Friday, September 4, 2009

Preview: UC Davis @ Fresno State


Edge: Even
Junior lefty Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) gets his first career start after greyshirting, redshirting and sitting two years behind Tom Brandstater. Colburn knows the offense and has the respect of the team – but he’s just 4 of 5 for 58 yards all-time. So how are the quarterbacks rated even? The talent factor – Colburn, freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) and redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) are too talented for at least one of them to not step up and take Fresno State where it wants to go.
UC Davis is built to throw the football, and that’s what they’ll try to do at Fresno State. Junior Greg Denham (6-3, 215) set school records for completions and regular season yards last season when he completed 67% of his passes (296 of 451) for 3,478 yards and 27 touchdowns. He did throw 16 interceptions – not horrible considering the number of passing attempts. With backups Sean Maraz and Daniel Alfaro sidelined with injuries, freshman Randy Wright (6-3, 185) and redshirt freshman Austin Heyworth (6-1, 210) are the only options.

Running Back
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State presents the biggest challenge UC Davis has faced since moving up to Division I – and it’ll be an eye-opener. Having junior Ryan Mathews (5-11, 220), senior Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and senior Anthony Harding (6-0, 220) all healthy will be a nightmare for the Aggies. It would be shocking if the Bulldogs don’t rush for at least 200 yards, and they might ride the run game all night. Keep an eye on how Fresno State uses option looks and whether true freshman spark plug Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) gets some carries. Pat Hill is downright excited about redshirt freshman Michael Harris (5-11, 200) as well.

The Aggies return their top nine rushers in overall yardage. Unfortunately, the running game is not their strong point. Junior Joe Trombetta (6-0, 220) led the team with 125 carries for 547 yards and three touchdowns, but averaged just 4.4 yards per carry. Sophomore Corbin Cutshaw (5-8, 189) is listed second-string after rushing for 282 yards and a score (5.1-yard average).

Edge: Bulldogs
Bulldogs wideouts haven’t done a good job of getting separation on routes since 2005 – something that’s really plagued the passing game. But new receivers coach Keith Williams has keyed on problem areas with a keen attention to detail and should have senior NFL prospects Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) and Marlon Moore (6-1, 190) performing at the next level. Junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) is the team’s fastest player, clocked at a 4.25 40-yard dash, and redshirt sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) might be the most talented of the bunch. Senior Chastin West (6-1, 215) is the possession guy of the group and the best blocker.

Two All-Great West Conference receivers return for the Aggies in first-team senior Chris Carter (6-0, 195) and second-team senior Bakari Grant (6-4, 195). Carter had 768 yards and five touchdowns last year, while Grant added 720 yards and eight scores. UC Davis likes to spread the ball around, as 11 players had more than 100 yards receiving last season. Junior tight end Dean Rogers (6-2, 250) was also a first-team selection, though the Redwood High-Visalia alum had just 13 catches for 178 yards last season and should play a bigger role in the blocking game. Six of the top seven pass-catchers return. Redshirt freshman Anthony Soto (5-9, 185) of San Joaquin Memorial High is listed second on the depth chart as a receiver and return man.

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
On the down side, Fresno State lost three longtime starters in Bobby Lepori, Kenny Avon and Cole Popovich. On the up side, the replacements make this one of the largest lines in school history with redshirt freshman left tackle Bryce Harris (6-6, 295), junior right tackle Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 310) and junior left guard Devan Cunningham (6-6, 350). Add All-WAC junior right guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295), an NFL prospect, and the Bulldogs might have a pancake-filled night against the Aggies.

The Aggies’ front line has solid size for an FCS squad, especially considering Fresno State’s somewhat undersized defensive ends. But their athleticism will be tested. Senior center Tommy Hernandez (6-2, 283) is the smallest of the starters, but is coming off a first-team all-conference season. Junior right tackle Mark Tos (6-6, 290), a Central Valley Christian High-Visalia alum, earned second-team all-conference honors.

Defensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
All eyes will be on what was the weak link of the Bulldogs’ defense in 2008, but the unit is optimistic this year. All-WAC junior Chris Carter (6-2, 230) makes the permanent transition from linebacker, and redshirt sophomore Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) returns after missing all of last year with injury – a huge boost for the pass rush. Keep an eye out for what unfolds at tackle with first-time starter junior Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) and a plethora of others competing for jobs in sophomores Chase McEntee (6-3, 285) and Logan Harrell (6-2, 275), returning starters juniors Cornell Banks (6-3, 300) and Mark Roberts (6-2, 300) and redshirt freshman Anthony Williams (6-2, 300).

Fresno State’s new quarterback gets a break with All-GWC senior end Patrick Michelier out with injury. Michelier led the Aggies with 10 tackles for losses, and was second with five sacks last year. Senior end Steven Wulff (6-3, 240) will be on the prowl, however, after recording a team-high seven sacks in 2008. Wulff also had an interception – something that should concern the Bulldogs after they saw so many of their passes batted down by defensive linemen last season.

Edge: Bulldogs
Junior Ben Jacobs returns from All-WAC form after leading the Bulldogs with 113 tackles last season. And he’s in better shape, as is a slimmed down junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) and vicious-hitting sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215). The depth sorely lacking last season might have arrived with true freshmen Travis Brown (6-2, 235) and Daniel Salinas (5-11, 205).

UC Davis is led by senior Mike Morales (6-2, 240), the team leader with 72 tackles last season (nine for losses) and two picks. Weak side senior Mike Healey (6-1, 220) led the Aggies with three interceptions and was tied for fourth on the team with 44 tackles with junior strong side starter Dozie Amajoyi (6-1, 245).

Defensive Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
What do the ‘Dogs have to do to get an interception around here? Whatever it is, they better figure it out or it’ll be another disappointing year. It starts with getting senior A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) to become an expert at the position. He’s got the talent to be a game-changer. Veteran safeties senior Moses Harris (5-11, 205) and junior Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) have got to show improvement at shedding tackles and swarming to the football.

With a core of corners who are on the short side, UC Davis will be challenged by four Bulldogs receivers ranging 6-1 to 6-4. Like Fresno State, the Aggies have struggled to find interceptions recently, as junior strong safety Danny Hart (5-11, 210) had the starting secondary’s only pick in 2008. The lack of size and depth could be detrimental if the Bulldogs air it out.

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
Sophomore Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) burst onto the scene as one of the nation’s most powerful kickers and is already on the Lou Groza Award watch list. Senior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 225) has a booming leg of his own and is one of the stronger guys on the team. The Bulldogs are notorious around the country for being amongst the leaders in blocked kicks. Yet the most dangerous attribute is their return game, led by Jefferson, Moore and West. Jefferson led the nation in kick return average two years ago and was close last season despite injury.
Aggies sophomore kicker Sean Kelley (5-8, 215) is a bit of an unknown. While he was 10 of 13 on field goals last season, his long was 36 yards, which could make for some interesting play calling decisions in that “tweener” range. A freshman takes over punting duties in Liberty High-Bakersfield’s Colton Schmidt (5-11, 190). Schmidt averaged 40-plus yards per attempt in high school. The Aggies kick return game strikes very little fear with a long of 28 yards in 2008.

Edge: Bulldogs
Pat Hill is feeling the pressure to win and live up to the high expectations that are a result of his success at Fresno State. The 2008 season ended in huge disappointment with a 7-6 record and nowhere near a BCS bowl. Still, Hill has a chance to lead the Bulldogs to their winningest decade in school history.

While UC Davis hunts for its first winning season since 2006, coach Bob Biggs is a proven winner. Heading into his 17th year at the helm, he’s 124-61-1 with eight NCAA playoff appearances, including a tie for third place in 2000. He’s led the Aggies to five double-digit win seasons.

Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State and UC Davis haven’t met since 1952, with the Bulldogs holding an 11-5-1 series lead. UC Davis knocked Stanford off in 2005, but Fresno State hasn’t lost a season-opening home game since 1996, and is 12-2 in Bulldog Stadium season openers. In its last three, against Weber State, Nevada and Sacramento State, the Bulldogs won all of those games by a combined score of 107-39. UC Davis will obviously be psyched up for one of two games on its schedule against FBS opponents this year (the other being at Boise State), but the Bulldogs’ renewed attitude on defense should be too much for the Aggies to overcome.
***Photos courtesy of Juan Villa/The Collegian


  1. You have got to be kidding, when he calls this QB position EVEN!!! Your QB is untested, and UCD has two receivers being looked at by the NFL.
    Our passing attack is Superior to Fresno's. That if Denham has time, there is no doubt Fresno will not stop UCD from scoring. Our receivers are good and our QB will be playing on Sinday in 3 years.

  2. The Ags will give a good game in Fresno. I like Denham a bit more, I'd give that edge to Davis, possibly receivers and linebackers I'd call marginally even as well.

  3. Still have the same opinion Anonymous? The receivers aren't even comparable.


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