Sunday, September 28, 2008

Grading the No. 21 'Dogs (3-1) at UCLA (1-3)

Quarterbacks: A-
Watching game film shows just how much game control and confidence Brandstater had while enduring big hit after big hit; after slow start (including batted pass that was intercepted) he was unstoppable.

Running Backs: A
Against possibly the best defensive front the 'Dogs have faced, Mathews rips UCLA for 166 yards and adds a 25-yard TD catch highlighted by his hurdle of an ex-Edison High player.

Receivers: A
How can you give 'em anything else the way they stepped up with injuries to Wylie, Crawley and now Moore? West looked better than he ever has with 5 catches for 69 yards and a TD, Ajirotutu had 5 for 67 and Bear Pascoe 5 for 33 and a TD. But the biggest catch of the day was true freshman Evans for a first down on 3rd and 4.

Offensive Line: B
Too many false starts and holds, but outmanned UCLA in the running game (team averaged 5.2 per carry). Though he took some hits, Brandstater was able to stay in the pocket most of the game.

Defensive Line: C
Monga's absence hurt, but Harrell showed great growth and Stuart and Lewis both had their best games as Bulldogs.Rebounded after poor first quarter, but was only good in spurts. Lost containment too many times in fourth quarter and allowed far too many rushing yards by the opposing QB Craft. Roughing the passer call on Banks was mighty questionable.

Linebackers: C+
Carter is officially a stud at the position and led the team with 10 tackles. He is aggressive, fast and all over the field. Jacobs had a surprisingly quiet game and got tangled up by a pulling guard on a key play or two.

Defensive Backs: A
Made Bruins wideouts work hard for catches and held the passing game at bay for the most part. Haynes saw increased playing time and stood out again. Replays showed Harding might very well have been robbed of an interception, and Owens' interception was negated by an iffy roughing penalty on Banks.

Special Teams: D
Kick/punt coverage was so bad the unit can't get higher than a D. Plus Jefferson botched his only return opportunity. Moore provided the biggest highlight with a 63-yard TD return on UCLA's first punt less than a minute into the game.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Game Preview: No. 24 Fresno State (2-1) at UCLA (1-2)

Tom Brandstater is coming off his best game of the season, completing 22 of 28 passes for 231 yards and 4 touchdowns in a double-overtime win at Toledo. Brandstater also rushed for a touchdown. On the season, he averages 224 yards per game and has thrown just 1 interception while completing almost 61% of his passes. The Bulldogs haven’t let him throw downfield much yet though – a sign coaches either don’t think a more open style fits Brandstater’s game or they’re just being stubborn with a conservative mentality.

With UCLA’s top two quarterbacks shelved before the season started with injuries, the starting job fell to transfer Kevin Craft (formerly of San Diego State). He’s taken every snap this year, throwing just 1 touchdown compared to 5 interceptions (4 in a season-opening win over Tennessee). He’s completed almost 56% of his passes for 570 yards, and his season long throw is only 29 yards.
Edge: Bulldogs

Running Backs
For the first time this season, the Bulldogs got a game-breaking performance from a back not named Ryan Mathews. Though the sophomore Mathews led the team with 87 yards (and averages 101 yards per game), junior Anthony Harding rushed for 86 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown scamper that should have sealed the win. Fresno State now has three backs with more than 100 yards rushing on the year in Mathews (304), junior Lonyae Miller (113) and Harding (107). Mathews, who averages 5 yards per carry on 61 attempts, also has 4 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.

UCLA starter Khalil Bell (6-0, 219) has been limited to just 5 carries for 11 yards this year before an injury. But Bell ran for 795 yards on 5.6 per carry last season. He’s expected to return to the field Saturday. Junior Chane Moline (6-1, 232) combined for just 17 yards in the first two games this year, before carrying 11 times for 72 yards in a loss to Arizona last week. The injury bug delivered another big blow to the Bruins this week with news that junior fullback Trevor Theriot (6-0, 239), primarily a blocker, is also out for the season. Sophomore Tobi Umodu (5-11, 230) moves atop the depth chart at fullback.
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State’s leading receiver from a year ago, junior Marlon Moore, is back. So is its leading receiver from two years ago, junior Chastin West. So is one of the nation’s top tight ends, Bear Pascoe. Yet still, the most effective playmaker of the group has been junior Seyi Ajirotutu, who burst onto the scene with a team-high 227 yards on 10 catches. Pascoe leads the team with 11 grabs, but has just 87 yards and a score. Moore has 8 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown (a 38-yarder that luckily fell into his arms after being intended for another receiver last week). And West, while flourishing as a blocker, has only 2 receptions for 9 yards. Sophomore Devon Wylie, who has 3 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, sat out the Toledo game with an injury and is in question for Saturday’s contest at UCLA. Junior Jason Crawley, though, is expected to see his first action of the season after an injury kept him out of the first three games.

The Bruins are led by junior Terrence Austin (5-11, 161), who in three games this season already has more catches (18) than he did all of last year (17). Austin leads the team with 161 yards, and sophomore Dominique Johnson (6-3, 207) is second with 118 yards on 12 grabs. Junior tight end Ryan Moya (6-3, 234) has the team’s only touchdown catch to go with 99 yards receiving on 13 receptions. Though 13 different Bruins have caught passes this year, 6 players are tied with 1 catch apiece. True freshman Taylor Embree (6-3, 186) burst onto the scene with 5 catches for 53 yards in the opening win against Tennessee but has been relatively quiet since.
Edge: Bulldogs

Offensive Line
Usually the Bulldogs rely on the guys in the trenches to control games. But so far this year, the line play has been the shakiest part of the team. A career-ending injury to All-WAC guard Cole Popovich catapulted sophomore Devan Cunningham into the starting lineup. After struggling in a loss to Wisconsin, he showed steady improvement last week. The biggest question is whether he’s in good enough shape speed-wise to pull quick enough on running plays. If Fresno State can establish a physical running attack it can run away with a victory. The team has already allowed 7 sacks, compared with 12 all of last season. One has to wonder if Adam McDowell should move back to the line after being converted to tight end earlier this season because the unit was thought to have so much depth.

UCLA’s line is in a state of flux, with inexperienced players dominating the rotation. Junior left tackle Micah Kia (6-5, 297) is the veteran presence with 11 career starts. The next most experienced starter, Micah Reed, sprained his MCL at BYU and is sidelined. Junior right tackle Nick Ekbatani (6-5, 294), sophomore left guard Darius Savage (6-4, 350) and sophomore right guard Sonny Tevaga (6-5, 339) made their first career starts in the loss to Arizona last week. Sophomore center Jake Dean (6-4, 294) started for the second time.
Edge: Bulldogs

Defensive Line
As if there weren’t enough concerns already with the lack of pass rush from the front four, now Fresno State is without All-WAC tackle Jon Monga – the team’s only solid interior pass rusher – for at least three games because of an injury at Toledo. Sophomore tackle Cornell Banks missed the Toledo game, and is likely out again, meaning the Bulldogs will start sophomore Mark Roberts and fill the other spot with either an end or true freshmen Logan Harrell and Chase McEntee. Harrell plunged through Toledo’s line to pressure the quarterback on a failed two-point conversion that clinched last week’s win for the Bulldogs. Junior Wilson Ramos and Ikenna Ike – the starting ends – both could see time in the interior line. If one starts on the interior, Michael Stuart is likely to fill the role at end. The Bulldogs must get more pressure on the quarterback (just 2 sacks all year).

Tackle Brigham Harwell (6-1, 280) is the Bruins’ leader as an Outland and Lombardi trophy candidate. His 21 tackles (1.5 for losses) ranks third on the team, pretty impressive for an interior lineman. Harwell will be key in stopping the Bulldogs, who love to pound it up the middle. Sophomore tackle Brian Price (6-2, 300) is also on the Lombardi watch list, but has just 6 tackles this year. Junior end Korey Bosworth (6-1, 244) has 15 tackles (2.5 for losses) and a sack on the year.
Edge: Bruins

All that early season doubt from some of the “experts” seems to have quieted with the emergence of sophomores Chris Carter and Nico Herron. Carter is second on the team with 23 tackles (1 for a loss), behind sophomore Ben Jacobs’ 28 (3 for losses), and Herron is sixth with 13 (3 for losses). Sophomore Nick Bates returned to practice this week for the first time since an injury at Rutgers in the opener. If he can go, the unit will be plenty deep with redshirt freshman Kyle Knox (8 tackles, 4 for losses) an impact player in the making. Freshman walk-on Shawn Plummer (8 tackles) has had to grow up quickly, and has done a nice job, but had a setback at Toledo with multiple missed tackles.

UCLA junior Reggie Carter (6-1, 220) is one of the nation’s top linebackers, and was named to the watch lists for the Bronco Nagurski, Ronnie Lott, Chuck Bednarik and Dick Butkus awards. Carter hasn’t disappointed so far this season, registering a Pac-10-best 30 tackles (2.5 for losses), including a 20-tackle performance in a 59-0 loss at BYU. Kyle Bosworth sat out the Arizona game with injury and is in question Saturday. The other two starters are inexperienced in John Hale (6-4, 227) and true freshman Sean Westgate (5-11, 202), who might make his first career start. Keep an eye out for reserve junior David Carter, the older brother of Fresno State’s Chris Carter, who has just 1 tackle this season.
Edge: Even

Defensive Backs
For as great a job as these guys do, they might be the most unheralded unit on the team. Junior strong safety Moses Harris is third on the team with 20 tackles (1 for loss) and delivered a monster blow at Toledo. Jake Jorde (19 tackles) is making it tough for Mavin Haynes (9 tackles, 2 interceptions) to win back the starting job at free safety. And over at corner, Sharrod Davis (11 tackles, 2 for losses, 5 pass breakups) has become the lockdown guy, while junior A.J. Jefferson (19 tackles) is playing like the team’s most sure tackler.

The Bruins’ secondary is led by junior corner Alterraun Verner (5-11, 177), who is on the Lott Award watch list and ranks second on the squad with 22 tackles and has an interception. Verner had 4 picks last season. Backing up Verner is Fresno-native star Courtney Viney (5-8, 150), a former Edison High star. Freshman free safety Rahim Moore (6-1, 176) has the team’s only other interception.
Edge: Bulldogs

Special Teams
Welcome back A.J. Jefferson. After leading the nation in kick returns last season, Jefferson broke it open for the first time this year at Toledo with 5 returns for 191 yards. He averages almost 32 yards per return. Redshirt freshman kicker Kevin Goessling rebounded from a 1 for 4 performance against Wisconsin to hit 2 of 3 last week, with his only miss wide from 58 yards out. Junior punter Robert Malone is ninth in the nation with 44.6 yards per punt.

Aaron Perez (6-4, 225) ranks fifth nationally and first in the Pac-10 at 46.3 yards per punt for the Bruins. Nine of his 10 boots have gone at least 50 yards, and 5 were downed inside the 20-yard line. The problem is Perez might be out-kicking his coverage, as the Bruins are giving up 19 yards per punt return. Sophomore kicker Kai Forbath (6-0, 196) was expected to be one of the country’s best, but is 3 of 5 on the year with a miss inside 30 yards and another inside 40 yards. Kick returner Terrence Austin averages 22.8 yards.
Edge: Bulldogs

Pat Hill has been rallying the troops into a frenzy – including the media – all week long about the Pac-10 shying away from games against Fresno State. The L.A. Times even picked up on the story. Hill is 1-2 all-time against UCLA, with a Silicon Valley bowl win (17-9) in 2003. Overall, Hill is 87-56.

First-year UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel owns a career record of 67-32 with previous scandal-marred stints at Colorado and Washington. He’ll turn UCLA into a winner, but asking him to do it this year might be too much. He also told media this week he’d have no problem playing a future game at Bulldog Stadium – let’s see if he measures up to that.
Edge: Even

Fresno State is 0-4 all-time at the Rose Bowl (0-6 at UCLA), with its most recent loss 24 -21 in 2000 coming after a fumbled snap. But Fresno State has been more successful than the Bruins and any other team in California besides USC in the past decade, and this is the Bulldogs’ chance to prove something. Instead of UCLA having a big home field advantage, this game is likely to be more like a bowl atmosphere with as many as 20,000 Red Wavers expected to make the trip to Pasadena. Still, the Bruins have had a horrendous two-week stretch and will be fighting their hearts out to get back on a winning track.
Edge: Even

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Earth-shattering news!!!

Fresno State today signed baseball coach Mike Batesole and women's basketball coach Adrian Wiggins to Letters of Appointment!

Oh my goodness gracious holy cow can you believe it wow!?

Wait...what the heck is a letter of appointment? All this story says is they'll still be the coaches this year, but what does this mean exactly? How long? How much money? What are the terms?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A headline I've waited my whole life for

Growing up a diehard Fresno State fan meant a lot of things -- namely going around with a chip on your shoulder and telling anyone who would listen that we can beat the UCLAs, USCs and Cals. When I become a fan, we weren't as good or even close to as well-known or respected as any of those programs. But I never stopped believing that would one day change -- especially with a dad who reinforced the idea that huge things were in Fresno State's future.

So you can imagine the way my lips swooped into a smile -- a smirk almost -- when a Google alert hit my inbox with this headline: "UCLA seeks upset of 25th-ranked Fresno State."

What!? UCLA seeks upset!? Yes, Fresno State has reached that point, where losing to UCLA -- AT UCLA -- would be an upset. A surprise. A shocker even?

It would be tough to argue that, other than USC, Fresno State is California's most successful program over the past decade. And the Pac-10 teams don't want anything to do with scheduling Fresno State most years. That's a fact I was very glad to see in the LA Times today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Boise State is finally potty trained

Mommy wow, these Broncos are big kids now!

OK, OK, Boise State has already been to -- and won -- a BCS bowl game. And Fresno State still hasn't. But Boise State backed in that year with a wussified schedule while Fresno State was sticking to its "anyone, anywhere, anytime" mantra it has never wavered from.

But this past Saturday, Boise State made history by beating a BCS-conference team on the road (Oregon) for the first time ever. Winning at Autzen Stadium isn't easy...even if Oregon was using it's fifth-string quarterback. So the Broncos should be congratulated.

But come on...what's up with this sudden Boise State lovefest in the national media? They jump from unranked to No. 19 and No. 20 in the two major polls, leapfroging Fresno State? Why, because they beat an Oregon team that is notorious for crumbling when its starting QB gets injured (the Ducks blew BCS bowl hopes at Arizona last year for cryin' out loud...Arizona!).

Suddenly, Fresno State is an afterthought after losing by 3 points to the now No. 8/No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers. People, it seems, just expect the 'Dogs to win every big-time non-conference game nowadays while Boise State hides behind its Smurf turf playing the Idaho States of the world.

If -- and this is a huge if right now -- Fresno State wins the rest of its games, and Boise State the rest of its games up to the finale, then can anyone with a conscience honestly rank the Broncos ahead of the Bulldogs when one played three BCS-conf. teams and the other just one?

Apparently, ESPN's Graham Watson and Mark Schizzlegizzlebah (better check that spelling) are already officially off the Fresno State bandwagon and aboard Boise State's. Here's what Schlabach most recently wrote:

4. Don't forget about Boise State.
If a Mountain West team doesn't finish unbeaten, the Broncos might be the team from a non-BCS conference that crashes the BCS party. Boise State is the class of the WAC after upsetting Oregon 37-32 on the road Saturday. Quarterback Kellen Moore is playing well, and tailback Ian Johnson is still running on the blue artificial turf. The Broncos might be 11-0 heading into a Nov. 28 home game against No. 25 Fresno State.
So let's see here, Boise State beat one BCS-conf. team on the road (for the first time ever might I reiterate) and Fresno State has also beaten one (and will go for No. 2 at UCLA on Saturday). Sounds like the 'Dogs have just as good a case right now to me. And that Ian Johnson character he's hyping up...well he hasn't rushed for 100 yards yet this year and averaged a measley 2.1 yards per carry against Oregon.

Oh, and really think there are SEVEN non-BCS-conference teams better than Fresno State? Really? Talk about a dip in credibility...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Grading the No. 25 'Dogs (2-1) at Toledo (1-2)

Quarterbacks: B
Brandstater got stronger as the game wore on, completing his final 10 passes and was 22 of 28 with 4 passing TDs and 1 rushing.

Running Backs: B-
Overtime dominance bumps them up; Harding emerges with 31-yard TD run, but also fumbled, as did Miller.

Receivers: A-
Came through with limited downfield opportunities coaches allowed them; Ajirotutu established himself as go-to guy and Moore finally made some plays. Pascoe and Kinter big as well with TDs. West was a blocking beast.

Offensive Line: C
Cunningham still seems to be hurting team with lack of quickness and team is allowing tons of pressure on Brandstater; allowed a couple more passes to be batted early.

Defensive Line: D+
Pass rush almost non-existent, though Harrell came up with huge pressure on final play. Allowed a plethora of rushing yards with no containment by the ends. Not have injured Monga and Banks was almost the downbringing.

Linebackers: C
Plummer's and Herron's tackling was pathetic, though Herron jumped in front of final pass to clinch win. Jacobs is quickly becoming one of the best in school history against the run, still has work to do in passing game.

Defensive Backs: B+
Missed some tackles, but Harris had big hit and Jorde had 11 tackles. Haynes hardly played.

Special Teams: C+
No excuse for Baxter not having team better prepared (in position to retrieve 10-yard kick) for tricky onside kick. Also allowed fake punt early. Moore improved on his pointing to the ball on punt returns but is still doing absolutely zero back there. Jefferson burst into kick return form. Goessling rebounded nicely and would have likely made 58-yard game-winning attempt from the other hash.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Grading the 'Dogs: vs. No. 10 Wisconsin

Quarterbacks: C+
Took a few ill-timed sacks and was indecisive at times with the football. Needs to take off and run when opportunity is there and protection breaks down.

Running Backs: B-
Miller and Mathews battled, but just didn't have the holes, especially early on. Mathews' best play was on a screen pass and Miller had 57 of his 58 yards on one run.

Receivers: C-
If it weren't for Wylie's 47-yard TD, grade would be lower. West and Moore have become nonexistent, and despite flirting with reaching stardom, Ajirotutu's late drop was painful.

Offensive Line: C-
First quarter was horrendous with two botched snaps. Bernardi returned to lineup, and Cunningham made first start, but wasn't quick enough pulling to allow 'Dogs to run outside to the left. Three sacks is unacceptable for this group. Lepori has to do whatever it takes to stop defensive lineman from intercepting batted pass. Must keep defenders from getting their arms up.

Defensive Line: B+
Give them credit for sticking to assignments and allowing the linebackers and safeties gaps to hit. Monga looked like a standout, and Roberts came up big in place of injured Banks. Nice play by Stuart as well.

Linebackers: A-
21 combined tackles by Jacobs, Carter and Herron, plus another huge hit in the backfield by Knox and a taste of Plummer's blitzing speed. This is an aggressive unit.

Defensive Backs: A
Jefferson quietly becoming team's most sure tackler with 11. If Owens hangs on to interception that's right in his hands, it's a TD and 'Dogs take the lead.

Special Teams: C
Great plays and un-great plays balance each other out. Blocked punt and field goal (walk-on Dunn), but then three missed field goals by Goessling, including 35-yarder. Moore not getting job done at punt returner, called for fair catches each time after hurting the 'Dogs with questionable decisions and side-to-side running at Rutgers. At least point up to ball so Jefferson knows to get out of the way on what ended up a turnover.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Game Preview: No. 21 Fresno State (1-0) vs. No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0)

Tom Brandstater (6-5, 225) didn’t get off to the best of starts in the opener at Rutgers, completing just 11 of 24 passes. Still, he made big, clutch plays (including a long of 77 yards), resulting in 216 yards total. The most noticeable difference though between Brandstater now and Brandstater in his first year starting in 2006 is poise. He puts off a confident persona and looks like a leader on the field.. The Bulldogs didn’t show much of the variety expected from their offense this season, which should be an advantage. Plus, the X-factor or true freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-1, 210) remains. Will he make a cameo on Saturday?

After throwing just 10 passes for 75 yards in his starting debut against Akron, Allan Evridge (6-2, 212), a former Kansas State transfer, broke it open with 308 yards and a touchdown against Marshall last week. Evridge has completed 66.7% of his passes with 2 scores and 1 interception. In a come-from-behind blowout of Marshall, Evridge relied heavily on the short passing game with his tight ends, but also had a long of 42 yards.
Edge: Bulldogs

Running Back
Sophomore Ryan Mathews (5-11, 215) wasted no time proving last year was just a taste. He had ESPN analysts oohing and aahing on his way to 163 yards on 26 carries (6.3-yard average) and 3 touchdowns. Mathews’ big-play ability is pure instinct – the type of thing that can’t be taught. Still the Bulldogs will need more from co-starter (if you will) junior Lonyae Miller (5-11, 215), who had a 23-yard scamper, but just 6 yards on his other 4 carries. Junior Anthony Harding (6-0,215), has shown he will be deadly on draw plays this season. He had a long of 18 yards with 3 carries at Rutgers. While Mathews might be as talented as anyone Wisconsin has, the Badgers depth edges out Fresno State’s.

Just another area where these two teams are eerily similar. Wisconsin has three very good tailbacks, including junior P.J. Hill (5-11, 236), a guy similar to the running style of former Bulldog Dwayne Wright who’s already getting a little Heisman hype. Hill bombarded Akron for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns, but was held to just 57 yards on 18 carries (still with 2 scores) against Marshall. Still, the Badgers running game excelled behind sophomore Zach Brown (5-11, 207) and redshirt freshman John Clay (6-2, 237), a brute runner who might be the most talented of them all. All three already have more than 100 yards this season (Hill with 267, Clay 125 and Brown 123). And they’re all big backs. With fullback Chris Pressley (6-1, 259) leading the way, this unit plays straight up smashmouth football (sounds just like what Pat Hill talks about with his Bulldogs).
Edge: Badgers

Many predicted it, and it all came true as junior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-3, 210) had that breakout game with 3 catches for 113 yards, including a 77-yarder where he broke wide open through a blown coverage to set up the game’s first touchdown. But the key play of the game was his 31-yard twisting, leaping backwards grab on third-and-23 to give the Bulldogs a first down inside the 5-yard line and set up the clinching score. It’s honestly tough to predict who will be the team’s leading receiver this season between Ajirotutu, junior Marlon Moore (6-0, 190), junior Chastin West (6-1, 215) and sophomore Devon Wylie (5-9, 170). West left the Rutgers game early with injury, and his status is unknown for Saturday. Moore, the most established standout of the group, was surprisingly quiet with 1 catch for 9 yards, but Wylie took his second career reception 31 yards to set up a scoreless-tie-breaking field goal. It’ll be a treat to see arguably the nation’s two best tight ends head to head. Look for Bear Pascoe (6-5, 260) to be more involved this week. Senior tight end Adam McDowell (), who was just converted from offensive line, will join Pascoe in double tight end sets to essentially give Fresno State 7 above average offensive linemen. And injury to junior Isaac Kinter will be a big blow to the team’s short-yardage passing game.

Everyone’s waiting to see the showdown between Bear Pascoe and the guy many call the best tight end in America, Wisconsin’s Travis Beckum (6-4, 235). Beckum is expected to return from injury to make his senior season debut at Bulldog Stadium, and while he’s faster than Pascoe, he’s nowhere near as physical or strong in the blocking game. The Badgers’ tight end dominance doesn’t end there though. Sophomore H-back Lance Kendricks (6-4, 227) leads the team with 4 catches for 102 yards, and is followed by junior tight end Garrett Graham (6-4, 237) and his 6 catches for 96 yards and the Badgers’ only 2 receiving touchdowns. A pair of talented sophomore wideouts, David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson, couldn’t be much more different. Gilreath (5-11, 165) is a small, jittery runner, while Jefferson (6-5, 175) has the height to overmatch defenders. Yet, neither has become a standout-caliber receiver yet.
Edge: Bulldogs

Offensive Line
Junior center Richard Pacheco has his first start in the books (false start included), but the unit allowed Rutgers to apply all kinds of pressure in the first half. Partly to blame was bad field possession throughout the half, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Last year, sophomore Joe Bernardi shored up the line in his first start last season, and will be waiting to jump in if Pacheco struggles. The second half was a different story, as Fresno State completely wore down the Rutgers defense.

The Badgers’ line is as loaded with experience as Fresno State’s – and larger. The unit averages 6-6 and 319 pounds. The most inexperienced of the starters is sophomore center John Moffitt (6-4, 323) who started the final 6 games last season. Right guard Kraig Urbik (6-6, 332), an Outland Trophy candidate, has started 41 straight games for a group that’s combined for 114 career starts.
Edge: Even

Defensive Line
The front four wasn’t able to apply much pressure in the passing game at Rutgers. And that’ll be a challenge again this week against the large offensive line of Wisconsin. If the Badgers move to the passing game as they did last week against Marshall, the Bulldogs will need more bodies in the backfield. Jon Monga (6-2, 280) and sophomore Cornell Banks (6-3, 300) were the only two members of the defensive front combining for 1 tackles for a loss. Still, the unit engaged enough with their blockers to allow Fresno State’s linebackers and safeties openings to make plays.

End Matt Shaughnessy (6-6, 253) leads a veteran defensive front that includes 3 seniors. With 11.5 career sacks, Shaughnessy is a feared pass rusher who’s up for multiple honors. While he doesn’t yet have a sack this season, he’s got 5 quarterback hurries and 2 pass deflections. Senior tackle Mike Newkirk (6-3, 264) is the only Badger with multiple tackles for losses (2). Despite the talent, this hasn’t been much of a playmaking front four to this point in the season.
Edge: Badgers

Already the thinnest position on the team, the Bulldog took a big hit with the loss of sophomore Nick Bates (6-1, 210) to injury (reportedly up to 6 weeks). But many questions were seemingly answered with the young core of sophomores Chris Carter (6-2, 220) and Nico Herron (6-3, 240). Carter tied for the team lead with 8 tackles in his first game at linebacker, since being converted from defensive end. Herron made several big, physical plays as well. And the biggest standout might have been reserve redshirt freshman Kyle Knox (6-1, 215), who had 7 tackles (2.5 for losses) and the team’s only sack in his first collegiate experience. Sophomore Ben Jacobs (6-3, 240), the only returning starter, made a big play in pass coverage to prevent a touchdown, and seems to have already embraced the leadership role of the defense.

The Badgers’ biggest playmaker – hands down – has been junior Jaevery McFadden (6-3, 220), who leads the team with a whopping 20 tackles after 2 games. DeAndre Levy (6-3, 228) is tied for second on the team with 9 tackles. Fresno State’s offense will keep these linebackers busy, having to worry about Ryan Mathews out of the backfield, Bear Pascoe’s size at tight end and a bolting Devon Wylie on quick slants.
Edge: Badgers

Defensive Backs
So much for waiting more than half the year for an interception this season (as was the case the past two years). Junior free safety Marvin Haynes (6-1, 205) picked off two passes in the opener, including one on a flea flicker to the end zone. Junior corner A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) emerged as a playmaker in pass coverage, showing the timing ability to disrupt passes. Sharrod Davis (5-11, 190) also turned in a solid performance, with junior strong safety Moses Harris (5-11, 205) tying for the team-high 8 tackles. The most pleasant surprise to Bulldogs fans was the quick return from injury of reserve safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200), who harassed Rutgers in its own backfield all day.

Oddly enough, for a Wisconsin defense built around speed, the secondary might be its least speedy unit, relatively. It’s definitely the youngest, with two sophomores, a junior and a senior starting. Sophomore corner Niles Brinkley (5-10, 177) already has 2 interceptions, and junior safety Shane Carter (6-2, 202) has the other for the Badgers. Reserve freshman corner Mario Goins (6-1, 186) is tied for second on the team with 9 tackles.
Edge: Bulldogs

Special Teams
Returning just two kicks in the opener, A.J. Jefferson didn’t get much of an opportunity to show off his skills that led the nation in kick return average (35.8 yards) last season. A bigger concern was Marlon Moore at punt returner – he made two questionable decisions to catch the ball deep in Fresno State territory, and on one ran side to side instead of getting up field. Redshirt freshman kicker Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) connected from 36 yards on his lone attempt, and junior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 215) averaged 39.8 yards on 6 tries while battling bad field position. Although they weren’t blocked, Fresno State held Rutgers to 0 for 2 on field goal attempts.

The Badgers young crop of legs is off to an impressive start. Freshman punter Brad Nortman (6-3, 215) averages 50.2 yards on 4 tries, and has booted 2 punts 50-plus yards. Freshman kicker Philip Welch (6-3, 190) is 2 for 2 with a long of 45 yards. David Gilreath averages 31 yards per kick return after taking one 63 yards. The Badgers are getting solid play from this group right now, but it’s still not proven against tougher competition.
Edge: Even

This is the perfect recipe for Pat Hill’s brand of football. The Bulldogs have now won three straight games against teams from BCS conferences. Fresno State stuck to a basic game plan in its opener, and showed hardly any of the unconventional looks seen toward the end of last year. That could catch Wisconsin off guard a bit if the playbook is opened up, although the Badgers did get plenty of scouting looks at Ryan Mathews.

What can you say negative about Bret Bielema. In just more than 2 years at Wisconsin, the former Wisconsin and Kansas State defensive coordinator is 23-5. Only two other Big 10 coaches have ever won 21 or more games in their first two seasons. The only knock is that he’s far less experienced as head coach than Pat Hill.
Edge: Bulldogs

Simple – the game’s at Bulldog Stadium. It’s the first Big 10 team to ever visit Fresno. Tied for the highest-ranked team to visit Fresno. A traditional powerhouse program. A sellout, standing-room-only crowd. The home opener. Jim Rome said on his show today these 45,000 fans at Bulldog Stadium will sound more like 90,000. If so, that’s going to affect the Badgers. The all-time series is 1-1, with Fresno State winning 32-20 at Camp Randall Stadium in 2001, and Wisconsin kicking the game-winning field goal with just more than 2 minutes left the following season to win 23-21 at Camp Randall.
Edge: Bulldogs

**Photos by Cary Edmondson

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Biggest event in Fresno history?

Short answer? Yes.

So driving home from work today I hear The Bee's Mike Oz as a guest on the Kelly Carr Show talking about this very subject. Mike Oz, who's The Bee's featured music/entertainment writer, has been blogging about the question of what's the biggest event in Fresno history? Being that he's more into music than sports, he talked about big concerts. He says Rolling Stones is the biggest in Fresno. And being that he's a good, knowledgeable guy, I'll take his word for it.

But there's just no way a concert is as big as a Fresno State football game. Especially one in which Fresno State is ranked No. 21 and Wisconsin is No. 10. Just consider this:

  • This game is on national TV... what local concert has ever been on national TV?
  • It's the first time two top 25 teams have met in Bulldog Stadium, and the first time a team from the Big 10 Conference has visited Fresno.
  • This game will have 42,000 to 44,000 in attendance... the Rolling Stones paled in comparison.
  • Plus, it's impossible for the Rolling Stones concert to be the biggest event in Fresno history. It was held in the Save Mart Center, which is an on-campus basketball arena at Fresno State. Hence, if it weren't for sports being the big show in town, there would be no Save Mart Center and no Rolling Stones, Madonna, Britney Spears, Elton John, etc.
  • It's actually impossible for ANY concert held at the Save Mart Center to be the biggest event in Fresno history. If that were the case, the opening itself of the Save Mart Center would be the biggest event. While huge for a basketball arena (16,000 give/take), Save Mart Center is still much smaller than Bulldog Stadium (41,031).
Now, consider this (and don't get all huffy and puffy music lovers. As a self-admitted Fresno State sports nut, how can anyone compare a concert to a sporting event? You've all heard the songs that are played before the concert -- probably hundreds or thousands of times. You know pretty much exactly what's going to happen when you sit down to watch the Rolling Stones (for example). Heck, you're probably even singing along.

Sports is a whole different ballgame (yep, that's a pun). The buildup is magnified by the fact none of us really know what's going to happen at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday when the 'Dogs and Badgers take the field. We know who's on the team, but we have no certainty who will win. It's a competition. An unknown. And it's our home team. As Fresnans, we're ALL represented by this university and this football program. Pat Hill said it best by referring to the sports program as the "porchlight" to the entire Fresno community and the Valley. It generates the most headlines for Fresno (yes, even more than the weird sausage crime), and it gets more people nationwide talking about Fresno and familiar with Fresno than anything else you can every think of. Heck, it even indirectly makes your Fresno State degree more valuable and respected by making Fresno State a household name.

This game that goes down on Saturday night in Fresno will never be duplicated anywhere else. A concert though, is nearly replicated at every stop of a band's tour. Usually the same songs, same agenda, same stage, same special effects.

That said, this doesn't have to be a line in the sand between Fresno State alums and Fresno music lovers. We should all embrace this as an opportunity to give the nation a little taste of what Fresno has to offer. Take it as an opportunity to be proud of where you're from and where you live and get out there and show your support. Heck, maybe we could even get the Rolling Stones to perform the national anthem before this week's big game!?

Pssst...listen here athletic dept.

Since SO many fans LOVE the Bulldog Bounce (yet it is a direct ripoff of Wisonsin's Jump Around) let's pick our own song to play between the third and fourth quarter and let everyone go bonkers over.

And let's make it a song about 'Dogs! Here's the perfect idea to replace "Jump Around"...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spread the word, and spread it good

Wisconsin at FRESNO STATE this Saturday. It's the biggest game in Bulldog Stadium history. Let's make sure the Red Wave does it right.

The No. 1 key most important item on the checklist is this -- make sure you, and everyone within earshot of you, is INSIDE Bulldog Stadium at least 30 minutes before kickoff. Be LOUD and PROUD from the get-go. We know the Red Wave will be at full strength for this one, but let's greet the 'Dogs with a packed house as soon as they hit the field for warmups. (And it won't hurt to get a raucous FRES-NO STATE chant going either as the Badgers are walking down the Red Mile...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Journey to Jersey

This was exactly what we signed up for. It was a grueling trip, one that started with a 2 a.m. drive from Fresno to the San Jose airport for about seven hours of fly time to get to the east coast. We left during Saturday's wee hours, half of us packing nothing but the clothes that say "Fresno State" or "Bulldogs" on them. We knew it was a good sign when a less-than-2-year-old baby gave us a high-five while boarding a connecting in Houston. Her dad followed by telling her to say, "Beat Rutgers," but I think that was just to make up for a few David Carr jabs he delivered moments prior.

We spent the beginnings of Labor Day weekend multi-tasking -- touring some of the nation's most storied sites while doubling as life-sized advertisements for our beloved Fresno State (you get quite a bit of attention driving through Baltimore, Arlington, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Piscataway towering over the rest of traffic in a large white van flying Bulldog Red car flags). By the way, the average Fresno State car flags these days aren't what they used to be -- they're better. These two flags survived what seemed like a tropical storm in Baltimore and about 500 miles of driving with only a few stray threads (as opposed to last year's flag who has since retired after a receiving a battering on the drive to Eugene). In addition, these flags survived one fall (errant rolling down of the window by driver) in pretty much the worst possible block of Baltimore after dark, and another fall about 100 yards from a toll booth in the middle of the Jersey turnpike. I am, however, happy to report that both were recovered (no man left behind!).

The east coast is weird. Not just because parts of it feel like a completely different country to what we're used to in California, but because it's sunny, hot and humid one minute, and pouring rain the next. Pouring hard. As in harder than I've ever seen in my life. As in if we were in Fresno messages from the Emergency Broadcast System would have scrolled across our TVs. Oh, and the restaurant we went to just prior to this downpour didn't have food (somebody else please tell them not to post an attractive dinner menu on the door if they only serve appetizers). So we had to run across the street -- many of us opting to go barefoot to keep our shoes dry for the D.C. trip the next day.

Speaking of which, if anyone tells you Georgetown's campus looks unreal and Fresno State's doesn't compare...don't argue. But then ask them how they're football team did this past weekend.

On gameday, there was a quick pit stop to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. By pit stop, I mean, open the van doors and jump out as we're screeching to a halt, speed walk two blocks to take one photo each with the bell and hall in the background, politely nod as USC fans pretend to be complimentary while really just looking for more ways to bring up how good their team is, and then sprint back to the van and drive to Piscataway to arrive two hours before kickoff.

That's where it was kicked into high gear. Give Rutgers fans some credit -- hardly any were rude, save for one student who embarrassed himself at halftime -- but it's still a mystery whether the fans are just kind-hearted people in Piscataway or whether they couldn't tell who the Red Wavers were with everyone in the stadium wearing red? (Note to Red Wavers: lots of Rutgers fans wear red even though their official is scarlet; let's make it a goal to wear more red than any other fan base in the nation this year please).

We yelled loud, long and hard. So hard some of our voices still haven't recovered and some of us flew home today with sore, irritated vocal chords and a voice sounding more like Dennis DeLiddo's than our own (save wrestling!). After all that yelling it was still 0-0 at half, a bit of a downer to us fans, but we took it as a challenge, drank 3 bottles of water and came back recovered for the second half. As did the 'Dogs, jumping to a 10-0 lead en route to the eventual 24-7 win (the first 24-7 win for the program since its 1992 Freedom Bowl victory over USC -- a fun but meaningless fact).

We drove another three-plus hours back to Baltimore after the game, exhausted but proud of the way our university battled 3,000 miles away from home. We were proud to see another 200-300 Red Wavers in attendance, collectively gathering every bit of vocal prowess within to try and lift the team to victory. Will we be at more road games? You betcha. But more importantly, we should ALL be at EVERY home game, starting Sept. 13 when our now No. 21 Fresno State Bulldogs take on Wisconsin.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Grading the 'Dogs (1-0) at Rutgers (0-1)

Live from Rutgers, it's Grading the 'Dogs!

Quarterbacks: C+
Brandstater didn't have much time, but didn't look crisp.

Running Backs: B-
Mathews ended with huge totals, but yards were hard to come by until Rutgers wore down.

Receivers: C+
Only big plays were Ajirotutu, but receivers caught most of what was thrown to them.

Offensive Line: C
Struggled to run and pass block until late in third quarter.

Defensive Line: C
Put barely any pressure on Teel throughout game, but made a few nice diving trip-ups.

Linebackers: B
Injuries to Bates and Herron concerning, but Knox had a coming out party with hit of the day.

Defensive Backs: A-
Held Britt and Underwood both under 90 yards, Haynes grabbed 2 picks.

Special Teams: B
Kick coverage and Goessling's debut turn out well; return game lacking.

Coaching: B-
Zone coverage turned out better than it started; Hill outlasted Schiano's clock-burning ways.