Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time To Start Talking Some Hoops

As you all very well know, the football team has a bye week before playing Hawaii on October 10th, so what better way to celebrate a bye week than with the talk of some Fresno State basketball! It's always fun to play the guessing game and make predictions and that's just what we are going to do today! Let's talk about the potential line-up. Here is how I think the rotation will look for this year's squad based on nothing! Haha. There are a lot of new guys on this years team that I have never seen play, so my knowledge comes from what I have heard or read about.

Starting 5

Point Guard- Steven Shepp (6-2 170, So.) Has great ball handling skills and his pass first mentality is ideal for this team built with size and athleticism.

Shooting Guard- Mychal Ladd (6-5 190, So.) Might be the most athletic player on a team that is loaded with many athletes.

Small Forward- Paul George (6-8 210, So.) Showed tremendous talent last year as a freshman. Do it all player who can throw it down with the best of them.

Power Forward- Sylvester Seay (6-10 235, Sr.) Only senior on this years team. Will need to become a leader. He is a tough match-up with his length, athleticism, scoring and shot blocking ability.

Center- Greg Smith (6-10 250, Fr.) The most highly anticipated player to come into the basketball program since the Tark era.

Bench (In Order of Impact)

G- Brandon Sperling (6-4 180, So.) It looks like Sperling might be the back-up at both guard positions. He really turned it on at the end of last year, so it will be key for him to come off the bench and eat up some quality minutes. Needs to be more confident in his scoring abilities and driving to the basket.

F/C-Nedeljko Golubovic (6-8 245, Jr.) Started last year, but with the addition of Greg Smith, he will mostly likely be coming off the bench. Ned is a team player who will need to eat up some quality minutes with his ability to score inside and out.

G/F- Jerry Brown, Jr. (6-7 195, Fr.) Another freshman in this highly touted incoming class, Jerry brings a lot of athleticism and will see some time off the bench.

C- Brandon Webster (6-10 275, Jr.) Big body player who has shown signs of promise that makes you wonder if he can put it all together and play hard all the time, that he has the potential to be a very valuable player since most teams can't match up with his size.

G/F- Garrett Johnson (6-5 190, Fr.) Could potentially come off the bench for defensive purposes this season.

G- Taylor Kelly (6-2 200, RS Fr.) Red-shirted last season. Good shooter, who most likely will come off the bench in mop up duties this season, but may play himself into a much larger role.

F- Justin Johnson (6-6 205, RS Fr.) Surgery forced him to red-shirt last season. Father, Eddie, played in the NBA for 17 years.

G/F- Jonathan Wills (6-6 180, Jr.) The transfer from the University of New Mexico will sit out this year due to NCAA transfer rules, but will be able to practice with the team.

Now it's your turn. Tell us how you think the rotation will set up. I know there are others just as excited for the upcoming season. IT'S GREAT TO BE A BULLDOG!

Easy there Coach Hill

How many of you listened to the Pat Hill Show Monday afternoon on KMJ radio? On his weekly show hosted by Paul Loeffler (it's a heck of show by the way) Hill talks about the previous week's game, looks ahead to the next opponent and then takes calls from fans.

So far this year it's been a pretty cordial exchange between fans and the ball coach who can soon be referred to with an "ol'" in front of his title. But that changed today, when a caller voiced frustration about Hill's strategy and Fresno State's ticket prices. (The show should be posted at some point on the KMJ site, and was even blogged about by Bee reporter Daniel Lyght.)

Hill didn't like the caller's opinion, which, granted, was way off base, and proceeded to put him in his place. At one point, Hill told the caller he knows nothing about competition (not exact quotes here, but not far off) and asked if he's ever even played the game?

The caller's response: My name's Vincent Petrucci.

For those of you new to Bulldog Football or not yet read up on the history, Vince Petrucci is the name of a former Bulldogs kicker whose jersey number is retired atop the Bulldog Stadium press box. It seemed from the radio show, Hill believed it was that Vince Petrucci calling. And therefore so did some listeners. But just this morning on 1430 ESPN radio, that Vince Petrucci was a guest on Paul Swearengin's show and said it absolutely was not him who called, and that he was at the last home game and has been a Bulldog Foundation member for years.

Anyway, the guy who really did call in said $50 was too much to pay to see his former team take on Boise State, so he watched the last home game from a sports bar.

Problem is, there were plenty of tickets available for $35, a three-game deal for $89 or so and a family pack for about $340. Translation -- Bulldog tickets are very reasonably priced. Just compare 'em to similar programs around the nation:
Boise State (charging more for premium seats to see Nevada than FS did for Boise)
Utah (heck, just look at the Air Force game, which wouldn't be a premium price at FS)
BYU (charging $50 for end zone, $75 elsewhere for Utah)
Hawaii (charging comparable prices to FS for its upcoming game against FS)

The caller said tickets should be $15 -- please show me sir where you can find tickets for an upper echelon program for $15. Heck, Fresno State actually DID sell a batch of tickets for $16 a pop for the opener against UC Davis. But don't expect that for the premium game of the home schedule. This program is already in great need of generous donors and Bulldog Foundation members to step up and help it reach its highest potential. It can't afford to sell itself short here. Would any of us argue that Fresno State football is more entertaining than even the very best concert? Not me. Yet concerts regularly charge upwards of $100 for big names.

But here's the thing, as right as Pat Hill was today in this little call-in debate, he didn't handle the situation as well as he could have. And it's not the first time that's happened in his reaction to fan feedback. Hill's a public figure, maybe the most famous person in the Valley, and he has to be prepared for the criticism and questioning that sometimes comes with that. Especially as a Division I college football coach. Every coach deals with constant evaluation of how they're doing their jobs. It's part of the deal, and part of the reason they get compensation of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Sure, some fans are uneducated on the facts, some aren't good at analyzing the happenings of the team and some indeed ask irritating questions. But that doesn't mean the coach should alienate those people by publicly putting them down. That's bad PR, and bad fan/potential donor relations. No positives come out of it. There's a way to be respectful and stern in your point at the same time, but this didn't come close.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Hangover

The Sunday Hangover is a new day-after-the-game quick read reaction post that we will publish the day after each Fresno State football game. After a day and/or night of tailgating, beer drinking, partying, crying, cussing, cheering and celebrating, etc, combined with a short to long night to sleep on it, we will post the knee-jerk reactions of Bulldog Bounce bloggers, in three sentences or less each.

Reactions will range from entertaining, a waste of ___ seconds/minutes of your life, funny, boring, curse-laden and everything in between. Feel free to post yours in the comments below as well. It could be just about the previous day's game, the current state of the season, a play you can't get out of your head and want back, trash talk to the other team or anything else that you can connect the dots to make a connection to the Fresno State football team about.

Moving on, today's edition features four of the Bounce's bloggers:

"Freaking crap this hurts, but this team is full of toughness and resiliency, which makes me proud. I just hope they stay motivated to push through this glass ceiling, because it'll only take a few more cracks to break it and Bulldog Football officially returns."

"This is gonna be a frustrating two weeks before the 'Dogs have a chance to get back on the winning track at evil hawaii."

"The Bulldogs never seem to give up, which I commend. However, there are mistakes on the field and in the game plan that have prevented us from winning."

"I feel frustrated and disappointed. I am tired of being close and not winning."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grading the 'Dogs (1-3, 0-1) @ No. 14 Cincinnati (4-0, 1-0)

Quarterbacks: B-

We at the blog have been and will continue to root hard for Ryan Colburn. And we also can't help but wonder how much further along in his development he would be had he seen more time in non-game-deciding situations last year (and there were plenty). That being said, what's done is done, and here we are, with the Bulldogs sitting at 1-3 on the season. Against Cincinnati -- and for the first time all season -- Colburn was the lone quarterback to see action. The Bearcats challenged the Bulldogs to execute the run by doubling the receivers on the outside for a vast majority of the game in what Cinc(i or y, circle your preference) coach Brian Kelly called a double zone defense. Colburn seemed to show general improvement in the time he took to deliver the ball, but his confusion in his reads seem evident at times as well, and the delay of game coming out of the timeout just can't happen.

Colburn finished the night 16 of 27 for 153 yards, 1 TD and 1 pick. His longest completion was just 22 yards, a reflection of the lack of a presence by the vertical passing game. Problem is, the presence of a short to mid-range passing game was inconsistent, which was no more evident than the interception he lobbed to a Bearcats defender less than 5 yards from the Bulldogs taking the lead in the fourth quarter.

All things considered, Colburn has outstanding qualities, and many of his intangibles fit the Bulldog Football mentality perfectly. He "managed" the game very well, but a quarterback must have the ability to take over when needed, which means finishing drives. Colburn has been good but not good enough, a tagline any football player and/or team needs to avoid. If given the chance, he will still shine in the remainder of conference play, however.

Running Backs: A

It was only a matter of time until the entire nation found out that Ryan Mathews is a millionaire-in-waiting. That time was last week. But this week, the Mathews Farewell Tour continued at Cincinnati, where the junior took 38 handoffs for 145 yards and a touchdown. Mathews broke to the Bearcats' final line of defense several times, but couldn't break through for one of his patented 60+ yard runs. Credit solid tackling by the UC defense. Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said Mathews -- whose longest run was 11 yards -- was at least every bit as good a back as Donald Brown (uconn) and LeSean McCoy (pitt), two first-round draft picks in this year's NFL draft.

Senior Lonyae Miller and true freshman Robbie Rouse contributed mightily to the Bulldogs' ground attack, accumulating 77 yards on 10 carries and 50 yards on 5 carries, respectively. For Miller, it was essentially his first chance of the '09 season to really contribute, and he impressed. Miller pushed piles forward with his leg drive and nearly broke free to the endzone on a 33-yard carry around the outside edge. His speed is ridiculous on the edge and he should continue to make noise during WAC play.

Rouse hung a 29-yard run on the Bearcats, and the change of pace he brings to the offense continues to reap rewards. He changes field position in a hurry and is small enough and shifty enough to make a broken play a big play. Rouse has been a truly valuable asset for the three-headed monster in the backfield.

Receivers: C

The receivers came into the game against Cinc(ee) a small part of the game plan for the Bulldogs and a big part of the game plan for the Bearcats. The Bulldogs wanted and needed to control the clock, and Bearcats coach Brian Kelly refused to let the Bulldogs chalk up big yards through the air.

For the Bulldogs, Jamel Hamler had a mini-breakout game, as he caught 4 balls for 57 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Isaac Kinter also had 4 receptions from a position that has had very little production all year. In fact, it's a shame Ryan Skidmore isn't ready for the physical part of the game yet, because the danger he'd present as a receiving option would be huge.

Still, it was an average performance by the unit, as they had a tough time creating separation when they found themselves in one-on-one coverage, and failed to make big plays when presented. Devon Wylie was almost nowhere to be found on offense. A player as dangerous as him must get more touches.

Offensive Line: A

There were running lanes galore all day and Ryan Colburn hardly went touched in 27 throwing opportunities, including no sacks. The Bulldogs faced a 3-4 defense for the first time all season and adjusted well, assisting the running backs to pick up and average of 5.1 yards a pop.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill has said the line has been a very good unit thus far, but has much more potential in them. Saturday's game was a good step in that direction. The o-line is becoming a great strength of the team, which is scary considering there are no seniors among the starting five.

Defensive Line: C-

Sure the Bulldogs defended the run very well (aside from Cincinnati's first drive of the game). But the Bearcats only attempted 16 rushes and are a spread passing team, meaning the pass rush was their most critical goal of the game. Chris Carter has been a one-man wrecking crew, and is an effing blast to watch play football. He had 1 sack for 7 yards, a forced fumble and 2 hits on the quarterback, all while playing with a cast club on his hand due to some severely broken fingers on his left hand.

Kenny Borg was expected to return to an even better form than he showed his true freshman year two years ago after missing last year with an ACL tear. Borg has been almost nonexistent in pass rush situations, which is completely surprising.

With a four man rush, Fresno State has to do more to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as Bearcats senior signal caller Tony Pike had way too much time to throw. Until that changes, the Bulldogs will be vulnerable to big plays in the passing game. When all three levels of the defense can click at the same time, that's when Fresno State can once again become a big play defense. The tackle for loss numbers are far below what they need to be to help assist them in that aspect.

Linebackers: B

The linebackers were put in a tough spot Saturday, as the Fresno State coaches once again chose to use a 4-3 zone defense to defend a 4-5 wide receiver spread offense that has a quarterback with solid scrambling ability.

Nico Herron continues to put forth consistent performances and has been solid in pass coverage, for the most part. Herron came through for a team-best 7 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. Ben Jacobs came through for 6 tackles, but is still vulnerable in one-on-one coverage situations. Jacobs is a reliable tackler and great at plugging the run, but his lateral movement is just a tad behind where it needs to be.

Shawn Plummer recorded 2 tackles and had one forced fumble, while Kyle Knox was left completely off the stat sheet.

The linebackers did a good job avoiding the big plays.

Defensive Backs: D+

The first series for the Fresno State defense has been very underwhelming this season. A.J. Jefferson allowed Bearcats receiver Mardy Gilyard to sneak by for a long run after the catch before turning on some serious afterburners to run him down. After that play, however, Jefferson turned in a good showing, recording 5 tackles and 1 pass break-up.

But there were still struggles galore -- mainly with Gilyard -- for each member of the secondary. But in their defense, the Bearcats were presented with the same defense the Bulldogs have used for years against their offense, with few alternative looks shown to confuse them. Still, a missed open field tackle by Zak Hill allowed UC tight end Ben Guidugli to catch and run for a 33-yard touchdown, his only catch of the day.

Moses Harris and Desia Dunn were also beaten for touchdowns by Gilyard, who tallied 9 catches for 177 yards and 2 TDs, all team-highs. The good news is that aside from Gilyard, who is easily one of the top 5 receivers in the nation, UC receivers did little against the Bulldogs. D.J. Woods pulled in a remarkable one-handed catch on what looked to be an overthrow by Pike. Still, minus Gilyard, the remaining 4 Bearcats to catch a pass combined for 123 yards on 9 catches.

The bottom line: despite Pat Hill's praise for his defense limiting the Bearcats to only 28 points and 357 yards in four quarters, it was the defense and secondary that allowed 300 yards through the air in only 16 minutes of possession for the Bearcats. That's not good, no matter how you slice it.

But it's the glaring zero in the interception column that continues to haunt the secondary. The one interception came by a linebacker. Fresno State must return to being a big play defense to have any chance at upsetting top 25-caliber teams. Whether or not it's the players making different reads than guys in years past or the schemes putting them in the right position, we won't for sure know. But over the course of a 12 game season, you should almost be presented with a chance for an interception at least once per game, just by chance.

Special Teams: A-

The two most important areas of special teams for the Bulldogs are covering kicks and executing on field goals, both of which kept the Bulldogs in the game on Saturday. Bulldogs kicker Kevin Goessling drilled each of his two field goal attempts from 36 and 49 yards, while the coverage units were outstanding -- finally.

Robert Malone bounced back from a week where he gave one of the best return men in the nation in boise state's Kyle Wilson 3 wide open opportunities for big returns to an outstanding effort against Cincinnati. Malone averaged 50 yards on his kicks, while pinning the Bearcats on their own 20 and in.

Fresno State has also found it's man on kickoffs as Andrew Shapiro collected 2 touchbacks on 5 kickoffs. The kick coverage unit, which received some schematic and personnel makeovers during the week, was never in danger of allowing a big return and swarmed ball carriers.

Frustratingly enough, despite the success in these areas, the Fresno State return game was the lone area of weakness. Even when they set up for a return, the Bulldogs could not break a big return on punts with gamechanger Wylie, nor a electric return by the All-American Jefferson on kick returns. Still, there's no reason to think they won't excel sooner rather than later in the return game.

Coaching: B-

Fresno State coaches did well to put together a smart game plan on offense, keeping the ball away from the Bearcats as much as they could on offense. And special teams coach John Baxter quickly fixed a struggling coverage unit to help the Bulldogs control field position.

However, the stubbornness to not move away or throw different looks at these spread offenses is hurting the defense and putting them in a position to fail. Opposing playcallers know what to expect on every down. With three linebackers on the field, the Fresno State secondary is assigned large zones to cover, which has often times created that extra step the offense needs to have an open window. A three linebacker set just isn't suited to succeed in 4 and 5 wide situations, at least not on a down-by-down basis.

Finally, the Bulldogs have struggled in the compete zone (plus 25 and in) on offense, partly due to player execution and partly due to playcalling. The Bulldogs need to put more touchdowns on the board and reward themselves on their long drives. Too many times the Bulldogs are trying to climb out of holes instead of burying their opponents in one. Fans have been pleading for too long for the Bulldogs to go for the throat rather than play for coin-flip-like odds at the end of games.

Friday, September 25, 2009

WAC rundown Week 4

No. 21 Missouri (3-0) @ Nevada (0-2)
Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Last week: Colorado State 35, Nevada 20

Getting shut out at Notre Dame was one thing, but a double-digit loss at Colorado State after a bye week must have the Wolf Pack questioning things. Missouri smoked Nevad 69-17 a year ago, and should win again, but it'll be closer in Reno.
Prediction: Missouri

Fresno State (1-2, 0-1) @ No. 14 Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0)
Saturday, 9 a.m., ESPN Regional/Bulldog Sports Network
Last week: No. 10 Boise State 51, Fresno State 34

A 1-3 start for a Bulldogs team this talented would be heartbreaking, but this Bearcats squad is determined to have its best season ever and has a flatout prolific offense. Weather permitting, it could turn into a high-scoring affair similar to Fresno State's game last week, but if it rains hard enough the edge swings greatly in Fresno State's advantage with its running game. Otherwise, the Bearcats' offense is built to deconstruct the Bulldogs' defense with the spread passing attack.
Prediction: Cincinnati

Idaho (2-1, 1-0) @ Northern Illinois (2-1)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Comcast/ESPN Gameplan
Last week: Idaho 34, San Diego State 20

Wow, would ya look at the Vandals? They surprised last week with a two-score win over the Aztecs, and now it's not unreasonable they could improve to 3-1 with a win this week. But the Huskies are coming off a 28-21 win at Purdue, and almost came back at Wisconsin in the opener. With home field, they get the edge. Plus, Idaho has reached its win quote for the next two years.
Prediction: Northern Illinois

No. 8 Boise State (3-0, 1-0) @ Bowling Green (1-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN Gameplan
Last week: Boise State 51, Fresno State 34

Even without running back D.J. Harper, who was lost for the year with a knee injury, the Broncos are going to run away with this one. The tough travel hype in the media all week is nonsense. The Falcons' offense doesn't present near the challenge Fresno State's did.
Prediction: Boise State

Southern Utah (1-2) @ Utah State (0-2)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Last week: Texas A&M 38, Utah State 30

Close losses to Texas A&M and Utah early in the season makes Utah State seem like a team on the verge of competing in the WAC -- just not this year. Still, playing an FCS team will get the Aggies in the win column.
Prediction: Utah State

Cal Poly (1-1) @ San Jose State (0-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Last week: Stanford 42, San Jose State 17

The Spartans have had a rough early go of it with losses to USC, Utah and Stanford, but as long as their spirits aren't crushed they're too talented to lose to even a strong FCS program like Cal Poly's. Many questions remain to be answered about the Spartans' offense, and it'll be interesting to see if they figure them out this week?
Prediction: San Jose State

New Mexico State (1-2, 0-1) @ New Mexico (0-3, 0-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Last week: UTEP 38, New Mexico State 12

New Mexico State is just bad. And so is New Mexico. The Lobos haven't come close against Texas A&M, Air Force or Tulsa. But it would still be a stunner if the Aggies beat anyone in the FBS, let alone a Mountain West team.
Prediction: New Mexico

Last week: UNLV 34, Hawaii 33

Louisiana Tech
Last week: Louisiana tech 48, Nicholls State 13

Preview: Fresno State (1-2, 0-1) @ No. 14 Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0)

Edge: Bearcats
First-year starter Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) had an abysmal first half in last Friday’s 51-34 loss to then-No. 10 Boise State, throwing for just 10 yards and two interceptions. Colburn had more completions to Boise State defenders (1) than his Fresno State teammates (0) in the half. Coach Pat Hill said he considered inserting true freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) after halftime, but ended up sticking with the junior Colburn and it paid off. The lefty Colburn heated up and threw for 177 second-half yards and a touchdown, nearly helping the Bulldogs to a comeback. On the year, Colburn has thrown for 637 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions (55.4%). Shifty redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) led one drive, resulting in a field goal for the team’s first points of the game. If Cincinnati defenders are overly aggressive, the Bulldogs might use Feathers to burn them for a run this week.

Cincinnati’s potent offense starts with senior Tony Pike (6-6, 225), who loves to spread the ball all over the field and has put up ridiculous numbers while doing it. Pike averages nearly 100 yards per game more than Colburn and has completed 75 of 106 passes (70.5%) for 923 yards, 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Coaches won’t hesitate to let Pike keep it in the red zone – he’s got two rushing scores on the year. In a tight 28-18 win at Oregon State last week, Pike threw for 332 yards, 2 scores and a pick. Pike was named Big East offensive player of the week after a 362-yard performance at Rutgers in the opener.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Wow. There’s no other word to aptly describe junior Ryan Mathews’ (5-11, 220) showing on national TV last Friday, despite the loss to Boise State. Mathews did everything in his power to run the Bulldogs back into the game after an early deficit, racking up a career-high 234 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mathews leads the nation with 447 yards, and averages 9.1 per carry. His touchdowns against a vaunted Boise State defense went for 69, 60 and 68 yards, respectively. As if he’s not enough for the Bearcats to worry about, the emergence of true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) has opponents on alert. Rouse is second on the team with 174 yards (7.6 per carry). And don’t forget about seniors Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 220). Both have gotten limited carries so far this season, but each rushed for more than 800 yards last year (Harding was the team’s leader).

Cincinnati relies much less on the run than Fresno State, but the Bearcats have a talented young back in sophomore Isaiah Pead (5-10, 193), who broke his high school’s all-time rushing mark previously held by two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. Pead is second on the Bearcats with 138 yards (4.6 average) while senior Jacob Ramsey (6-0, 216) has 161 yards and an 8.1-yard average. Though Ramsey has a the team-long with a 62-yard carry, he hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown, but has two receiving. Both backs will be used in the passing game, as they’ve combined for 159 yards receiving and thee scores.
Edge: Even
Both teams have big playmakers at wide receiver, and though Cincinnati has the biggest name, Fresno State has four wideouts with more than 100 yards in just three games – junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170), senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210), senior Chastin West (6-1, 215) and senior Marlon Moore (6-1, 190). Ajirotutu leads the Bulldogs with 11 catches for 167 yards, but Wylie leads with 175 yards (17.5 per catch) – both have 2 touchdowns. West and Moore have 120 yards apiece, but Moore’s done it on just four catches (including a 92-yarder in the opener against UC Davis). Wylie had a 70-yard score at Wisconsin. Sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) is waiting in the wings and will also emerge as a big-play threat when he gets his turn. He had three receptions last week. The Bulldogs average 15.4 yards per catch as a team, compared to 12.8 by the Bearcats. Most exciting for ‘Dogs fans is the ability the receivers have shown to go up and get the ball at its high point in recent weeks.

The biggest danger the Bearcats present is senior Mardy Gilyard (6-1, 187), an All-American who had 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and leads the Bearcats with 265 yards and 4 scores this year (11.5 average) and is a candidate for several national awards. Sophomore D.J. Woods (6-0, 175) emerged last week against Oregon State with 7 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Woods is second with 208 yards on the year, ahead of junior Armon Binns (6-4, 200), who has 179 yards and is second-best on the Bearcats with 15 receptions. Pike has spread the ball around to 14 different players, including junior tight end Ben Guidugli (6-0, 237), who has 5 catches for 49 yards.
Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
For the second straight week, the Bulldogs allowed two sacks in a game, and face their stiffest challenge on Saturday morning against a 3-4 blitzing defense from Cincinnati. The Bulldogs’ scout team has been emulating the Bearcats’ blitz looks this week to prepare for the battle in the trenches, but Fresno State matches up better against bigger defensive fronts than faster, more athletic ones. Credit Fresno State’s line for opening up running lanes for Mathews and Rouse last week and helping propel the Bulldogs to No. 4 in the nation among rushing offenses. Junior right guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295) will be the best lineman on the field.

The Bearcats have a stable line that returned three starters from last season and found two new starters who have been set in their positions each game this year while the unit has allowed just two sacks. The two linemen Cincinnati lost from last season are the only offensive starters who didn’t return this year. It starts with senior left tackle John Linkenbach (6-6, 311), senior center Chris Jurek (6-2, 286) and junior left guard Jason Kelce (6-4, 290), who have 49 career starts combined. Keep an eye on junior left tackle Samuel Griffin (6-4, 260), who is greatly undersized but might have an easier time keeping up with Fresno State’s speedy ends than Linkenbach.
Defensive Line
Edge: Even
Junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) has blossomed into a fierce pass rusher for the Bulldogs, despite an obscenely large cast on his left hand resulting from an injury in the Wisconsin game. Carter’s owns the team’s only two sacks of the season, leads the team with 3 tackles for loss and was in Boise State’s backfield all night last Friday. How often and how quick he and fellow end, sophomore Kenny Borg (6-3, 245), can get in Pike’s face on Saturday might determine the outcome of this game. With the secondary as Fresno State’s biggest concern, it’s all the more important the Bulldogs force Pike into pressure decisions with defensive line play. Junior tackle Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) is on the verge of a breakout season if he keeps up the intensity – which was his problem area in past seasons. Fresno State could sorely use a better pass rush from the interior linemen.

When a defense gives up an average of just 12 points per game as Cincinnati’s has, no one’s going to have a ton of tackles. But senior end Alex Daniels (6-4, 259) is tied for second on the team with 15. The team has a ridiculous 32 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. Senior end Ricardo Mathews (6-3, 294) leads the Bearcats with 4.5 tackles for loss and is second with 2.5 sacks. The Bearcats surely saw game film of Fresno State using the draw against Boise State last week and will have to be ready for it if they’re in the Bulldogs’ backfield early.
Edge: Bearcats
Sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) had one of the biggest hits of the season for Fresno State on Friday, when he blasted a gap and met Boise State running back D.J. Harper head on, unfortunately ending Harper’s season with a knee injury. But it was the type of good, clean hit the Bulldogs need from their linebackers to keep Bearcats’ receivers from getting too comfortable in space. All-WAC junior Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) leads the team with 25 tackles after recording 113 last season, and has 2 tackles for loss. Junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) had little impact last week after a big start to the season, and may see less time in favor of reserve sophomore Shawn Plummer (6-0, 200), a former walk-on who offers more speed.

The Bearcats defense has been surprisingly strong after losing 10 starters from a season ago, and the leading tackler is senior Andre Revels (6-0, 221) with 21. Redshirt freshman Walter Stewart (6-5, 226) made his first start at Oregon State in place of Curtis Young, who was lost for the season with injury. Stewart had 4 tackles, 2.5 for losses and forced a fumble – he leads the team with 3 sacks. Sophomore J.K. Schaffer (6-1, 223) has two interceptions.
Defensive Backs
Edge: Bearcats
Fresno State faces a tall task with junior safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) still out with injury – not just because he’s established himself as the defense’s hardest hitter and on-field leader, but because his replacements struggled last week. Senior Marvin Haynes (6-1, 205) fills in with two-plus years of starting experience but dropped a wide-open, would-be interception against Boise State that was right in his hands with the Bulldogs trailing by only seven points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Zak Hill (6-0, 200), Pat Hill’s son, was an even bigger liability in his first significant game action, being caught out of position and outrun for two big plays last week. The Bulldogs could benefit from sliding redshirt freshman Phillip Thomas (6-1, 205) into that spot for pass coverage on Saturday. While Thomas lacks the experience to lead the defense like Bell, he’s got the talent to be one of the WAC’s best. Junior corner Desia Dunn (5-9, 190) has to improve his awareness, especially if he matches up with Gilyard so senior A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) can cover the taller Binns.

The Bearcats have seven interceptions on the year, compared to Fresno State’s one, but their secondary faces its biggest challenge with the number of skilled receivers that will be on the field and rotating in and out to keep fresh. Senior safety Aaron Webster (6-2, 211) is tied for the team lead with two picks, while redshirt freshman safety Drew Frey (6-4, 205) is coming off his best game with 12 tackles in the win at Oregon State. Frey played in four games last season before an arm injury forced him to take a medical redshirt. Webster is the team’s lone returning starter from a year ago, when he finished with 60 tackles and a pick.
Special Teams
Edge: Even
Forget how good the Bulldogs have been in the past decade blocking kicks. Forget how good A.J. Jefferson, Devon Wylie, Chastin West and Marlon Moore have been returning kicks and punts. The kick coverage has been flat out poor. And special teams coach John Baxter needs to do something about it – stubbornness doesn’t win ballgames. The Bulldogs were burned more than ever under Hill for big returns last season, and the trend seems to have carried over, as Boise State had two different players with 77-yard returns, and a long punt return that was called back on a penalty. Fresno State can’t afford to put its defense in bad field position and expect to win big games.

Mardy Gilyard earned Big East special teams player of the year honors last season. Think he can repeat? Gilyard’s 53-yard punt return for a touchdown against Southeast Missouri State ended a 12-year drought without a punt return score for the Bearcats. To put that into perspective, consider the Bulldogs returned three punts for touchdowns just last season (with three different players). Gilyard averages a modest 20 yards per kick return, but the Bulldogs can’t afford to take risk with him. Junior Jake Rogers is just 1 of 2 on field goals this season, with a long of 30 yards. Freshman punter Patrick O’Donnell (6-5, 210) averages only 37.9 yards, giving Fresno State a big edge in the kicking game but it’s evened out in coverage.
Edge: Bearcats
It’s hard to pick against Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly right now after he led the Bearcats to a BCS bowl last season and an all-time high No. 12 final ranking. He’s got the team ranked 14th right now, and has national media even talking about national championship possibilities – unheard of at the school that’s had back-to-back 10-win seasons after having just one previous 10-win season in its history (1951). But don’t forget, it’s the type of big-time non-conference game Pat Hill and his players live for, and after a 1-2 start with a team this talented, they’re hungry. Still, Fresno State has lost its past 10 games against ranked teams.

Edge: Even
A week after Fresno State wore its all-Bulldog Red uniforms during a “white-out” of Bulldog Stadium in which the visitor wore all white uniforms, Cincinnati is doing it right with the Bearcats wearing all white to match their fans. Fresno State will wear the Bulldog Reds. The Bulldogs let a lesser Wisconsin team sneak back in the game and steal a win at Camp Randall two weeks ago and now find themselves in danger of falling to 1-3 with another loss. With a team that’s proven to lack the mental toughness to bounce back in the past, that’s a big risk. Though Cincinnati is a BCS-conference opponent, 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium is smaller than the Bulldogs’ home. From Cincinnati’s perspective, a win is a must to keep national title dreams alive.
***Photos courtesy of Juan Villa

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thou shalt not discipline Boise players

Is there some WAC rule we don't know about prohibiting discipline against Boise State players? The Broncos have played just three games in the young season -- two of them featuring questionable behavior by their players.

We've all heard all about the first incident, when defensive lineman Byron Hout ran by Oregon star Lagarrette Blount, hit him on the helmet and shoulder pad before giving a little taunt, and then got a roundhouse to the chinny chin chin. Hout was not suspended for his actions.

Now, word out of the WAC office today is commish Karl Benson reviewed two Boise State hits from this past Friday's game at Fresno State -- both on Bulldogs quarterback Ryan Colburn -- and determined neither were worth disciplinary action.

The Fresno Bee wrote it this way: "In fact, Benson said further replay showed it was the shoulder pad of Broncos safety Winston Venable that came in contact with Colburn's helmet during the fourth-quarter collision ..."

Then The Bee quoted Benson as saying, "The Boise State defender was leading with his helmet, but did not make helmet-to-helmet contact. ..."

The Bee story then follows with this nugget: "Benson did say that the officiating crew should have flagged Venable with a personal foul for hitting a player above the shoulder pads ..."

Really? Does Benson have replays more clear than this one (fast forward to fourth quarter and listen to commentators' remarks)? Because, with my modest 20-20 human eyesight, it appears quite obvious that it was not Venable's shoulder pad that first came into contact with Colburn. It also appears possible there was indeed helmet-to-helmet contact (unless there are better replays available proving otherwise). And thirdly, the officiating crew did not flag Venable -- he got away with a hit and Boise State got away with a win.

Shoot, if I didn't know any better, I'd think Benson is a Boise State alum or something...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Time to talk Colburn

It was still the first quarter of Friday night's 51-34 loss to No. 10 Boise State when the Red Wave (which was mostly clad in white) made me cringe. Quarterback Ryan Colburn threw an incomplete pass and the fans, his own fans, Fresno State's own fans, booed. Not all of 'em, but dozens of them at least. And they should all be ashamed.

Colburn's not an NFL player making $2 million a game. He's a college kid, and he's playing his heart out for the Valley's team. And how can you not root for a guy who's hurt this much by a loss? If that doesn't show how much Colburn cares, I don't know what would?

Now that that's settled, let's analyze how he's doing (no boos allowed). After throwing for just 10 yards in the first half Friday, including two interceptions, Colburn finished 14 of 29 for 187 yards and two scores. Very underwhelming stats, but considering the poor first half he finished quite strong. Plus, he out-passed Boise State's Kellen Moore.

On the year now, Colburn is 41 of 74 (55.4%) with 637 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

So you tell us Red Wave, has Colburn done enough to earn a stronghold on the starting quarterback job? Was it a mistake for coach Pat Hill not to play Derek Carr, or even Ebahn Feathers in passing situations?

Grading the 'Dogs (1-2) vs. No. 10 Boise State (3-0)

Quarterbacks: C-
Give Colburn credit for battling back, but atrocious start with pick-six put his team in a whole it would never quite crawl out of. Both of Colburn's interceptions were terrible decisions, and he had just 10 yards at the half. Finished 14 o f 29 for 187 yards after big second half. Overthrew West on a critical would-be TD late in the game.

Running Backs: A+
Not everyone got involved, but Mathews and Rouse (who is quickly becoming the second option) did. Mathews had a career game with TD runs of 69, 60 and 68 yards en route to 234 yards (12.3 per carry). No one does that to Boise State's defense. Rouse added 7 carries for 53 yards.

Receivers: A-
Rebounded from a slow start to make several huge plays and keep Fresno State alive, including West's wrestle-away from a Broncos corner, Ajirotutu's leap ball and Wylie's ability to stay in bounds and twist around for the TD catch on a fade route.

Offensive Line: B
Came out flat as 'Dogs dipped to a 24-3 hole, but got stronger later in the game, and made key second-level blocks on Mathews' big runs. Gave up two sacks for the second straight week.

Defensive Line: B-
Applied pressure most of the night, especially with Carter and his casted left arm dominating everyone lined up across from him, but couldn't quite get to the quarterback or running backs in time. Career game for Lewis.

Linebackers: C+
Made key first-half stops, but softened along with the rest of the defense in the second half. Needed to do a better job of foreseeing.

Defensive Backs: D
Give Jefferson credit for running guys down multiple times, forcing a fumble into the end zone and leading the team with 8 tackles, but play of Zak Hill was inexcusable -- out of position, lack of reaction time, not fast enough to play-catchup. Haynes dropped easy interception when 'Dogs were down by 7 points early in the fourth quarter. Dunn had his back to the play as Broncos were in the middle of a huge running play. Why no Thomas, Pat Hill!?

Special Teams: F+
Not that the plus matters, but give Goessling credit for the two field goals and Shapiro for the longer kickoffs. That said, the kickoff coverage is abysmal right now, and Baxter needs to step up and fix it. The 'Dogs have too many of their slower players on the coverage unit and blow their lanes all too often.

Coaching: C
It almost got out of hand early, but credit the staff with bringing the 'Dogs back and giving Boise State a big scare early in the fourth. Offense is humming, but kick coverage was horrible and defense couldn't keep coming up big. Cover kicks better, don't play Hill over Thomas and what's with not putting Carr or Feathers in to throw in the final four minutes when the game was decided?

Friday, September 18, 2009

WAC rundown Week 3

***Note: Shucks, there goes my undefeated streak of WAC picks. And wouldn't ya know it Fresno State's double-overtime loss to Wisconsin last week is the only blemish on my record so far this year. I hope to bounce back strong, but I also hope I lose on my 'Dogs-boise state pick this week.

No. 10 Boise State (2-0) @ Fresno State (1-1)
Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Last week: Wisconsin 34, Fresno State 31 (2OT)

Make no mistake, Fresno State fans are disgusted by the Broncos -- they wouldn't mind a similar WAC winning mark, but overall the feeling is disgust. Boise State has won seven of the past eight in the series, with the last loss coming in 2005 at Bulldog Stadium, 27-7. The series remains a mystery, as Fresno State always seems to have an edge on paper, but never in the score book. Until that trend starts to change, and someone figures out how the Broncos execute so flawlessly, we've gotta pick the other way.
Prediction: Boise State

Nevada (0-1) @ Colorado State (2-0)
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Last week: Nevada bye

Nevada's preseason hype came to a humbling crash in a 35-0 opening loss at Notre Dame. The Wolf Pack got a week off to think about it, and now faces what appears to be a tougher test than people realized two weeks ago -- an undefeated Rams team fresh off wins against Colorado and Weber State (albeit by one point). But Nevada won't get shut out again, and will flat outscore the Rams.
Prediction: Nevada

San Diego State (1-1) @ Idaho (1-1)
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Last week: Washington 42, Idaho 23

Signs point to a new era at lowly San Diego State, where things have never been quite as lowly as they have in Idaho. The Aztecs, under new coach Brady Hoke, have renewed discipline and beat Idaho 42-17 last season. They did, however, lose in Moscow in 2002. But don't expect a repeat. Idaho coach Robb Akey has four wins in his three-year career.
Prediction: San Diego State

Nicholls State (1-1) @ Louisiana Tech (0-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Last week: Navy 32, Louisiana Tech 14

There's no way a Nicholls State team (sorry don't know their nickname so couldn't use it) that lost 72-0 in the opener at Air Force, can beat a team with the athletes La Tech has. Chalk up the first win of the year for those other Bulldogs as they try to rebound from losses at Auburn and Navy.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech

Utah State (0-1) @ Texas A&M (1-0)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Last week: Utah State bye

The WAC Aggies had a bye last week to prepare as it tries to win its first road game in eight tries. Though these two teams have never met, the Big 12 Aggies are riding high off a bye week as well -- only their bye follows a 41-6 thumping of New Mexico. For a team that struggles as much as Utah State does on the road, it would be unthinkable to pull off a win in such a hostile environment.
Prediction: Texas A&M

UTEP (0-2) @ New Mexico State (1-1)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Last week: New Mexico State 21, Prairie View A&M 18

Wow, the Aggies might literally be the worst team in the country. Let's hope Dwayne Walker can turn this program around and stop embarrassing the WAC. UTEP has already dropped two decisions to Buffalo and No. 24 Kansas, and awaits No. 2 Texas and No. 21 Houston after this one. It'll be a dreadful start to the season if the Miners can't win this one.
Prediction: UTEP

San Jose State (0-2) @ Stanford (1-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Last week: No. 17 Utah 24, San Jose State 14

The Spartans are playing quarterback shuffle again with Jordan La Secla and Kyle Reed, and the team was competitive against a ranked Utah squad. The problem with San Jose State remains offense (save for the 56 points USC dropped on 'em). Jim Harbaugh will have Stanford's offense ready to score enough to outlast the Spartans, who last beat Stanford in 2006.
Prediction: Stanford

Hawaii (2-0) @ UNLV (1-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS College Sports
Last week: Hawaii 38, Washington State 20
UNLV is improved, and gave Oregon State a huge scare last week before losing on a last-second field goal, but Hawaii QB Greg Alexander caught fire in beating a Pac-10 team (that probably shouldn't be) on the road last week. Would be an easy Hawaii win if it were on the islands, but the desert will keep it close. Two road wins in a row for the Warriors? Unheard of.
Prediction: Hawaii

Q&A with OBNUG

You might have noticed our exclusive interview with the folks at OBNUG, Boise State's very active, heavily commented blog, yesterday. Check it out for all the Boise State perspective your inquiring mind desires.

But today, we return the favor and get some insight into the heads of the Broncos fans as we head into Week 3 -- which for us means rivalry week!

Bulldog Bounce: Which Fresno State player scares Boise State most?
OBNUG: Speaking for Bronco Nation as a whole, I would have to say nobody, because Boise State fans can tend to be a little full of ourselves. Speaking for myself, I am most afraid of Ryan Colburn. I think that Colburn is the one player who can make the biggest difference in the game on Friday. Boise State's defense can play bend, don't break with the best of them, so a decent rushing day for Fresno might not lead to the impact you'd expect. However, if Colburn is on his game (think early against Wisconsin), we might be in for a different story.

Bulldog Bounce:Which Boise State player should Fresno State be most afraid of? OBNUG: It's hard to pick just one, since Boise State has done so well this season playing as a team. QB Kellen Moore can tear a defense apart. WRs Austin Pettis and Titus Young can turn small gainers into long TDs. CB Kyle Wilson can shut down an entire side of the field. But I'm going to go with DT Billy Winn on this one. He has been phenomenal so far this season. Winn helps set the tone for the defense with his penetration and line play, and he causes headaches for opposing offensive lines with his quickness and versatility. In the Broncos' new 3-3-5 look, Winn could line up as a stand-up defensive end, or even as a linebacker. His pass-rushing skill are top notch, but his specialty is run defense. He'll make some noise in the backfield unless Fresno gameplans to stop him.

Bulldog Bounce: Do you miss Tom Brandstater?
OBNUG: Only every day. I would have much more confidence in the outcome of this game if Brandstater were under center. Can't he get a medical redshirt for incompetence or something?

Bulldog Bounce: Are Boise State fans happy with their non-conference scheduling, or is there a buried sense of inner-questioning about how the Broncos would fare with a schedule like Fresno State's?
OBNUG: I think we're kind of over it. Our schedule picks up next season with games against Oregon State and Virginia Tech, so the AD has shown a willingness to start scheduling better teams. In the meantime, I can't complain about the success our team has seen using the scheduling tactics the university employed. Would the Broncos have made a BCS championship game with a tougher schedule? No. Would they have not gotten screwed over so many times by the bowl selections if they hadn't cleaned up on cupcakes? Maybe. Would they have had their incredible winning percentage and national recognition with more BCS teams on the sched? Probably not.
P.S. Don't tell anyone I said this because my official stance as a Bronco fan is supposed to be: "Boise State deserves a BCS game every season, regardless of who is on their schedule. College football is unfair. Mark May is a boob. Potatoes!"

Bulldog Bounce: Where does Kyle Wilson rank among the Broncos all-time greats?
OBNUG: His 2008 season was one of the best of all-time, so if he can replicate his success from last fall, I think you have to consider him to be Boise State's all-time best cornerback. He has had more national recognition than anyone before him, and he'll probably go higher in the draft than any other Bronco defensive player. Boise State has had great cornerbacks before, but none with the NFL talent of Wilson.

Bulldog Bounce: Why is it Fresno State often has the more celebrated players and bigger NFL prospects but can't beat Boise State regularly?
OBNUG: Coaching is a big part of it. Execution, game management, and game planning are huge on the college level, and it can really make a difference in the outcome of a game or a season. I'm not saying that Pat Hill is a bad coach. Actually, yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.
I also think that, for whatever reason, the desire has been greater for the Broncos. I'm not sure if it is a motivation thing or what, but Boise State always seems to give greater effort than Fresno when the two teams take the field. Sources: My biased point of view, and I think Rod Gilmore said this once.

Bulldog Bounce: Why can't Dan Hawkins win at Colorado when he was so good at Boise State?
OBNUG: Karma, most likely.

Bulldog Bounce: Be honest, should the Broncos be forced to wear something other than blue uniforms in their home games?
OBNUG: No more than North Texas should be required to wear something other than green.

Bulldog Bounce: How many yards will the Broncos allow rushing on Friday? How many points will they allow?
OBNUG: Rushing yards allowed: Less than 100. Points allowed: Less than 25.
I think that Fresno will be forced to pass once the Broncos' get their offense rolling. That will cut into the rushing totals, but I don't really see the Bulldogs getting much push in the ground game anyway. The 25 point threshold is generous, in my opinion, judging by how the BSU defense has played so far this year. Throw in factors like special teams, turnovers, and late game defensive strategy changes, and I think 24 or so could be a possibility. In my heart of hearts (where all my homerism is kept), I think it will be in the teens - if that.

Bulldog Bounce: What's Boise State's best tradition?
OBNUG: You mean, besides the age-old sledgehammer thing? I can tell you what the most grating tradition is: the "Boise! ... State!" cheer. It used to be that Bronco fans would break out the cheer to inspire the team, shouting back and forth across the stadium and creating a really cool echo effect. Now, we do it in a Carl's Jr. if we some guy wearing a BSU shirt. It's bad.

Bulldog Bounce: If the Mountain West wanted to expand, would Boise State want to go with or without Fresno State?
OBNUG: As a fan, I would like to see Boise State and Fresno continue to play at least once every other year. I don't think that BSU necessarily wants the Bulldogs in the MWC with them, if only because Fresno hasn't exactly provided ideal competition the past eight years. I think the university would be quite ambivalent. However, as fans, I would probably grow tired of the annual Boise State - UNLV game and long for the days of Pat Hill's fu manchu and Fresno quarterbacks choking away big games. If I already miss Tom Brandstater this much, then I don't know what I would do without my annual dose of Fresno fan shtick.

Bulldog Bounce: First word that comes to mind with the following:Red Mile - Tom Hanks movie sequel.
Bulldog Stadium -
Ryan Dinwiddie -Demigod.BCS - Playoff.
the color orange - Homeland Security threat level.
White Out - Snow.
Chris Petersen - President of the United States of America.
Derek Carr - Metrosexual.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preview: No. 10 Boise State (2-0) @ Fresno State (1-1)

Edge: Broncos
Junior Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) answered a lot of questions about Fresno State’s offense with his performance at Wisconsin Saturday – 22 of 36 for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns – but also left a few unanswered with three interceptions that likely kept the Bulldogs from winning. That said, the game plan made it obvious that coaches are more confident in the passing game than they have been the past three years, as the offense opened up and the deep ball was thrown regularly. Execution will be the biggest key to beating Boise State on Friday, but Colburn seems like the type of kid who will build upon his first-career road start, and he might very well finish the year as one of the WAC’s top quarterbacks. It’s doubtful true freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) will enter the game as long as Colburn’s healthy, but look for an increased presence from redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210), who’s change-of-pace ability was used for just two plays last week.

Though sophomore Kellen Moore (6-0, 187) is younger than Colburn, he’s more experienced after leading the Broncos to a 12-1 season in 2008 and setting a new NCAA record for completion percentage by a freshman (69.4%). Moore, who like Colburn is a lefty, was a Freshman All-American and second-team All-WAC selection after throwing for 3,486 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Moore defined efficiency in last season’s 61-10 debacle over the Bulldogs, completing 17 of 23 passes (74%). This is a week where Fresno State probably won’t get away with not forcing at least one turnover – otherwise Boise State will peck away all night.

Running Backs
Edge: Even
A healthy Ryan Mathews (5-11, 220) has proved to be as close to unstoppable as college running backs get. Even when he was being contained at Wisconsin, it was just a matter of time before he broke a big play – and it came with a 55-yard run in the third quarter. The junior has rushed for more than 100 yards each game this season, but hasn’t yet had success against Boise State. Mathews had 15 carries for 49 yards as a true freshman, and didn’t play last season due to injury. If the line blocks well, he could be the X-factor. True freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) is quickly becoming a major concern for opponents. In his first two career games he’s got 121 yards and a score on 7.6 per carry. The Bulldogs haven’t seen near what’s expected of seniors Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 220) yet, though Hardings has just one carry so far.

Boise State has small, quick running backs – the polar opposite of what Fresno State faced at Wisconsin last week – and it’s exactly what gives the Bulldogs trouble. For all the hype that surrounded now-departed Ian Johnson, juniors Jeremy Avery (5-9, 173) and D.J. Harper (5-9, 198) present far more danger to Fresno State’s defense. Avery had seven carries for 62 yards (8.9 average) against the Bulldogs last season and 124 yards and three scores on 18 carries in 2007 at Bulldog Stadium. In that same game, Harper led the Broncos with 153 yards. The good news for the Bulldogs is they have a much more aggressive defense than a year ago, but this will be the ultimate test. Senior fullback Richie Brockel (6-2, 240) is the type of road-paver typically found in the Bulldogs’ backfield, and a guy who could be playing on Sundays next year.

Edge: Bulldogs
Can you say breakout? Fresno State’s wideouts put on a show for a national TV audience last week, and were led by junior speedster Devon Wylie (5-9, 170), who had a career-high 114 yards on five catches, including a 70-yard strike where he shifted to an extra gear and burned Wisconsin’s corner. Senior Chastin West (6-1, 215) had perhaps the best game of his career last week with five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. But it was the situation he made the catches in that made them so impressive, third downs and great plays. West would have had the potential game-winner in double overtime when he beat the corner by six yards in the end zone, but was underthrown. Senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) had six receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The wideout weapons are many, but the Bulldogs might need more involvement from their tight ends this week if Colburn faces more pressure, which is likely.

Boise State sophomore tight end Kyle Efaw (6-4, 229) will be a weapon for the Broncos. He’s got the hands and ability to squat in pockets of zone coverage that can hurt the Bulldogs. Efaw led Boise State with 60 yards on two catches in last year’s win over Fresno State. The Broncos, however, aren’t as deep at wideout as they have been in recent years. But the two go-to receivers are two of the best they’ve had in juniors Titus Young (5-11, 170) and Austin Pettis (6-3, 201). In two games this year, Pettis has 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while Young has 11 grabs for 160 yards and two scores. Pettis hauled in a career-high 65-yarder last week in a win over Miami (Ohio).

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State’s big men on the gridiron have been a pleasant surprise. Some doubt remained after they dominated UC Davis in the opener with two new starters, but little doubt is there after their performance at Wisconsin. While the unit allowed two sacks, the pass blocking was obscenely strong on numerous plays. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema reportedly called junior center Joe Bernardi (6-2, 280) and junior right guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295) two of the best linemen he’s seen on film. Both have been doing a stellar job of getting to the second level on blocks. But Boise State presents a tougher challenge – can the unit hold strong against a smaller, quicker Broncos front? The Bulldogs, who are perennially among the nation’s leaders for fewest sacks allowed, have given up five sacks to the Broncos in the past two meetings.

Boise State’s line is lean and quick, another polar opposite compared to the behemouths up front for Wisconsin. The Broncos don’t have a single lineman weighing more than 300 pounds – with junior left guard Will Lawrence (6-2, 293) the biggest. The Broncos gave up a WAC-low 13 sacks last season, but has a relatively inexperienced unit with just two full-time starters returning in sophomore center Thomas Byrd (5-11, 284) and junior right guard Kevin Sapien (6-4, 286) – and even they have just one year of starting under their belts. Keep an eye on Byrd’s exchange with the quarterback, which the Broncos have had some trouble with this year – but they always seem to clean up the mistakes against Fresno State.

Defensive Line
Edge: Broncos
Junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) has taken his game up another notch and emerged as a serious threat to Fresno State opponents. Carter’s speed presented a huge mismatch against Wisconsin’s bigger, slower linemen, and allowed him to get around the edge twice for hard-hitting sacks. On a near-sack in the first quarter last week, Carter reportedly broke his middle finger, but is expected to play on Friday. Redshirt sophomore Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) also caused problems with his speed at end last week, but didn’t have the same impact. Look for the Bulldogs to use junior Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) for more reps at tackle this week, as his size is more appropriate against Boise State’s smaller, quicker guys. The same holds true for sophomore tackle Logan Harrell (6-2, 275), who showed flashes of agility against Wisconsin. Defensively, this is likely where the game will be won or lost for Fresno State – the only way to force Boise State out of its usual near-perfect execution is to apply constant pressure in the backfield.

Boise State’s defense boasts one of the most ridiculous stats ever – in the past 12 games, the defense has allowed just 8.25 offensive points per game. It starts with the front four and is the biggest reason for the Broncos’ increased success of late against strong competition (see Oregon). Somewhere along the line, the Broncos developed not only skill in the front four, but also size, with starting ends junior Ryan Winterswyk (6-4, 263) and sophomore Jarrell Root (6-3, 259). Winterswyk, a first-team All-WAC honoree who’s up for the Lott Trophy and Lombardi Award, had 11.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks last season. But more impressively, he had six pass deflections, something that has caused Fresno State fits in recent years with passes being batted down by linemen. Sophomore tackles Billy Winn (6-4, 288) and Chase Baker (6-1, 296) each have 0.5 sacks on the young season, but overall the Broncos’ starting for is lacking in the experience department.

Edge: Bulldogs
The play of middle backer Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) is getting to be ridiculous. With his speed improved a tad, and a more physical mentality, Jacobs has already racked up 21 tackles this season, after leading Fresno State with 113 last year. First-team All-WAC here he comes. Still, the biggest plus so far this year might be junior strong side Nico Herron (6-3, 240), who had a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown in the opener and is third on the team with 11 tackles after showing much improvement in sticking to his assignments. If sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) steps up his play this will be the WAC’s best linebacker trio.

Look for the Broncos to go with a 4-2-5 defense often, consisting of just two linebackers instead of the normal three. The best of those two is junior Derrell Acrey (6-1, 235), who was fifth on the team with 59 tackles last season. Sophomore Aaron Tevis (6-3, 228) enters his first season as the full-time starter on the weak side. Both linebackers have a knack for getting to the ball and not missing, part of what makes Boise State so tough to drive the ball on. Redshirt freshman J.C. Percy (6-0, 214) is pushing hard for playing time, as he’s tied with Acrey and one other for third on the team with eight tackles this season. Tevis has two picks already on the season.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Broncos
Fresno State received sad news Wednesday that starting free safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) is out the next two weeks with a knee injury. The junior is a physical specimen and the biggest reason the Bulldogs seem to have rediscovered that “Shutup & Hit Somebody” mentality. He delivered at least three bell-ringing blows in the first two games and was scary on the blitz – while posting 13 tackles. Instead Boise State will face either senior Marvin Haynes (6-1, 205), who has two-plus years of starting experience, or sophomore Zak Hill (6-2, 200), Pat Hill’s youngest son. It’s a head-scratcher, though, why Hill wouldn’t start redshirt freshman Phillip Thomas (6-1, 205), who opened fall camp first-string and might be the defense’s next big thing. Expect senior corner A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) to draw Pettis, while junior Desia Dunn (5-9, 190) tries to stick with Young. Senior All-WAC strong safety Moses Harris (5-11, 205) will also be used on the blitz under Randy Stewart’s more aggressive defensive playcalling, but must be sure to shed blocks if he’s going to be effective – an area he’s struggled with in the past.

There’s not a better secondary in the WAC, and its best corner is Boise State senior and All-America candidate Kyle Wilson (5-10, 186), but he’ll be outsized by most Fresno State receivers, especially the team’s best deep threat, Ajirotutu at 6-foot-4. Junior corner Brandyn Thompson (5-10, 180) faces the same battle, as does junior nickel back Winston Venable (5-11, 233). Wilson tied for the WAC lead with five interceptions last season and has eight for his career. He also leads the Broncos with 10 tackles this year. At the starting safety spots, Boise State boasts junior Jeron Johnson (5-11, 194) and sophomore George Iloka (6-3, 207). Johnson led the squad with 98 tackles and had three picks in 2008. Both he and Iloka have a pick already this year. Iloka had four interceptions in 2008.

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
This game pits easily the two best special teams units in the WAC, and both have been among the nation’s best this decade. Fresno State has blocked 80 kicks and punts during Pat Hill’s tenure, which began in 1997. The emphasis the Bulldogs put on special teams is unparalleled, and it pays off as four current players have returned kicks or punts for touchdowns – Jefferson, West, Moore and Rashad Evans (who’s redshirting). Senior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 225) averages 46.4 yards and has placed 3 of 5 punts inside the 20-yard line. Sophomore Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190), who’s on the Lou Groza watch list, hit a 41-yarder to send last week’s game into overtime, but also missed a 45-yard attempt earlier in the game.

Boise State has a heck of a return man itself in Wilson, who returned a punt 90 yards for a Boise State record-long touchdown against the Bulldogs last year. He averaged 14.2 yards per return with three touchdowns last season. The Broncos also blocked a punt last week in a win over Miami (Ohio). Junior Kyle Brotzman (5-10, 201) handles kicking and punting duties. He was 17 of 26 on field goals last season, but 2 of 2 from 50-plus yards, but is just 1 of 3 this season including a miss from 29 yards. Brotzman averages 45.3 yards per punt, and has pinned 3 of 6 inside the 20.

Edge: Broncos
How can the edge not go to Chris Petersen here? No matter how lovable Pat Hill’s vision and passion for Bulldog football and the Valley is, he just can’t seem to out-scheme Petersen on the field often enough, despite having more talent on paper pretty much every year the two teams have played. Petersen has discovered the secret to getting kids to execute to near-perfection throughout a season, and does it consistently. It’s a phenomenon no other coach or program in the nation experiences. At USC, Oklahoma and Florida, they win perennially based on exorbitant amounts of talent. With Boise State, no one can really explain why the Broncos win so often in such convincing fashion? Boise State is 7-4 all-time against the Bulldogs, and its only loss in the rivalry since joining the WAC in 2001 was 27-7 at Bulldog Stadium in 2005.

Edge: Broncos
There’s a ton of hype coming in with Boise State ranked No. 10, the second straight year a 10th-ranked team has visited Bulldog Stadium (Wisconsin last year). The Red Wave is being asked to “white out” the stadium, and the game is a near sellout – making for by far the most hostile environment Boise State will face on the road this season. But this Broncos team won at Oregon last year – its first-ever road win over a BCS-conference opponent – and always gets up to play Fresno State. Still, the mental hurdle of losing to Boise State so often in recent years will be tough to overcome. And until Fresno State pulls it off, it’s tough to pick the ‘Dogs to win it.

***Photos courtesy of Juan Villa

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 3 game prep: Links and boise film study

First things first: As I'm prone to do sometimes, this blog comes with directions. Directly below is the pre-game hype song for the Bulldogs -- We Ready. Click play then listen until you're done reading through the Fresno State portion of the blog. Further directions to come later.

The broncos (2-0) come into Bulldog Stadium having won two games, both of which were home games, against oregon and miami (OH), respectively. So far little attention has been given to the fact that the broncos used 22 players on defense at a time, 22 of which couldn't be seen by the quarterbacks of neither the ducks nor redhawks. Video replay does not show indisputable evidence proving otherwise.

The broncos will be displaying their new all-white uniforms, meaning they obviously heard about Fresno State's upcoming attempt at a white-out and quickly adjusted accordingly. Little do they know stubbornness is also a trait of Bulldog fans, so Bulldog Red should also be well represented.

And finally, boise state's orange-clad mulletteers, a close relative of this species, will also be present behind the north endzone for the broncos. So all in all, this should be your run of the mill cornucopia of colors.

Below you will find various media links (first for the Bulldogs, second for the broncos) so you can get yourself pre-gamed out before Friday's showdown. Also, toward the end of the blog, you will see two videos of boise state game footage from its first two games of the season. Yes, the camera angles and quality of the second video suck.

First up, Fresno State links:

  • The Bark Board: Fresno State's biggest hub for both authentic and douchebag fans.
  • 1430 ESPN radio online: Listen during the local hours from 1-6 to potentially hear Fresno State football discussion.
  • The Collegian: The exceedingly pessimistic sports section for Fresno State's student-run newspaper.
  • Dogbyte podcast: Unofficial fan podcast on Fresno State football. Hey, it's something.

Instructions part 2: Make sure We Ready is done playing or stopped above and then click play on the song below for the remainder of the blog. You can silence the other videos during your film study session if you wish.

Second up, boise state links:
  • OBNUG: Fan blog of the broncos specializing in keeping themselves entertained.
  • IPT photo gallery and sound slide of boise's game with the redhawks. Pay special attention the outstanding talent in the band toward the end. That wouldn't make 17th string on the 300+ member Pride of the Valley.
  • Here's what the broncos play on the video board prior to their home games. Richie Brockel looks like such a teddy bear. And Kellen Moore looks like he could chuck so much wood if he could chuck wood, which he could so he does chuck a ton of wood.
Study time:

Study time part 2:

Monday, September 14, 2009

boise state copies Fresno State

In talking to people, many haven't yet noticed the offensive copy-catting of Boise State, which now adopted a longtime Fresno State tradition of awarding a sledgehammer to the special teams player who makes the biggest play in the previous game.

It's been done at Fresno State as long as I can remember under Pat Hill and special teams coach John Baxter. And now (GASP!howdarethey) it's being done at Boise State too. And when the 'Dogs visited Oregon in 2007 and noticed the Ducks were doing it also.

Now, I do realize Fresno State getting upset about others stealing its traditions is kind of like a turtle calling a snail slow (since Fresno State ripped "The Bulldog Bounce" from Wisconsin's "Jump Around") but you do not, under any circumstances, steal an archrival's tradition. What if Michigan started dotting the 'i,' or UCLA started holding up the 'v' for victory, or Texas started yelling 'Boomer Longhorn'? Not cool, right?

I mean, how would Boise State feel if Fresno State painted its field blue and wore all blue uniforms and helmets to camaflouge themselves? Or if Fresno State played mostly easy non-conference games and ran up the score on lesser opponents to build a questionable sense of entitlement on the national scene? Or if a Fresno State player taunted his opponent after a win and got a haymaker to the chin?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grading the 'Dogs (1-1) @ Wisconsin (2-0)

Quarterbacks: C+
4 TDs and big-play capability of Colburn has been sorely missed past three years. But three interceptions (although first was blatant pass interference on the hit to Wylie) ain't gonna cut it. Colburn needs to know when to put touch on passes, and when to zip 'em in there.

Running Backs: B
Mathews' 107 yards and Rouse's 46 yards lead 'Dogs, as the backs got stronger as the game wore on. Mathews flashed big-play ability again with 55-yarder, but Miller and Harding were ineffective in limited reps.

Receivers: A-
West (5 catches, 49 yards, TD) and Wylie (5 catches, 114 yards, TD) had their best career games. Ajirotutu added 6 catches, 83 yards, 2 TDs while making an acrobat grab to extend to double overtime. Tight ends, though, were non-factors in the passing game.

Offensive Line: B
Pass blocking was phenomenal and Bernardi scored a knockout. Run push came up in second half, but offense didn't capitalize. Without this group, the big plays wouldn't have been there.

Defensive Line: C
Got out to dominant start, but weakened as game went on. Carter, with 2 sacks, was only player consistenly applying pressure, with occasional help from Borg. Interior linemen need to contribute more.

Linebackers: C
Jacobs led all with 15 tackles, and Herron came up with a couple big stops late. But partial blame lies here for Clay's 72-yard run and tight end Graham's catches.

Defensive Backs: C
Allowed Badgers too much open ground after taking a 21-7 lead and were dominated for a couple drives. No turnovers hurt bad, especially when Dunn had position but didn't turn his head. Still, part of the blame lies with blitzes not being effective enough and Tolzien making great plays under pressure.

Special Teams: D+
Shanked punt by Malone, missed field goal by Goessling, two blocks in the back that negated solid returns, and allowed Wisconsin to hit 57-yard field goal.

Coaching: B-
Offensive playcalling was refreshing, defensive was aggressive, but seemed like the team let off the gas a bit when it had a big lead. Need the "killer instinct." Team was definitely focused and ready at kickoff.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Game Preview: Fresno State (1-0) at Wisconsin (1-0)

Edge: Even
It was a little strange that junior Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) played less than two full quarters in his first-ever start, but he looked adequate while he was in there, connecting on 5 of 9 passes for 161 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown pass. Colburn’s only previous career action was at Oregon in 2007 though, so he does have some exposure to hostile road environments. Make no mistake redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) will be used as a change of pace. In his first-ever series, toward the end of the second quarter, Feathers led the Bulldogs downfield, finishing the drive with a 30-yard option keeper of his own for a touchdown. True freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190), younger brother of David Carr, was 2 of 2 for 37 yards, but it’s unclear whether he’ll play this Saturday.

Wisconsin will show the ‘Dogs a completely different look this season with junior Scott Tolzien (6-3, 205), who’s 257 passing yards in last week’s win over Northern Illinois were the most ever for a Badgers quarterback making his debut. Tolzien was an efficient 15 of 20, but tossed two interceptions compared to one touchdown. Like Fresno State, the Badgers have a change-of-pace signal caller in redshirt freshman Curt Phillips (6-3, 228), who led two series last week while completing 3 of 5 passes for 24 yards and running four times for 34 yards. In last year’s 13-10 win in Fresno, now-departed Allan Evridge took all but one snap for Wisconsin, with senior Dustin Sherer (6-3, 220) taking the other. Sherer took over the starting job midway through last season, but lost it to Tolzien this year.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Before the season started, this looked like the one game on Fresno State’s schedules where the opponent’s running backs might match up. But that was before we saw what an impact true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) could make. He rushed 10 times for 75 yards and a score in his first collegiate game – as the fourth-stringer. Junior Ryan Mathews (5-11, 220) is the most talented back on either team, and ran for 106 yards on 11 carries in the opener, including a 60-yard touchdown. Sprinkle in seniors Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 220) and the Bulldogs’ backs are twice as deep as Wisconsin’s. Miller added 50 yards in the opener, and Harding didn’t get a carry, but led the team with 822 yards rushing last season.

As is usually the case with Wisconsin, its running game presents the biggest challenge for opponents. Much ballyhooed P.J. Hill, who battled his way to 112 yards against the ‘Dogs last year, is gone, but the guys stepping into featured roles might be even better. That’s definitely the case with sophomore John Clay (6-1, 248), a big, powerful runner who runs straight into contact and keeps churning. Clay tallied just 14 of his 884 yards last season against Fresno State, but it was just his second collegiate game. Now he brings the experience of a 5.7 yards per carry average and nine touchdowns. And junior Zach Brown (5-10, 210) presents another hefty challenge. Brown had 305 yards and three touchdowns in 2008 on 5.5 yards per carry. The two combined for just 94 yards on 29 carries last week, but don’t let take away from the fact they are flat-out talented.

Edge: Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have more weapons and more experience, and got off to an even better start than Wisconsin with senior Marlon Moore’s (6-1, 190) 92-yard touchdown reception. Senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) presents matchup problems for Wisconsin, as does junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170). Ajirotutu had three catches for 57 yards in the opener. Wylie burned the Badgers on a 47-yard catch and run up the gut last season. A weapon the Badgers didn’t have to deal with last year was redshirt sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205), who had the Bulldogs’ first catch of the young season for 20 yards.

With the passing game somewhat of a weak spot for the Badgers last season, the tight ends were the keys. Travis Beckum is gone, but senior Garrett Graham (6-3, 250) returns after leading the team with 40 catches, 540 yards and five touchdowns last season. Heading into the season he was thought to be the X-factor of the unit, but that may have changed with last week’s emergence of junior Isaac Anderson (5-10, 177) as a deep threat. He had three catches for 100 yards in the opener, including an 80-yard touchdown and also rushed for a 23-yard score. Anderson and sophomore Nick Toon (6-3, 212), who had five catches for 72 yards last week, could both be poised for breakout years. Junior David Gilreath (5-11, 170) is one of the team’s fastest players, but didn’t get a reception in the opener. Last year, Gilreath led Wisconsin wideouts with 31 catches for 520 yards and three scores.

Offensive Line
Edge: Even
Fresno State averaged 7.9 yards per play last week – and you don’t do that without good play from the line. Again though, it’s hard to tell how good the unit is against lesser competition. Wisconsin will definitely give a better idea. The Bulldogs didn’t allow any sacks, as the pass blocking held up even better than expected. Sophomore right tackle Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 310) looks to have replaced Bobby Lepori as the team’s enforcer. Junior right guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295) will likely be the best lineman on the field.

Wisconsin announced some bad news Thursday, releasing that junior center John Moffitt (6-5, 320), on the preseason watch list for the Lombardi and Riminigton trophies, will likely miss Saturday’s game with lingering effects of a pectoral injury. Moffitt also missed the opener, allowing Travis Frederick (6-4, 336) to become the first true freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener in Badgers history. Junior right guard Bill Nagy also missed the opener with injury, and was replaced by sophomore Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 317) – the smallest Badgers starter. Junior left tackle Gabe Carimi (6-7, 325) is an All-Big 10 candidate, and sophomore tackle Josh Oglesby (6-7, 330) adds similar size on the other side. Junior left guard Jake Bscherer (6-7, 310) fills out a unit that could cause trouble for the Bulldogs in the middle, but might have trouble keeping up with Fresno State’s speedy edge rush from the ends.

Defensive Line
Edge: Even
It’s difficult to get a good gauge on this group against UC Davis, but the pressure on the quarterback was nonstop – pretty much the polar opposite of 2008. Junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) and redshirt sophomore end Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) will be tough for Wisconsin to block if the big nasties can’t catch up to their edge speed. The bigger question for the ‘Dogs is how will the interior hold up against the north-south running game? Junior Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) will be greatly undersized, but his strength should level the playing field somewhat. Junior Cornell Banks (6-3, 300) might be a better option in this one.

While most of the Badgers’ defensive front it unproven, the one guy who stole Pat Hill’s attention on film this week is senior end O’Brien Schofield (6-3, 248), who tied for the team lead with five sacks in his first season as a starter in 2008. Though Schofield had just one tackle against the ‘Dogs last year, it was for a 9-yard loss. Sophomore end J.J. Watt (6-6, 287) played his first career game last week and recorded six tackles. The two tackles have one combined career start in sophomore Patrick Butrym (6-4, 291) and senior Dan Moore (6-2, 283).

Edge: Bulldogs
Junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) is coming off WAC player of the week honors for his 94-yard interception return for a touchdown and five tackles. Herron looked like one of the most improved players all camp and if it carries over into the big games on the Bulldogs’ schedule it’ll translate into this unit being a huge team strength. Junior Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) is coming off a monster season of 113 tackles and All-WAC honors and the Bulldogs finally have some talented depth in true freshmen Travis Brown (6-2, 235) and Daniel Salinas (5-11, 205). Brown needs to clean up the sloppy tackling he displayed last week, but it’s not fair to be too harsh on a guy just out of high school.

Senior Jaevery McFadden (6-2, 230) is a tackling machine who led the Badgers with 84 last season, but he doesn’t get into the backfield much – just 2.5 tackles for losses last year and no sacks. He leads a unit featuring two newcomers at the other spots in junior Culmer St. Jean (6-0, 233) and freshman Mike Taylor (6-2, 221), who made quite the debut with seven tackles and a fumble recovery in his first career game.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Even
Despite pitching a shutout in the opener last week, skeptics are pointing to the Bulldogs’ secondary as a concern. While there is a lack of proven depth, senior corner A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) has the talent to catapult himself into being one of the best in school history. He made a couple of impressive pass breakups against UC Davis that make it seem like he’s on the right track. Jefferson had a game-high 11 tackles against the Badgers last season. Junior free safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) played like a maniac, running around ready to light someone up. Bell led the team with seven tackles, and might help bring back the “Bulldog Football” attitude that’s been missing the past three seasons. Sophomore corner Isaiah Green (5-10, 180) made a couple coverage mistakes last week that could have been devastating against a better team – but look for him to clean those up with experience.

An unheralded Wisconsin secondary is led by senior Chris Maragos (6-0, 198), a former walk-on who led the team with a career-high nine tackles in the opener. Sophomore corner Devin Smith (5-11, 188) is thought to have breakout potential in his first season as starter. Smith added a career-high six tackles against Northern Illinois. Junior strong safety Jay Valai (5-9, 201) loves to hunt for the big hit, but Bret Bielema wants to see him reel in the risk of missing tackles to go for the impact play.

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State owns a frightening reputation for blocking kicks, with a nation-best 45 blocks since 2002 – four more than Texas. The Bulldogs didn’t disappoint last year, blocking a kick and a punt against Wisconsin. Fresno State’s Devon Wylie blocked a punt last week against UC Davis to get the 2009 stats rolling. The most memorable play for Fresno State’s 2001 win at Camp Randall was Bernard Berrian’s kickoff return to open the second half, but the Bulldogs’ best kick returner of all-time is senior A.J. Jefferson, who is the NCAA’s active leader. Sophomore kicker Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) is on the Lou Groza Award watch list after showing great improvement a season ago – he missed three field goals in the three-point loss to Wisconsin last year.

Sophomore kicker Philip Welch (6-3, 200) was a Groza Award semifinalist last season after nailing 20 of 24 field goals – two of those were missed from beyond 40 yards. With these teams’ history, it could very well come down to a single kick. Sophomore Brad Nortman (6-3, 209) averaged 41.8 yards, fifth best in the country last year among freshmen. While return man David Gilreath has all kinds of speed and quickness, he averaged just 19.6 yards per kick return, and had no touchdowns.

Edge: Even
This type of football game is what Fresno State’s Pat Hill lives for – anyone, anytime, anywhere. Hill and the Bulldogs are 1-2 all-time against Wisconsin, losing twice by a combined five points. Hill never has a problem getting the Bulldogs amped up for these games against BCS-conference opponents, but Wisconsin’s players should be jacked up just the same remembering last year’s hard-hitting gem.

Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema had the most victories of any Badgers head coach in his first three seasons with 29 – winning 17 of his first 18 games at the school. But the Badgers had a disappointing 2008 and are unranked again this year.

Edge: Badgers
It’s tough to win at Camp Randall, the Badgers’ 80,000-plus seat stadium where they’re 30-3 since 2004. But the Bulldogs have won there before, 32-20 in their dream 2001 season where they screamed to a No. 8 national ranking. Fresno State, though, is coming off an emotional 51-0 drubbing of UC Davis and feels it needs a win to keep momentum going for next week’s WAC opener with Boise State. The Bulldogs’ 14 wins against BCS-conference schools since 2000 is second most of any non-BCS-conference school. Fresno State has won four of its past five against BCS teams – but the one loss was to Wisconsin last season. The biggest question mark is how will the reported flu outbreak impact Wisconsin’s players, and will any key guys miss the game?

***Photos courtesy of Juan Villa