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.


  1. Great breakdown DC3. Hope the readers enjoyed the longer "Grading the 'Dogs" format today. A few thoughts after watching the game film:

    QBs: Colburn made good decisions for most part but continues to make glaring mistakes when he does mess up (see interception inside 5 yard line). Even if he just threw an incomplete pass, Cinci is stuck having to drive 95-plus yards there.

    WRs: Not sure why Cincinnati can scheme to contain Fresno State's 5 big-time guys, and 'Dogs can't scheme to control 3 big-time Cinci receivers?

    DL: I expected Borg to have a real breakout year and it's not happening right now. Every time we get pressure from one end, the other end seems to be at a stalemate, allowinig opposing QBs to flush away from pressure.

    DBs: Jefferson played well except for early big play given up to Gilyard. On that one, if Jefferson takes an angle to make the stop it's only an 8-yard gain or so. But Jefferson went for the pass breakup and gave up leverage inside. Risks must be calculated, and glaring weakness in pass cover ability by corners makes that a dangerous decision. Zak Hill can't play at this level -- at least not yet. A HUGE recruiting need for the offseason.

  2. If Feathers is only going to have a limited role at QB, wouldn't it make sense to start converting him to a defensive back? He has the speed to be effective, would add depth and would be a huge upgrade to Zak Hill. Feathers was recruited by USC as a defensive back but came to FS since he wanted to quarterback. If injuries to the DB corp dictate, why not use him in a dual role where he could play on both sides of the ball and give him more playing time. I understand that we run the risk of getting him injured which would affect our quarterback situation but given our poor play at DB I would take the risk. If he was good enough for USC why just let him sit on the bench.


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