and Hawaii’s is the running game – the Aggies have one. Junior Justine Buries (6-0, 211) leads the team with 569 yards, though he averages just 3.8 per carry. Sophomore Tonny Glynn (5-8, 190), a converted defensive back, is second on the team with 456 yards (5.6 per carry) and has a team-high four touchdowns.
Edge: Bulldogs

Watch out – Marlon Moore is officially on the scene. The sophomore turned in the Bulldogs’ first 100-plus yard performance of the Brandstater era with nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas State. He also had two scores at Hawaii, giving him four in the past two games. Moore now leads the team with 508 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and is second with 37 receptions. Junior tight end Bear Pascoe has 38 grabs for 474 yards and four touchdowns, but has missed the past game and a half and is questionable for Friday. Sophomore Seyi Ajirotutu leads the team with 16.3 yards per grab and has 406 yards on the season. H-back Isaac Kinter has also become a factor in the flat, with 111 yards and two scores.

The Aggies are severely hampered by injuries in the receiving corps, with standout Chris Williams (772 yards, 11 touchdowns) out for the year. Senior Derek Dubois (5-8, 174) didn’t play two weeks ago in a loss to Utah State, but might return Friday. Dubois is second on the team with 708 yards and has three scores. Junior A.J. Harris (6-0, 208) has just 525 yards but leads the team with 73 receptions (7.2 yards per catch). Harris just became the school’s all-time receptions leader with 182.
Edge: Bulldogs

Offensive Line
The ‘Dogs didn’t allow a single sack and plowed huge running lanes (4.6 yards per rush) against Kansas State last week, something that should scare a New Mexico State team that runs a similar 3-4 defense with lesser athletes. Junior Bobby Lepori has become one of the team’s emotional leaders. Fresno State has allowed 17 sacks on the season.

New Mexico State has allowed 27 sacks this year – a stat that is cause for concern against a Bulldogs defense with 32 sacks coming in. The line has bookend senior tackles in Mike Martinez (6-4, 350) and James Farrelly (6-4, 290). The Aggies average just 3.2 yards per carry.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Line
Fresno State is enjoying a lot more speed off the edge since moving a few freshmen into the regular rotation. Redshirt freshman Mike Cheese (6-1, 215) had two sacks against Hawaii, and is accompanied by true freshmen Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) and Chris Carter (6-2, 220). Cheese and Carter are undersized as converted linebackers, but are too athletic for some blockers to keep up with. Borg saw extensive playing time last week. But it was a couple of senior who made the biggest impact, when tackle Charles Tolbert sacked Josh Freeman, forcing a fumble that was recovered by end Tyler Clutts and led to a Bulldogs touchdown.

The Aggies’ three down linemen will have their work cut out for them, and will need help from blitzing linebackers. Senior reserve end Maurice Murray (6-3, 323) is tied for the team lead with four sacks, just ahead of senior end Brandon McKinney’s (6-4, 273) three. Nose guard Ray Manumaleuna (6-2, 321) and the rest of a relatively large line will have a hard time defending the run if the Bulldogs get outside the tackles.
Edge: Bulldogs

There’s not a better WAC duo than senior Marcus Riley and redshirt freshman Ben Jacobs. Riley leads the team with 110 tackles, 12 tackles for losses and has 1.5 sacks and an interception (not to mention a TKO of Colt Brennan a few weeks back). Jacobs is second with 65 stops and has five tackles for losses (two sacks). Junior Ryan McKinley (6-2, 225) got extensive time against Kansas State, and has moved up to second on the depth chart in the middle.

Expect the Aggies gameplan to include plenty of blitz packages. If this unit doesn’t come through, there’s no way this game is close. Senior Dante Floyd (5-10, 244) leads the way with 115 tackles, 12 tackles for losses and four sacks. Junior La’Auli Fonoti (6-4, 253) is second on the team with seven tackles for losses (two sacks). Senior Michael Brewer (6-2, 230) and junior Chris Nwoko (6-1, 230) round out the lineup and give the group plenty of size. But can they keep up with the Bulldogs’ backfield?
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Backs
The team suffered a hard-to-swallow loss of redshirt freshman safety Lorne Bell to a season-ending knee injury last week, leaving just one reserve in junior Jake Jorde (6-1, 195). Senior corner Will Harding (6-0, 195) may see some time at safety Friday, but is also needed to fill in at corner, as sophomore A.J. Jefferson is expected to miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain. Junior Sharrod Davis (6-0, 185) will see a larger role behind Damon Jenkins and Damion Owens.

It might not be so wise for the Aggies to focus on the run now that Tom Brandstater is coming off a 313-yard performance. Junior free safety Derek Richardson (5-11, 190) is second on the team with 96 tackles. True freshman Davon House (6-0, 168) is the surprise of the year with a team-high four interceptions (the team has just seven total and no one else has more than one).
Edge: Bulldogs

Special Teams
Fresno State’s return game is a shell of its former self with the absence of A.J. Jefferson (the nation’s leading kick returner) and Clifton Smith (one of the top 10 punt returners). Smith should be ready to go, missing just bits and pieces of last week’s game with a hip pointer, but Jefferson is expected out. Senior kicker Clint Stitser seems to have shaken an early-season slump, and made his only attempt from 46 yards last week. Senior Kyle Zimmerman has placed 20 of 44 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Aggies senior Jared Kaufman (6-1, 182) averages 40.7 yards per punt, but has landed just 9 of 57 inside the 20-yard line, and had two blocked (not a good sign against Fresno State). Sophomore kicker Paul Young (6-3, 182) has also had two kicks blocked. He’s 11 for 17 with a long of 41 yards. The Aggies return men (Chris Williams and Derek Dubois) have both been injured.
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State’s Pat Hill has his Bulldogs headed to a bowl game for the eighth time in the past nine seasons. New Mexico State’s Hal Mumme is 8-28 in three years with the Aggies, and 105-92-1 in his career. His high-flying offense hasn’t proved to be a winner yet, mainly because of his low-impact defense.
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State is 13-0 all-time against New Mexico State, winning 23-18 to end a school-record seven-game losing streak last season. With a win, the Bulldogs can flip-flop from 4-8 last season to 8-4 this season (with a bowl remaining, quite possibly the New Mexico Bowl). But it might be hard to get amped up in what is likely to be an empty Aggie Memorial Stadium on Friday. Fresno State won 37-7 in its last trip to Las Cruces in 2005.
Edge: Bulldogs


  1. Wait a minute, isn't the New Mexico Bowl @ UNM not NMSU? Check it out.

  2. Yes, you're right. I guess I had a brain fart, it's in Alb, not Las Cruces. Why would anyone hold a bowl game in Las Cruces!?

    I heard it snows in Alb too. Who even knew there was snow in the state of New Mexico?


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