Friday, October 30, 2009

Preview: Utah State (2-5, 1-2) @ Fresno State (4-3, 2-1)

Edge: Aggies

Now more than ever, Fresno State coaches have to be questioning if they’ve got the right Bulldog starting under center. Junior lefty Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) hasn’t looked capable of winning a game with the pass since Wisconsin – and even that one the Bulldogs lost on a Colburn interception in overtime. While Colburn’s leadership skills, poise and Bulldog spirit are unquestionable, his first half showing this past Saturday at New Mexico State won’t cut it against tougher competition. Colburn fumbled early before throwing a poor pass that was intercepted in the end zone, and he was nearly picked off again at the goal line moments later. It was a surprising series of mistakes considering Colburn was coming off two straight ultra-efficient starts with no turnovers. For the year, he’s passed for 1,191 yards (59%), 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. True freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) continues to impress. Carr was 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter at New Mexico State, and is 10 of 14 (71%) for 112 yards on the season.

Utah State counters with one of the WAC’s less known quarterbacks, but also one of its most dangerous – especially to a team like Fresno State with a history of trouble defending scrambler. Junior Diondre Borel (6-0, 187) was known mostly for his running ability last season when he had 12 carries for 74 yards and a score against the Bulldogs, but this season has thrown for 1,681 yards, 10 touchdowns and just 1 interception. The downside? Borel has completed just 57% of his throws. But that’s not as glaring a weakness when he has run for 237 yards and 4 touchdowns. Borel nearly doubled the Aggies’ single-season rushing mark for a quarterback with 632 yards last season, and was one of seven quarterbacks nationwide to lead their teams in passing and rushing.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs

It’s official – the Ryan Mathews Heisman Trophy/Doak Walker Award campaign is under way with an official Web site and T-shirts. For the fourth straight week, Mathews leads the nation in rushing with 1,131 yards on a whopping 7.2 per carry. He has nine touchdowns this season – giving him 29 for his career – with is just three from the Fresno State career record of 32 by Anthony Daigle. Mathews 161.7 rushing yards per game is nearly 26 yards more than his closest competitor, Darius Marshall of Marshall (136 per game). And Mathews’ 157-yard showing at New Mexico State last week propelled him past Dale Messer for fourth in school history in career yardage – just 80 yards behind NFL back Dwayne Wright (2003-04, 06). Whew – got all that? Well here’s one more superlative – Mathews has seven runs this season of more than 50 yards (69, 68, 68, 60, 59, 58, 55). Once opponents have focused on how to slow Mathews, they also have to concern themselves with elusive true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) and senior Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220). Rouse has 344 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging slightly more yards per carry than Mathews at 7.6. And Miller has added 213 yards and two scores on 5.5 per carry. The Bulldogs’ leading rusher in 2008, senior Anthony Harding (6-0, 220) presents more danger if he gets carries, but with the standout play of the other three backs, Harding has just 10 carries for 21 yards this season. In last season’s 30-28 win over Utah State, Mathews was hobbled by injury and carried 14 times for just 58 yards. Miller led the team with 67 yards on 12 rushes.

With all the talk about the special batch of Bulldogs backs, don’t ignore Utah State sophomore Robert Turbin (5-10, 212), who is second in the WAC and tied for 18th nationally with 104.9 rushing yards per game. Turbin has run for 734 yards (6.5 per carry) and four touchdowns against a schedule that included Texas A&M, Utah and BYU. He had a career-high 148 yards in a loss to Utah when he sprinted 96 yards for a touchdown on one run. Turbin had just five carries for 13 yards last season against the Bulldogs, but has matured significantly since. He’s also a factor in the passing game, as he’s second on the Aggies with 270 yards receiving and a team-high three receiving touchdowns. Borel is second on the team in rushing, followed by junior Michael Smith (5-9, 199) with 187 yards and two scores.

Edge: Bulldogs

It’s become obvious senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) has become a big-time wideout for the Bulldogs. While Ajirotutu served mainly as the deep threat last season, he’s become more of a possession guy this year and greatly improved his hands. Ajirotutu leads the deep group of ‘Dogs wideouts with 24 catches for 356 yards. Junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) is second with 15 grabs for 242 yards and a team-high four touchdowns, despite missing the last game with injury. Wylie’s absence hurt Fresno State’s offense even more than expected, as the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on one-on-one match-ups with receivers and defensive backs on the outside as New Mexico State sold out to try and stop the run. If Wylie can play Saturday, it will be a huge boost for the Bulldogs. Sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) saw an increased role with Wylie sidelined, catching three passes for a career-high 63 yards, including a 51-yard, bobbling over-the-shoulder grab.

Fresno State defenders will have their hands full with Utah State’s receiving corps, while also spying the quarterback and trying to defend the run. The multi-faceted ability of the Aggies’ offense is what’s made them so much more competitive this season, despite the poor record. Sophomore Stanley Morrison (5-9, 162) is small but capable with a team-leading 434 yards (16.7 per catch) and two scores. And Utah State has plenty more weapons in senior Omar Sawyer (5-9, 174), junior Eric Moats (6-0, 173), senior Nnamdi Gwacham (6-3, 211) and senior Xavier Bowman (6-3, 204). Gwacham has 230 yards (16.4 per catch), Sawyer has 204, Moats 178 and Bowman 112.

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs

Junior center Joey Bernardi (6-2, 280) left with injury during the New Mexico State game, and the Bulldogs had a couple close calls with inaccurate snaps in shotgun formation while senior Richard Pacheco (6-2, 285) filled in. Pacheco has plenty of experience though, and the Bulldogs won’t miss a beat as long as that problem is shored up. A lot of the credit for Fresno State’s 266.7 yards rushing per game (fifth nationally) and 5.9 per carry goes to the offensive line. However, opponents have been more successful pressuring the quarterback the past three games, as the Bulldogs have now given up 10 sacks on the year.

Still, those numbers seem excellent compared with the 20 sacks given up by Utah State this season – which can only be good news for a Bulldogs team that struggles to get to the opposing quarterback. Utah State averages 180.7 rushing yards, ranking fourth in the WAC and 32nd in the country. The lone senior of the group is center Brennan McFadden (6-2, 295).

Defensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State has shown signs of growth amongst the interior in recent weeks, with junior Cornell Banks (6-3, 300) picking up his first sack at New Mexico State and sophomore Logan Harrell (6-2, 275) collecting one the week before. Junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230), with four sacks, is the only Bulldog to record more than one. Problem is, Carter hasn’t gotten one since the Hawaii game three weeks ago. He leads the ‘Dogs with six tackles for losses. On the bright side, the Bulldogs are coming off their best defensive performance of the season, where they were swarming to the ball carriers and laying some nasty hits.

Utah State’s two-deep is made up entirely of sophomores and juniors – only one of which has a sack this year. That man is sophomore end Junior Keiaho (6-3, 242), who has a team-best two sacks. The group is extremely undersized at tackle with juniors Sean Enesi (5-10, 275) and Nathan Royster (6-0, 262). Opponents average 197.4 yards per game on the ground.

Edge: Even

Has junior Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) ever looked more dominant than he did last Saturday? The short answer – no. Jacobs leads the ‘Dogs with 53 tackles – 20 more than the closest teammate – and is second with five tackles for losses. He’s vastly improved in pass coverage this season, and is visibly faster to the ball – making his love for hitting more dangerous to the guys in his path. The other two starters have been very similar, as junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) and sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) each have 23 tackles (1.5 for losses). Herron, though, has the 94-yard interception return for a touchdown in the opener against UC Davis. Fresno State’s still waiting to see a breakout game from Knox, who’s capable of becoming a Marcus Riley-type presence if he plays with more reckless abandon.

The strength of Utah State’s defense might be this group. Sophomore Bobby Wagner (6-1, 217) leads the WAC and is tied for 15th in the country averaging 10 tackles per game. Wagner has 70 for the year (and a team-high four for losses) – far ahead of the big name on the Aggies defense, senior Paul Igboeli (6-0, 220) who has 31. Igboeli, however, missed last week’s win over Louisiana Tech with an ankle injury. Starting in his place was sophomore Kyle Gallagher (6-1, 203), who’s tied for fourth on the team with 32 tackles, and second with 1.5 sacks.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Bulldogs

Fresno State has to be quite pleased with its secondary play after allowing minus-1 yard passing on four completions to New Mexico State’s starter last week. The cornerback play might be the most improved of any position on the field this season, and it starts with junior Desia Dunn (5-9, 190), who’s third on the team with 33 tackles and has a Bulldogs-best six pass breakups. Senior strong safety Moses Harris (5-11, 205) is second with 33 tackles (three for losses) and was announced Thursday as one of 16 finalists for the “Academic Heisman.” The return to health of junior free safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) is the biggest boost of all. This defense plays with a different attitude when Bell’s healthy and popping pads with people as he was last week. It’s Bulldog Football with an attitude. Bell reeled in his first career interception last week, returning it 17 yards for a score.

The safety play for Utah State is nothing to scoff at. Senior James Brindley (5-11, 189) is second on the Aggies with 59 tackles (2.5 for losses) and has a team-best three interceptions to go with a sack. Brindley also has six pass breakups. Scary news for the Aggies is Brindley will likely miss Saturday's game with injury. Junior free safety Rajric Coleman (6-2, 179) is third with 45 tackles and has one pick. Sophomore reserve safety Walter McClenton (5-11, 191) had 14 tackles last week after recording just one previous tackle in his career. Both starting corners also have picks this season in former Edison High standout senior Kejon Murphy (5-9, 168) and junior Curtis Marsh (6-1, 193).

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs

You can bet Fresno State sophomore kicker Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) is still haunting Utah State after his 58-yard field goal won the game with no time remaining last season. Goessling has been dominant since, making 9 of 10 field goals this year with a long of 49 yards. His only miss was beyond 40 yards. Senior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 225) averages 47 yards and 1/3 of his 21 punts have gone for 50-plus yards. With so many weapons in the return game, the Bulldogs finally took one back for a touchdown as Chastin West had an 88-yard punt return last week. Most teams have avoided the Bulldogs’ return men at all costs. The Bulldogs also blocked yet another kick, thanks to Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295).
Senior kicker Chris Ulinski (6-3, 203) is turning in a heck of a year so far, having nailed 9 of 11 field goals with a long of 48 yards. Junior punter Peter Caldwell (6-4, 231)has been phenomenal with 22 of 49 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line and an average of 42.9 yards. Freshman Kerwynn Williams (5-9, 180) averages 23.2 yards per kick return with a long of 41 yards.

Edge: Bulldogs

Utah State’s Gary Andersen is in his first year at the helm after directing Utah’s defense previously. Andersen already has the Aggies pointed in the right direction, and has a good shot to make noise in the coming years. Defense is the weakness right now, but he can be counted on to turn that into a strength. Still, there’s no way to give a first-year coach the edge over the WAC’s longest tenured leader, Pat Hill, who’s in his 13th year.

Edge: Bulldogs

Utah State has given the Bulldogs fits the past three years, losing by three in 2008, 11 in 2007 and beating the ‘Dogs in 2006 in a shocker. That said, Fresno State is 10-2-1 against the Aggies all-time in Fresno, and hasn’t lost at home to Utah State since 1980 – the year the Bulldogs became Division I-A.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Heisman Vote - Fan Rankings


Let's try to get Ryan Mathews (college football's leading rusher) out from the bottom rank of this 14 player fan vote on

------------------------- VOTE HERE -------------------------

It's obvious that Mathews has not been watched by the voters.

It also doesn't help that he missed significant playing time in his first 2 years.

Maybe these clips will open their eyes:

(Video above also includes Lonyae Miller and Robbie Rouse rushing plays)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Upcoming opponents and their defensive ranks YPG


It's time for the Bulldogs offense to shine.

Here are the upcoming opponents for the 'Dogs and the corresponding defensive yards per game ranks (and the 'Dogs defense YPG). If the Fresno State can secure the football, they are capable of putting up huge numbers from here on out.

104. Illinois - 415.86 YPG

101. utah st. - 413.57 YPG

100. nevada - 413.43 YPG

92. idaho - 401.25 YPG

66. louisiana tech - 360.29 YPG

61. Fresno State - 353.86 YPG

Side note for Heisman candidacy: 12. boise state - 281.57 YPG. Ryan Mathews himself rushed for 234 yards all by his lonesome, with the help of the o-line of course.

>>>>>>>>>>>>VOTE HERE<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Stats provided by USA Today

***photo courtesy of Cary Edmondson

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grading the 'Dogs (4-3, 3-1) @ New Mexico State (3-5, 1-3)

FRESNO STATE 34, New Mexico State 3

Quarterbacks: C-
Despite a beautiful 51-yard toss to Jamel Hamler in the second half, it was the worst overall outing of Ryan Colburn's career. The first half was error-laden with a pick in the end zone, another near pick at the goal line and a lost fumble. Colburn finished the first half 4 of 10 for just 58 yards -- just plain not good enough. Especially with Derek Carr waiting on the sideline for an opportunity. Carr completed 4 of 6 passes in just two possessions, good for 57 yards. If the 'Dogs are going to pull the trigger on a QB change, now's the time.

Running Backs: B+
Even facing eight or nine defenders in the box, Ryan Mathews couldn't be stopped. He was held under his yards per carry average, but still managed 6.3 per carry and had 157 yards and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard, hurdling rumble to the end zone. Mathews also got credited with a fumble that wasn't a fumble (and the 'Dogs failed to call for a review). The other running backs were contained -- Robbie Rouse had his least impressive showing with four carries for 15 yards, and Lonyae Miller struggled even more with four carries for two yards. But the lack of a passing threat made things too tough on the backs.

Receivers: B
They were open and they caught the ball when it was catchable. Seyi Ajirotutu had three grabs for 64 yards, while Jamel Hamler had three catches for 63 yards. Hamler got extra reps with Devon Wylie out with injury.

Offensive Line: B-
Two more sacks allowed, and just 4.8 yards per carry as a team (which isn't good for this Bulldogs squad). The o-line played well considering the Aggies were selling out to stop the run, but in his first game back from injury against Cininnati, Joey Bernardi made things tough on Colburn with a couple high snaps.

Defensive Line: A
Havoc. It's what the Bulldogs want to cause every week, and it's exactly what they did cause on Saturday. Everyone on the defensive front was making tackles, getting into the backfield and pressuring the QB. Cornell Banks and Kenny Borg each had sacks and Chase McEntee had two tackles for losses. Wilson Ramos, Matt Akers and Logan Harrell were in on the tackle-for-loss action too. Take away the big run on the Aggies' first possession, and this performance was an A+.

Linebackers: A-
Another big game for big Ben Jacobs (13 tackles, two for losses). And credit Shawn Plummer for stepping up with a sack on an attempted QB scramble and batting a pass away. The only negative was the 70-yard first-quarter run.

Defensive Backs: A+
Can't ask for anything better than holding the starting QB to minus-1 yard passing on four completions. These guys were all over the place and in the receivers' faces. Granted, the Aggies have very little talent, but credit these guys for playing as well as the possibly could. It was A.J. Jefferson's best defensive performance of the year, Desia Dunn is getting stronger as the season goes and Lorne Bell (who also had a pick-six) is back to laying the wood. And how 'bout Phillip Thomas and Zak Hill popping the Aggies' QB as he tried to scramble to the end zone on fourth down. He's gonna feel that for a while.

Special Teams: A+
You're darn right. That's Bulldog Football. A blocked field goal. A Marlon Moore punt return inside the 10-yard line. Another Moore punt return to set up a field goal seconds before halftime. An 88-yard Chastin West punt return for a touchdown -- the Bulldogs' first special teams score of the year. And don't forget Andrew Shapiro booting 4 of 6 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Or Kevin Goessling making field goals from 23 and 43 yards -- he's now 9 of 10 on the season.

Coaching: C+
The special teams unit was sure ready, and the defense adjusted after the first series to dominate. But Colburn struggled and the coaches left him in too long. Mathews was the only guy who could move the chains early, yet the 'Dogs passed on third and short, and gave lots of reps to Miller and Rouse in the first quarter when it just wasn't working.

Friday, October 23, 2009

WAC rundown Week 8

Louisiana Tech (3-3, 2-1) @ Utah State (1-5, 0-2)
Saturday, noon, ESPN 360
Last week: Louisiana Tech 45, New Mexico State 7 / Nevada 35, Utah State 32

Golly that stings for Utah State. A double-digit lead late against Nevada blown, and all of a sudden the Aggies are 1-5 with solid showings against Texas A&M, Utah, BYU and Nevada, and an inexplicable loss at New Mexico State. This thing is gonna go one of two ways for Utah State -- either it improves and picks up a big win or the season turns into a reeling mess. The La Tech defense is starting to look darn dangerous, but I'm goin' with the upset.
Prediction: Utah State

Idaho (6-1, 3-0) @ Nevada (3-3, 2-0)
Saturday, 1:05 p.m., ESPN 360
Last week: Idaho 35, Hawaii 23 / Nevada 35, Utah State 32

Can you say statement game? That's exactly what this can be for the Vandals. Win, and even the latest bloomers blossom into Vandal believers. Lose, and it could be the start of a totally different second half for an Idaho team with games still remaining against Fresno State and Boise State. Nevada lucked out to come from behind and beat Utah State last week, but it's hard to picture that Wolf Pack offense not presenting a ton of problems for Idaho. For the record, I hope I'm wrong on this pick, because I'd thoroughly enjoy seeing Chris Ault be sad.
Prediction: Nevada

Fresno State (3-3, 2-1) @ New Mexico State (3-4, 1-2)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m., ESPNU
Last week: Fresno State 41, San Jose State 21 / Louisiana Tech 45, New Mexico State 7

The past three match-ups between these two teams have been decided by seven points or less, though Fresno State is 15-0 all-time against the Aggies. Coming into the season I proclaimed that New Mexico State might well be the nation's worst team -- there really is a huge lack of talent -- but somehow the Aggies have won three games. Still, they haven't seen any running backs like these, any receivers like these or any offensive line like this. And the Aggies flatout won't be able to slow the Bulldogs' offense.
Prediction: Fresno State

Boise State (6-0, 1-0) @ Hawaii (2-4, 0-3)
Saturday, 8:05 p.m., ESPN 360
Last week: Boise State 28, Tulsa 21 / Idaho 35, Hawaii 23
It's really tough to figure this Broncos team out. It's the quickest they've ever reached such a high ranking, and maybe their highest hopes ever, but they've struggled with FCS UC-Davis and a much overrated Tulsa team the past two games. Hawaii falls somewhere in between those two squads, and beat the Broncos last time they met on the islands. But that was with Colt Brennan and Co. in Hawaii's BCS-bowl-crashing season (which seems so long ago now). Maybe Boise State will get caught sleeping at some point this year, but until it happens it would be ridiculous to pick against the Broncos.
Prediction: Boise State

Be the Hammer: san jose was full of nails, and we hear new mexico state has a bunch too

There are several players eligible for sledgehammer duties this week after a physically dominant performance in all three facets of the game against san jose state, including special teams. That's where this blog comes in.

Despite not being able to get up a Be the Hammer blog last week, the Bulldog Bounce board of execs did expect offensive lineman Andrew Jackson (who took the honors) to run out of the Dog House with the hammer, for his big-time momentum changer after blocking a hawaii field goal attempt.

It was just mere weeks ago when we at the Bounce were clamoring for more physical play, and there have been some very worthy candidates who have responded. Of course we can't ignore the fact that the recipient of this week's award has done his damage against the spartans, but it's still fun to watch our guys lay the wood, chest bump and celebrate off the field while their guys walk in an un-choreographed, zig-zag, drunk-type walk back to the sideline.

Unfortunately, video for this game appears to be nonexistent, so the entertainment -- if you'll allow for such a stretch -- of the Fresno State special teams squads playing puppeteer to the spartans will have to be solely expressed through words.

I've put up four Bulldogs as candidates for the hammer this week, which was as far as I could narrow it down, a problem I (and I'm sure Bulldogs coaches) love having.

For those in the know, it should come as no surprise that Anthony Harding will walk away as the hammer winner this week. Sorry for spoiling the surprise for the rest of you, but unless something has changed in the very recent past, Harding is your guy.

But alas, we also have a winner to announce. Here's the rundown on the 4 guys we've selected:

  • Anthony Harding, RB - blocked punt: Just prior to the play, Bullogs coaches literally designed a plan of attack on the sidelines that they had not practiced nor discussed yet this season. This included bringing return man Marlon Moore up from his returner position to overload one side of the line, and assisted in getting Harding more space to get his hands on the kick. Blocked kicks are always big-time, and I personally love the fact that the best athletes relish the opportunity to make plays on special teams, Ryan Mathews included.
  • Michael Harris, RB - Hit and tackle on kickoff coverage: Harris ran down the field, maintained his lane and came around the edge to tee off on the san jose state return man. I have a special place in my heart for a de-cleating tackle executed with perfect form.
  • Vince Pascoe, TE - shield block in punt formation: I've been told Pascoe uses every ounce of his frame (which is undersized for a tight end), but the best proof of that came this past Saturday when Pascoe Uncle Phil-ed some poor spartan player. Standing next to Matt Hunt on one side of what turns into a 3-man wall, or shield to protect punter Robert Malone, Pascoe grabbed the foolish spartan (who had first run into Hunt), and proceeded to pick him up and toss him a yard off to the side, where the spartan player laid back on ground and feet in air.
  • Austin Raphael, TE - KO hit on player with embarrassed teammates: I made reference to the stumbling drunk earlier in the blog, and that was only borderline exaggeration to central nervous system control this poor spartan player was left with after Raphael's hit. Had he been thirsting for a beer afterward and there was a fridge full of beer on the sidelines, part 2 of the youtube classic would have been born. Raphael ran down field and leveled this poor guy, who was left stumbling all alone to the sidelines with the rest of the field already cleared while teammates were nowhere to be found to help him find his way.

As you can see, fans at the game got their money's worth with these four plays alone, as the combination of athletic ability and Fresno State dominance was entertaining beyond explanation. For those same reasons, I've selected the winner of this week's Be the Hammer award to be:

Austin Raphael, TE, No. 41

** Be the Hammer is part of a line of Fresno State football related features that gives us the opportunity to further discuss the 'Dogs in more facets. This time, it's in regards to special teams.

Is there a better running back than Ryan Mathews?

Someone please explain this Sports Illustrated midseason All-America team. It has an Alabama sophomore and a Pitt freshman first-team All-America, while Fresno State junior Ryan Mathews is second-team.

Mathews leads the nation in rushing yards, yards per game and is up there in yards per carry. He's definitely played comparable competition to the others. So why's he not ranked higher? You've got some explaining to do SI...

Make your argument here. Post a comment. Who's the best running back in the country, and why?

***Photo courtesy of Juan Villa

Preview: Fresno State (3-3, 2-1) @ New Mexico State (3-4, 1-2)

Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State has to be pleased with first-year starter Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220), who’s bounced back from an interception-laden start to boost himself to 26th in the nation in pass efficiency. Since throwing an interception that cost the Bulldogs the game at Cincinnati, Colburn is 23 of 32 for 267 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in two-plus games. For the year, the junior lefty now has 1,027 yards, 11 scores and seven interceptions. The biggest thing missing in the past two games has been the ability to take over a game with the deep ball – something Colburn proved his capable of at Wisconsin. Expect redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) to keep increasing in playing time now that the Bulldogs are in the midst of conference play against lesser defenses. Feathers threw his first-career touchdown pass (4 yards) in last week’s 41-21 win over San Jose State, and also scampered for 16 yards on a keeper. If all goes according to how it should on paper, true freshman Derek Carr should get reps for the third straight Saturday.

Gone for New Mexico State is Chase Holbrook. Two new faces are see-sawing to fill his shoes. Though Holbrook was vastly overrated last season in the media, his replacements have fallen short in redshirt freshman Trevor Walls (6-5, 220) and sophomore Jeff Fleming (6-4, 195). Walls is slated as the starter for Saturday with 340 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions with a 52% completion rate. Fleming is the more versatile option with 38 rushing attempts, but has just 62 yards to show for it. Fleming also leads the Aggies with 446 yards passing and has two scores and two picks on 53% completions. Don’t be surprised if the Aggies rotate throughout the game, as coach Dwayne Walker likes to go with the “hot hand.” Walls is coming off his best game, completing 10 of 12 passes against Louisisana Tech, but the Aggies mustered only seven points.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State’s rushing gauntlet poses big, big trouble for New Mexico State. Junior Ryan Mathews’ (5-11, 220) seldom-seen talent is no longer a secret kept by the most knowledgeable Red Wavers – now the whole nation knows about him and his NCAA-best 974 yards, 162.3 yards per game and 7.4 yards per carry. There’s even a little Heisman hype bubbling up with an already special season. With 233 yards last week against San Jose State, Mathews jumped from 11th on the all-time school rushing list to fifth – just ahead of 16-year NFL star Lorenzo Neal. Mathews’ seven touchdowns give him 29 in his career – tied for second all-time in the Bulldogs’ record book, and his sixth-straight 100-yard performance last week set a new school record. Factor in true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185) and his 329 yards (8 per carry) and four touchdowns, and senior Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and his 211 yards (6 per carry) and two touchdowns, and the Bulldogs have what might be the best backfield in the nation. And that’s before factoring in senior Anthony Harding (6-0, 220), who has 1,433 career yards and 11 touchdowns. With the success of Fresno State’s other three backs this year, Harding (who led the team in rushing last season) has just 10 carries for 21 yards in 2009.

Running hasn’t been New Mexico State’s forte in recent history, but the Aggies rely more than usual on the ground game this year. Redshirt junior Seth Smith (5-8, 198) has battled for 598 yards and a touchdown while averaging a casual 4.2 yards per attempt. Last season, the Aggies finished with minus-15 rushing yards against a Fresno State defense that ranked among the nation’s worst at defending the run. Since 2002, just two Aggies have rushed for more than 700 yards. Smith, a transfer from College of the Sequoias located about 45 minutes south of Fresno, had a career-high 150 yards on 25 carries in a win over Prairie View A&M, and also went for 113 in a victory over winless New Mexico. Senior Tonny Glynn (5-8, 192) is third on the Aggies with 107 yards and a score (3.5 yards per carry).

Edge: Bulldogs
Bulldogs senior Marlon Moore (6-1, 190) shined with two touchdowns last week after keeping a low profile since his 92-yard catch and run in the season opener. Moore has scored nearly half the times he’s caught the ball – three touchdowns, seven receptions. Bad news for the ‘Dogs last week was losing junior Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) midway through the game to injury. Wylie hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday’s contest, but expect the coaches to keep him sidelined unless he’s 100%. Wylie has a team-high four scores, and is second with 242 receiving yards. Senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) leads the ‘Dogs with 292 yards and 21 catches. With senior Chastin West (6-1, 215) at 152 yards and Moore at 149, sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205) will become the fifth wideout to go over 100 yards with his next catch – he’s got 99 yards on the year.

It’s hard to tell who New Mexico State misses most – Holbrook or the receivers he threw to last season. Tiny sophomore Todd Lee (5-9, 155) leads the Aggies with 208 yards and a touchdown, but averages just 11.6 yards per catch. He’s joined by tiny, experienced senior Marcus Anderson (5-8, 166) and junior Marcus Allen (6-0, 190). Allen is second on the team with 195 yards and Anderson has 145 and a touchdown. But no one in the receiving corps has emerged as a big-play threat, with Allen’s 34-yard long the team-high.

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
Heading into this season, the line was thought to be questionable in pass protection. That proved not to be the case at all as the ‘Dogs headed into the San Jose State game with the eighth-fewest sacks allowed. But the Spartans sacked Colburn three times, running the season total sacks by opponents to eight. Keep in mind, at least one of those three against San Jose State was blown protection by the running back on a blitz scheme. With first-year starters at both tackle positions in Kenny Wiggins (6-7, 310) and Bryce Harris (6-6, 295), this unit is already better than last season’s at Fresno State. Proof is in the 6.1 yards per carry the Bulldogs average as a team.

Consider that number is almost double the 3.3 yards per carry New Mexico State averages behind a mostly large, veteran group that has given up 12 sacks in seven games – two of which were allowed by senior reserve Joe Suder (6-5, 346) who replaced starting senior right tackle David Norman (6-4, 300) when he missed two games with injury. Senior left guard Joe Palmer (6-3, 308) leads the Aggies with 46 knockdowns. It’ll be interesting to see how junior left tackle Dwayne Barton (6-4, 270) matches up with the pass rush from Fresno State’s Chris Carter, who is used to overwhelming larger opponents with his speed around the edge. Barton’s lack of size might actually be an advantage in this instance.

Defensive Line
Edge: Even
Fresno State junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) is the only Bulldog to provide a dependable pass rush with a team-leading four sacks. Finally, last week, a second Bulldog recorded a sack when sophomore tackle Logan Harrell (6-2, 275) handed San Jose State a 14-yard loss. But this unit is still far too inconsistent with its pressure, and has trouble finishing when it does apply pressure. If they can make the Aggies’ quarterbacks feel the heat, the Bulldogs can take advantage of mistakes and dominate. They held the Aggies to minus-15 yards rushing last season, but face a new running back this time. The Bulldogs have given up 5.2 yards per carry to opponents on the year.
New Mexico State sophomore end Pierre Fils (6-3, 230) recorded his fifth sack of the season two weeks ago in a win over Utah State. Fils alone has as many sacks as Fresno State does as a team – albeit against much lesser competition. Sophomore end Donte Savage (6-1, 229) has applied nearly as much pressure from the other side, with four sacks and a team-high seven tackles for losses. The Aggies have given up 5.1 yards per carry to opposing running backs, despite facing just two team with decent ground games (Idaho and Louisiana Tech) – neither nearly as strong as Fresno State’s.

Edge: Bulldogs
An injury to junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) halfway through last week’s game gave highly-touted true freshman Travis Brown (6-2, 235) a chance for significant playing time. Brown recorded just one tackle, and Herron is expected back this week. Junior Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) leads the Bulldogs with 40 tackles (3 for losses) and also has an interception, two pass breakups and three deflections. Fresno State needs to get sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) more involved in the pass rush, as he excels at getting to the backfield and making big hits.

Senior middle linebacker Jason Scott (5-10, 207) leads New Mexico State with 62 tackles (1.5 for losses), and is followed by senior strong linebacker Ross Conner (5-10, 212) and his 56 tackles. Mathews, Rouse and company will be in the second and third level of the Aggies’ defense often, and how long they can stay in the game will hinge on how well the linebackers tackle.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State is coming off its most impressive secondary performance of the season, as junior Desia Dunn (5-9, 190) turned in his second consecutive lockdown performance with four tackles and two breakups. Dunn leads the Bulldogs with six breakups and six deflections on the year. Senior Damion Owens (5-11, 200) has also looked strong the past two weeks, coming up with key deflections. And a couple youngsters got in on the action against the Spartans when sophomore Isaiah Green (5-10, 180) broke up a possible touchdown pass deep downfield, and redshirt freshman Jermaine Thomas (5-11, 180) snatched the Bulldogs’ fourth interception of the season in the fourth quarter.
The Aggies aren’t do any better in the interception department. They also have four on the year, one each by junior corner Davon House (6-0, 172), junior free safety Stephon Hatchett (5-8, 170) and junior strong safety Alphonso Powell (5-9, 182). The safeties are abnormally small, considering both starting corners – House and sophomore Jonte Green (6-0, 175) – have substantially more height. Hatchett is third on the team with 44 tackles, and Powell is fourth with 41. Mathews loves to talk about creating one-on-one situations against safeties in the open field, and these two will be susceptible to his powerful stiff-arms.

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
Wow is the keyword for senior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 225) after he booted a 69-yard punt last Saturday. With more attempts, Malone would be one of the nation’s leaders – he’s averaging 47.7 yards per punt and has placed 1/3 of his attempts inside the 20-yard line with just two touchbacks. Fresno State also picked up another blocked punt against San Jose State, giving it 82 blocks in the Pat Hill era. And sophomore kicker Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) nailed field goals from 40 and 46 yards. Goessling is 7 of 8 on the year, and has converted 14 of his past 16 attempts dating to last season.

The Aggies’ Kyle Hughes (6-0, 184) assumes the punting duties and most of the field goal kicking as well. Hughes averages 42.4 yards on 37 punts this season, placing nine inside the 20. But the sophomore lacks accuracy beyond 40 yards on field goal attempts, hitting just 2 of 5 from that distance. He’s 5 of 8 overall on the year.

Edge: Bulldogs
New Mexico State’s Dwayne Walker is in his first year after spending the past three seasons as UCLA’s defensive coordinator. Pat Hill and Fresno State beat his Bruins team at the Rose Bowl last season, and he has far less talent with the Aggies. But the fact Walker has already won three games this year is an accomplishment considering the lack of talent in the program.

Edge: Bulldogs
Though there’s a lot to be said for New Mexico State keeping the past three series meetings within seven points or less, Fresno State has never lost to the Aggies in 15 match-ups. Under Hill, the Bulldogs are 4-0 against New Mexico State, with two wins at Aggie Memorial Stadium (30-23 in the last meeting). The ‘Dogs are 8-0 all-time in games played in Las Cruces.
***Photos courtesy of Juan Villa

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grading the 'Dogs (3-3, 2-1) vs. San Jose State (1-5, 0-2)

Quarterbacks: B-

Ryan Colburn didn't do anything spectacular but did throw for 2 TDs and more importantly had no picks for the second straight game. Colburn found the open receivers, and did what he needed to for a win, but also made some mistakes, such as a pass he floated toward the sideline near midfield that was nearly picked by a San Jose State safety. The 7 of 12 completion numbers need to be consistently higher. Ebahn Feathers entered in the third quarter and threw for his first-ever TD pass on an 4-yard scrambling, crossover to Marlon Moore. Feathers also had a 16-yard run. Derek Carr was 2 of 3 passing for 9 yards, and threw a beautiful pass on the run that was a smidgen out of reach for Darren Newborn.

Running Backs: A
As perfect as can be in the running game, but get docked a bit for lapses in pass blocking that led to Colburn being sacked. Averaged 7 yards per carry as a team. Ryan Mathews continues to look the part of the nation's most talented player, running for 233 yards (11.6 per carry) while dazzling with his speed and vision and delivering multiple stiff-arms (which are actually more like shoves to the ground in this case). Mathews added a 59-yard score, while Robbie Rouse scored another TD and Lonyae Miller ran for 49 yards on 7 carries.

Receivers: B
Welcome back Marlon Moore. An injury derailed Moore's hot start after a 90-yard TD catch in the season opener, but he bounced back with 2 TDs on Saturday, including a 23-yarder. Devon Wylie smoked a Spartans defensive back en route to a 27-yard TD before leaving the game with injury, and Seyi Ajirotutu had 4 catches for 61 yards. It was the first time all year Chastin West's presence wasn't felt.

Offensive Line: C+
Can't ask for anything more with this group's dominant run blocking, opening holes in the second level for Mathews, Rouse and Miller to burst free. But Colburn was sacked a season-high three times on plays where Spartans defenders were breaking through untouched.

Defensive Line: B-
Spartans did the best job of any opponent this season at stalling Chris Carter's havok, holding him to 3 tackles (1 for loss) and no sacks (which is an accomplishment). And lo and behold the 'Dogs finally got a sack from a defensive tackle in Logan Harrell. Still, the pass rush was missing in the first quarter and it led to the 'Dogs giving up a high percentage of completions to Spartans receivers underneath.

Linebackers: B
Linebackers share in the credit for holding a poor San Jose State running game to 4 yards per carry, and Ben Jacobs again made a play in pass coverage with a deflection. Still confused as to why the 'Dogs remain in three-linebacker sets so often in passing situations? Shawn Plummer saw a lot of playing time on third downs, and Travis Brown replaced injured Nico Herron before halftime. Plummer had 2 tackles, Brown had 1 in his most significant career action.

Defensive Backs: A-
The main negative was San Jose State starter Jordan La Secla's completion rate (17 of 27) -- which isn't horrible. But much kudos go out to Desia Dunn for his second straight lockdown performance. Dunn had 4 tackles and 2 deflections. Damion Owens had his most impressive game of the season with a heck of a pass breakup and tight coverage. Isaiah Green also wowed, breaking up a potentially big play near the Spartans' end zone. And can't forget Jermaine Thomas, with a fourth-quarter interception in his most extensive playing time. The Spartans stayed away from A.J. Jefferson most of the night, and credit the Bulldogs for not giving up a big play to Kevin Jurovich. Late 59-yard TD pass was against an all-reserve defense.

Special Teams: A
Gotta love the aggressiveness of Pat Hill when San Jose State punted just before halftime. Instead of having Moore return the punt, he called for Moore to come up and help go for the block. It worked as Ajirotutu knocked the punt down, leading to a Kevin Goessling field goal just before the half. Goessling was good from 40 and 46 yards on the night. Robert Malone booted a 69-yard punt, and Michael Harris and Owens each delivered crushing blows in kick coverage.

Coaching: A
Credit Hill and John Baxter with the special teams play, and credit Randy Stewart with adjusting the defense after a rough first quarter to boost pressure on the quarterback and get in more press and bump coverage with the defensive backs.
***Photo courtesy of Juan Villa.

It's like this, it's like that, it's like this...

First of all, let's start by all voting once a day for Ryan Mathews to win the Heisman Trophy (write his name in, spell it correctly with one 't'...he's got 1,300 votes and counting). Let's also hope once a day that he decides to come back for his senior year at Fresno State and help the 'Dogs storm the nation once again.

Then, let's pray for a speedy recovery for beloved former 'Dog Clifton Smith after this uncalled for cheap shot by some dude on the Panthers. Hey current/former football players and coaches, am I wrong to think hitting a defenseless return man high like this is not an accident?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Hangover: Bulldogs allow spartans to stay within 20, but use them as treadmill for Mathews

**The Sunday Hangover is a 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. 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. Feel free to post yours in the comments below as well.

What about other odd things you might have noticed during the game's downtime?

  • For example, maybe you happened to look down at the field to see the spartans return following halftime and noticed Dick Tomey's youthful and bouncy gait as he galloped behind his team. People with white hair and wrinkles in the triple digits aren't supposed to move that way.
  • Or how about the 13 different 3 point turns by the guy driving the cart while trying to get to an injured san jose player, despite the fact that there were no walls, curbs or obstructions in his way.
  • Or the 11-year-old kid sitting in the red seats, wearing a Kellen Moore jersey getting mercilessly booed and heckled on his way up the stairs and out of the stadium. May as well have been a kick me sign on his back. We think his Kellen Moore fandom brought out the inner horse racing fan in him, and that he may have been in town to visit the ol' track at The Big Fresno Fair. Coincidentally, I'm guessing he'll have his money on horse No. 11.
  • And finally, a few of us got in a couple of good laughs when Fresno State shockingly inserted additional defensive backs (a pleasant surprise) on third down on two separate occasions, both times causing spartans QB Jordan La Secla to call a timeout due to mass confusion. Can't say we blame him.

As for the reactions to Fresno State's 41-21 win over san jose:

"Not overly impressed with our D. They are going to have to step it up if we are going to win out and I have to agree with the Matt James article this morning -- Ryan Mathews is the most talented football player we have ever had, hands down!
ps - I may change that opinion three years from now after watching Derek Carr lead us to three WAC titles and a bcs game ... hopefully!!"

"Winning is fun. Mathews leads the nation ... in talent. Get out of here with that Jahvid Best stuff. Bulldog Born! Bulldog Bred!

"Despite the fact that Fresno State is handing out charitable beatdowns to WAC rivals, I find myself salivating for more. The 20 point victory easily could have been double that. Jermaine Thomas, Travis Brown and some other young 'Dogs looked good. Oh, and as good as you think Derek Carr might be right now, he's better than that. On a side note, Ed Dillihunt, good decision. We like you (*spit)."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

WAC rundown Week 7

Boise State (6-0, 1-0) 28, Tulsa (4-2, 2-0) 21

Nevada (2-3, 1-0) @ Utah State (1-4, 0-1)
Saturday, noon, ESPN 360
Last week: Nevada 37, Louisiana Tech 14 / New Mexico State 20, Utah State 17

OK, so maybe the Aggies aren't anywhere near where we thought they were when they played some tough Utah and BYU teams close early in the season. A loss to New Mexico State is a joke. And Nevada is catching fire at a bad, bad time for Utah State.
Prediction: Nevada

New Mexico State (3-3, 1-1) @ Louisiana Tech (2-3, 1-1)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Last week: New Mexico State 20, Utah State 17 / Nevada 37, Louisiana Tech 14

New Mexico State has about three times more wins than I though it would. Last week was quite surprising. But this La Tech defense is going to get after 'em like no one has this season and put 'em back in place.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech

Hawaii (2-3, 0-2) @ Idaho (5-1, 2-0)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN 360
Last week: Fresno State 42, Hawaii 17 / Idaho 29, San Jose State 25

I finally went with Idaho last week and it worked out, but where does this stop? It's a classic case of a team that's really not all that talented gaining an avalanche of confidence as it keeps rolling downhill over its opponents. But the Warriors can't be confident at all right now, despite great success in Moscow in recent years. Still, let's go out on a limb and disrespect the Vandals again.
Prediction: Hawaii

San Jose State (1-4, 0-1) @ Fresno State (2-3, 1-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Last week: Fresno State 42, Hawaii 17 / Idaho 29, San Jose State 25
The Bulldogs' offense is screaming through the schedule, and it's near impossible to imagine a repeat of when these two teams met last year and Fresno State had just 58 yards passing. The Spartans, though, are in desparate need of a victory of any kind after losing at home to Idaho last week. But with a big talent differential and Fresno State having won 14 of the last 15 match-ups, it's tough to imagine anything different.
Prediction: Fresno State

Preview: San Jose State (1-4, 0-1) @ Fresno State (2-3, 1-1)

Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State’s Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) enters homecoming against the Bulldogs’ longest rival on a high note. While Colburn didn’t put up gaudy numbers in a 42-17 win at Hawaii, he was about as efficient as could be, completing 12 of 14 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The two incompletions were dropped passes, and Colburn was interception-free for the first time as a starter. The junior lefty simply followed the game plan, spread the ball from sideline to sideline and kept the Hawaii defense from flooding the middle of the field. He’ll be challenged by a San Jose State team that, like Hawaii, has had great success gathering takeaways this season. On the year, Colburn has 910 yards, nine touchdowns and seven picks, while completing 60% of his throws. True freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) played the fourth quarter – his second career game action – and completed 2 of 3 passes. Redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) didn’t play as Pat Hill had concerns about the rainy weather and a reserve center, but is likely to see time against San Jose State by the second quarter.

San Jose State junior Jordan La Secla (6-3, 205) is coming off his first 300-plus-yard game, but it resulted in a loss at home to Idaho. La Secla completed 31 of 43 passes for 302 yards and two interceptions, giving him 914 yards, six scores and five picks on the season to go with a 62.2% completion rate. La Secla has started the Spartans’ past three games (including their only win of the season against Cal Poly), after senior Kyle Reed (6-3, 215), a former Cal transfer, struggled in his first two starts. Reed is 14 of 26 for 104 yards. The most impressive stat these two quarterbacks contributed to is the Spartans’ 100% scoring rate in the red zone (one of just three teams nationally that can say that) – granted they’ve only made it to the red zone 11 times.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Junior Ryan Mathews (5-11, 220) is on the verge of entering the Fresno State record books in some major categories. He’s seven yards from passing Kelly Skipper for 10th on the school’s career yardage list, and tied with Wendell Mathis after his fifth consecutive 100-yard game at Hawaii. Expect Mathews to break the mark against a suspect San Jose State run defense. Mathews averages a nation-best 148.2 yards per game and has rushed for 741 yards and six touchdowns on 6.7 per carry this season. He’s got 2,230 (6.1 average) and 26 touchdowns in two-plus seasons. And that’s just one of the four backs San Jose State has to worry about. The Bulldogs’ No. 2 rusher, true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185), has squirted, spun and sprinted his way to 297 yards and three touchdowns and is second in the nation at 8.7 yards per carry. Then throw in seniors Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 220), who rushed for 62 and 99 yards respectively last season at San Jose State with Mathews injured and Rouse still in high school, and it’s obvious the Spartans should be concerned. Harding had two touchdowns in last season’s 24-10 ‘Dogs win, and fifth-stringer Jamaal Rashad rushed for a career-high 41 yards in last season’s match-up.

San Jose State, on the other hand, totaled minus-5 yards rushing in the 2008 game against a Fresno State defense that ranked among the nation’s worst at stopping the run. Things do look a little better this year as the Spartans have introduced junior college transfer junior Lamon Muldrow (5-9, 210), who leads the team with 235 yards and two scores (5.7 per carry). Muldrow showed he is capable of breaking a big play, with a 71-yard long. More good news for San Jose State came with sophomore Brandon Rutley’s (5-10, 190) return to the field last week. Rutley has just four carries for six yards this year, but was second on the team with 356 yards and three scores last season.

Edge: Bulldogs
It’s no secret any longer Fresno State has depth rivaled by no one in the WAC at wide receiver. The biggest trick is sharing the ball with everyone and balancing it with the running game – which the Bulldogs will continue to lead with. The most pleasant surprise remains senior Chastin West (6-1, 215), who is third on the team with 152 yards and has two touchdowns (15.2 yards per catch). Senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) is the most immediate NFL prospect and has a team-high 231 yards with two scores. Ajirotutu was the deep threat last season, but has been used as more of a possession receiver this year, seeing his yards per catch drop from 16.9 to 13.6. Junior burner Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) leads the squad with three touchdowns and is second with 215 yards (15.4 per catch). The missing link right now is senior Marlon Moore (6-1, 190), another burner who emerged as a sophomore but has had disappointing production the past two years. Moore got off on the right foot with a 90-yard touchdown catch in the season opener, but has been quiet since. The biggest question is whether Fresno State’s receivers can get open this year? Last time against San Jose State, the Spartans’ secondary held the Bulldogs to just five catches for 71 yards in an ugly display of offenses.

The bright spot in an otherwise dim Spartans offense has been the return of senior Kevin Jurovich (6-0, 190), who was injured last season after being converted from safety. Jurovich picked up where he left off with a team-high 463 yards on the year – but no touchdowns. In 2007, Jurovich had eight receptions for 58 yards in a 30-0 loss at Fresno State. But he might be able to do more damage against the Bulldogs’ suspect secondary this time around. Junior Marquis Avery (6-4, 200) is a new threat to the Bulldogs with his size, and ranks second on the team with 224 yards and a Spartans-high three scores. After that, the Spartans’ running backs are the biggest threats in the passing game – they like to look for both Muldrow and Rutley (when he’s healthy). San Jose State just can’t compare with the Bulldogs’ depth at the position.

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
This unit has done more than any other on the Bulldogs to prove itself from the time fall camp began until now. It’s another spot – along with running back and receiver – where no one in the WAC can compare. The line has been playing so well that it’s easy to take the work for granted. As a team, the Bulldogs average 5.9 yards per carry. And any time you’re paving the way for the nation’s leading rusher and a freshman who ranks second in yards per carry – you’re doing something right. Fresno State’s allowed just five sacks in five games, and the depth was shown last week when senior Richard Pacheco (6-2, 285) stepped in for injured center Joey Bernardi (6-2, 280) and didn’t skip a beat. The team will be in good hands with either as the starter on Saturday.

San Jose State’s numbers aren’t so impressive. The Spartans’ backs average just 2.6 yards per carry – not strictly the line’s fault, but partly. The proof is in the pudding – which in this case is an embarrassing concoction of 15 sacks by San Jose State opponents. If the Bulldogs continue the trend, the Spartans offense will have little chance to keep up with Fresno State. Though the Spartans have great continuity dating back to 2007, when three freshmen started on the line, senior center Ronnie Castillo (6-0, 292) is the only real honors candidate. Castillo is a member of the Rimington Award watch list with 26 career starts under his belt.

Defensive Line
Edge: Spartans
The Mega Man nickname earned by junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) is looking more and more accurate each game. Carter has solidified himself among the WAC’s best ends while playing with a giant club cast on his hand since Week 2 at Wisconsin. All he’s done in that time is risen to the top of the conference with four sacks (though watching film of the Hawaii game he should seemingly have five). He’s also wreaked havoc with three hurries, a pass breakup, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. There simply aren’t any tackles fast enough to keep up with Carter’s motor – he had a team-high eight tackles against the Spartans last season. The problem is not one other linemen – heck, not one other defender – on the Bulldogs has a single sack. Sophomore end Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) showed an improved pass rush at Hawaii, and has two hurries, but still isn’t quite making plays. The same holds true for sophomore tackle Logan Harrell (6-2, 275), who occasionally breaks through the protection but doesn’t do it in time to finish.

Last year’s San Jose State squad boasted a line that was flatout deadly. But with Jarron Gilbert off to the NFL, the Spartans haven’t been quite as stingy. Still, senior end Carl Ihenacho (6-3, 256) poses a huge threat. Ihenacho is third on the team with 33 tackles – a nasty number for any lineman through five games. Comparatively, Carter leads Fresno State’s linemen with 11 tackles. Ihenacho also has team-highs with two sacks, three tackles for losses and three fumble recoveries. Senior tackle Adonis Davis (6-2, 295) is the other experienced veteran and has a sack and two tackles for losses. Ihenacho had three tackles for losses against Fresno State last season, but Davis recorded just a single tackle.

Edge: Bulldogs
Junior Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) showed had his most impressive pass coverage outing of his career at Hawaii, dropping back often and even picking off a pass. Jacobs leads Fresno State with 34 tackles (two for losses). Junior Nico Herron (6-3, 240) should have had his second interception of the season but dropped it late in the game. He got off to a hot start but has been inconsistent since. Everyone’s still awaiting a breakout game by sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215), who shows flashes of being a more vicious hitter and fast-paced aggressor than any of his teammates, but the dependability hasn’t fully clicked yet. Knox and Jacobs each had seven tackles at San Jose State last year.

San Jose State goes with a two-linebacker set, and starts two seniors in Travis Jones (6-1, 230) and Justin Cole (6-3, 240). Both had big games against the Bulldogs last season, with eight and six tackles respectively. Cole assisted on a tackle for loss and had a fumble recovery. Junior reserve Pompey Festejo (6-0, 215) leads the corps and is tied for fourth on the team with 28 tackles.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Spartans
Last week was big for junior corner Desia Dunn (5-9, 190), who earned WAC defensive player of the week honors after recording 10 tackles, two pass breakups and forcing a fumble at Hawaii – a special performance by a former walk-on who displayed blanket coverage against one of the WAC’s best passing teams after getting beat by some of the best receivers on the Bulldogs’ schedule in previous games. Just as notable as Dunn’s performance was senior strong safety Moses Harris (5-11, 205) with his interception in the end zone that flip-flopped a Hawaii drive in the first quarter. It was Harris’ second career pick, and remains one of only three this year for the Bulldogs. If Fresno State can force some turnovers for a second straight game it’ll be time to start getting excited.

Those freakishly good Spartans corners of recent years (most notably Dwight Lowery and Christopher Owens) are finally gone. But junior safety Duke Ihenacho (6-1, 210), brother of Carl, remains. This half of the Inhenacho brothers is second on the team with 37 tackles and has a Spartans-high five breakups, as well as a pick. The surprise has been the emergence of sophomore safety Tanner Burns (6-1, 185), son of defensive coordinator Keith Burns, who had Pat Hill fired up with his sideline antics in last year’s meeting. Burns leads the Spartans with 47 tackles and is tied with sophomore corner Peyton Thompson (5-11, 180) for a team-high two interceptions. Burns has also forced four fumbles.

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
The Bulldogs got a little moxie back at Hawaii, when offensive guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295) blocked a field goal on the opening drive and Jacobs returned it inside the 10-yard line. Then, out of the Bulldogs’ new shield punt protection, sophomore long snapper Bobby Shepard (6-2, 235) ran downfield and recovered a fumble on a botched catch by the return man. Now if Fresno State could just get its own return men going as they usually do. Senior corner A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) was an All-America candidate who led the nation in kick returns his sophomore year. But he’s averaging just 23.7 yards on 12 tries this season, with a long of 34 – nowhere near the Jefferson fans have grown accustomed to.

The Spartans have been even less impressive in the return game. After Rutley led freshmen in returns last year, he averages just 19.6 yards, and Jurovich just 3.2 yards on punt returns. Senior punter Philip Zavala (6-1, 200) has gotten an insane amount of work with 36 punts this year for a 42.6 yard average. Comparatively, Fresno State’s senior punter Robert Malone (6-2, 225) has punted just 14 times for a 45.9-yard average. Spartans sophomore kicker Tyler Cope (6-1, 180) is 3 of 4 on field goals with a long of 41.

Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State’s Pat Hill was an assistant under San Jose State’s Dick Tomey when Tomey was excelling as the leader of Arizona in its glory days. There’s a great respect between the two coaches, but there’s no denying Hill’s been more successful in their current roles – despite what these skewed San Jose State stats from a recent news release claim. Fresno State has won 14 of the past 15 games against hated rival San Jose State in the past two decades, though the one Spartans win came under Tomey in 2006 – in a season the Bulldogs recorded their worst record (4-8) since joining Division I-A. But Tomey is just 1-3 against the Bulldogs since taking the helm.
Edge: Bulldogs
Dating back to the Spartans’ dominant days of the late 1980s, Fresno State still owns an 11-2 all-time record against San Jose State at Bulldog Stadium. Under Hill, the ‘Dogs are 6-0 at home against the Spartans, averaging 40.5 points and a 28-poin margin of victory. This rivalry is historically as fierce as any in the programs’ history but has lost some of its fervor in the past decade.
***Photo courtesy of Juan Villa.

Monday, October 12, 2009

'Dogs earn "Golden Screwdriver"

Funny stuff emerging on the blogosphere today thanks to Guy Haberman at 1430 ESPN Radio.

Though the idea of Fresno State and hawaii playing annually for the "Golden Screwdriver" has been a hilarious concept since early this decade when former Rainbows coach June Jones claimed a screwdriver was thrown from the Bulldog Stadium stands, who knew a Golden Screwdriver trophy actually existed!?

Well now we have proof in the photos. Do you think this trophy should become tradition between the two rival programs? Should Haberman give it to Hill and the 'Dogs to display in their trophy case, or to at least use as a demo for what a fancier model should look like?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grading the 'Dogs (2-3, 1-1) @ Hawaii (2-3, 0-2)

FRESNO STATE 42, Hawaii 17

Quarterbacks: B+
Ryan Colburn did everything he needed to for Fresno State to stick to its game plan and win big. And while I don't know what the heck his 204.86 passer efficiency rating means, I know it's a darn high rating. Colburn threw 2 TDs, no interceptions (a first this year) and completed 12 of 14 passes. Throwing for 120 yards isn't going to impress anyone, but there was no need for him to throw any more than he did. He methodically picked apart Hawaii's defense going from sideline to sideline to open the middle of the field for the run -- game management at its finest.

Running Backs: A-
Goodness gracious these guys are just unstoppable as WAC standards go. There's no one left on Fresno State's schedule to give any reason to believe Mathews won't top 100 yards every game this season. He went for 149 yards (6.2 per carry) on Saturday, edging his No. 2 in the nation season average of 148 per game. And true freshman Robbie Rouse has a chance to run wild on the rest of the WAC. Rouse had 2 TDs on 73 yards (12.2 per carry), including a career/season-best 34-yarder where he looked faster than every Hawaii defender. Lonyae Miller started and scored the team's first TD (though he later lost a fumble). And Reynard Camp's big-time blocking efforts at fullback did not go ignored.

Receivers: B+
Stats weren't flashy with Seyi Ajirotutu's 48 yards leading the way, but wideouts did a lot with the routes that were called. Highlight was Devon Wylie's 17-yard TD where he embarrassed Hawaii's defensive back with a nifty outside-in juke at near full-speed. And Chastin West's 17-yard TD grab in the front corner of the end zone just before half in double coverage ranked right up there (especially considering that a white truck appeared to back into West on the sideline as he ran through the end zone and out of bounds).

Offensive Line: A
Just can't applaud this unit enough right now. With Joey Bernardi battling injury, Richard Pacheco stepped in and played well enough for no one to notice Bernardi's absence (which is a compliment because Bernardi is a darn good player). Leslie Cooper also got early action and was the lead blocker on Miller's early TD run. Nice to see Matt Hunt get some reps as well. Overall, the unit helped the backfield earn 5.9 yards per carry as a team and gave up 1 sack. This group has the potential for greatness, considering none of the regular starters are seniors.

Defensive Line: C+
Credit the d-line for not giving up any big runs to the opposing QB, but for cryin' out loud would somebody please step up and help Chris Carter with some pressure? Carter literally abuses his opponent with speed and agility nearly every down, but pressure from the tackle spots is almost nonexistent (save for the occasional Logan Harrell spin move) and Kenny Borg hasn't produced as we expected after seeing him play so well in fall camp. Redshirt freshman Matt Akers saw his most extensive time (as Pat Hill loves putting speed rushers against Hawaii's overmatched offensive tackles) and showed some positives but also was pushed easily off the ball on one first down run. Carter got his WAC-high fourth sack (though we could have sworn he should have been credited with 2 Saturday night). P.S. Carter was held at least 10 times in the game without getting calls.

Linebackers: B-
The Bulldogs again stuck with mostly three-linebacker sets while defending a spread-type passing offense, but luckily it didn't hurt this time because of Hawaii's inaccurate passer (which is odd because coming into the game we all heard accuracy was his strength -- obviously not). Ben Jacobs picked off a pass, and Nico Herron nearly got one, while Kyle Knox forced a fumble. Those are the types of game-changing plays the Bulldogs need from this unit. But it also must take partial blame for Hawaii's early success in the running game (despite having one of the worst rushing attacks nationally).

Defensive Backs: B-
Desia Dunn really played up at corner, leading the team with 10 tackles and a forced fumble, and Moses Harris intercepted a pass in the end zone -- something Fresno State should expect from its safeties but rarely gets. It was Harri's second-career pick, but most impressive was the footwork he used to put himself in position and play for the turnover instead of fixating on the opposing receiver. Redshirt freshman Phillip Thomas saw his most extensive playing time, as did sophomore Isaiah Green. Thomas was second on the team with 8 tackles (1 for loss), but was caught out of position at times in the running game. Zak Hill gave up a touchdown on a missed tackle for the second straight game, and then missed another tackle the same way just minutes later. His play recently is a liability for the Bulldogs defense.

Special Teams: B
Just when the Bulldogs put the "special" back in special teams after blocking a field goal attempt on Hawaii's first possession (which Jacobs returned nearly 60 yards to set up a TD) and a fumble recovery by long snapper Bobby Shepard after he ran down in coverage in the Bulldogs' new shield punt formation, a mistake scarred the elation. Hawaii recovered an onside kick with more than 7 minutes to go when the Bulldogs weren't in onside formation and the ball bounced away from Vince Pascoe.

Coaching: A-
Coaching staff continues to impress with game plans put in place this season. Pass was designed to keep Hawaii's defense away from the middle of the field, opening big space for Mathews and Rouse to attack. Refreshing to see special teams coach John Baxter break the stubborness that has killed the Bulldogs in coverage and test new schemes. Still confused, though, why West is returning kicks/punts instead of Rouse, Wylie or Marlon Moore? Also refreshing to see Thomas and Green get more time. Great to see Derek Carr get some playing time, but coaches need to let him rip downfield instead of keeping his pass package conservative (there's no need to keep his arm under wraps like that, he's ready).
***Photo courtesy of Juan Villa

Sunday Hangover - 'Dogs win 42-17 on the island

**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.

(Update: a fourth comment has entered the mix) Some of us deal with the hangovers better than others, so for now, here are some initial reactions running through our heads:

"After such close and competitive games against top 10 teams, I wanted to believe that the 'Dogs were close to that level too, as the scores vs those teams would suggest. With our talent, we need and should get blowout wins in this conference and after a solid beat-down of hawaii, I'm pleased. More work to be done, but this was a nice step."

"IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME!!!! Thank God for Bakersfield!!!"

"Great win for the 'Dogs on the island. I'm excited to see them against the rest of the WAC."

"Whew! That felt good. I'm not fond of hawaii dating back to Anthony Carter trying to pick fights with Chris Herren on the bball court and Ashley Lelie getting away with offensive interference in '01. Poor pass rush from everyone not named Carter and poor tackling by Zak Hill is still a major concern."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Surfing through some hawaiian sound bytes

Came across some quotes from hawaii coach Greg McMackin and a couple of his players after meeting with hawaii media members on Thursday. My reactions are in red. Anyone else have thoughts?

Oh, and a quick weather report (kind of) for those interested.

It's gonna be a one-on-one street fight. It's gonna be line it up, that's your man, that's my man and here we go. It's a one-on-one gameplan and they've got the best running back in the country but we are working very hard at that. --Greg McMackin, hawaii head coach
Can't argue with anything he said there, except for the fact that it won't technically be on a street, but rather a rock-hard greenish shade of turf with large amounts of trash in the form of silver hot dog wrappers, unused napkins and empty cans of spam blowing around all over the field.

Hard-nosed football -- they can hit. They're just gonna bring it, you know? If you don't step up to the plate, you're gonna get runned over. --Blaze
Soares, hawaii linebacker
First quote is the honest truth from him, which is usually how a hawaii player begins before he enters himself into sunshine, lollipops and rainbow land and drops a runned on us.

Let us continue our journey with the Blaze-meister.

I know we're ready. A lot of our guys like to hit, actually I think all of our guys like to hit.It's not gonna happen again. I put everything on it. That wasn't hawaii football, that was like Pop Warner football that we played [against louisiana tech]. We're a much better team. [Mathews is] a great athlete, but we're gonna play our best and he better play his best if he wants to ... we're gonna make him earn every
yard that he gets. That's something that we're gonna do.
Ready or not, hawaii at home is a different team, so we'll assume they're ready by default. And that was a nice piece of backtracking there by the American Gladiator wanna be (start watching at 1:07). If he wants to what Blaze? It's too late for you, I already sent Ryan the quote.

We just gotta do a much better job of filling those holes and just staying gap sound.
Thanks for the insight.

I don't see Fresno State even coming out and passing the ball, you know. I feel like they're just gonna try and play hard-nosed football and just pound that ball down our throats and we just gotta be ready for it. We're gonna bring it cause I'm not gonna let that ever happen again. I'm never gonna be embarrassed again like how we were embarrassed this past week.
At this point, I can't help but wonder why only now, after several horrific outings by the hawaii defense, did Blaze now decide he's capable of single-handedly preventing another meltdown? What's in those hawaiian lollipops? That being said, as much as I want to continue to trash talk this guy, Fresno State's history on the island only let's me get away with so much. It's been fun Blaze.

You know us local boys, you gotta throw your hands up and make a statement.
We're going for that one knockout punch, you know, make a big play in the
beginning and sit 'em down and let 'em never come back up. --Rocky
Oh you local boys, always making statements with your hands up in the air. Not my thing, but hey, I'm not one to judge. By the way, Rocky obviously isn't familiar with the phrase "No 'Dogs Down." Let's just hope it holds true for this game as well.

WAC rundown Week 6

Louisiana Tech (2-2, 1-0) @ Nevada (1-3, 0-1)
Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN

Last week: Louisiana Tech 27, Hawaii 6 / Nevada 63, UNLV 28
Where the heck did that 700-plus yards of Wolf Pack offense come from? UNLV had it close at the half, before Nevada just embarrassed 'em. But La Tech did some embarrassing of its own, holding Hawaii touchdown-less on national TV. On the road, against a now-confident Nevada team, La Tech won't be able to duplicate such a defensive effort.
Prediction: Nevada

Idaho (4-1, 1-0) @ San Jose State (1-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN 360
Last week: New Mexico State 20, New Mexico 17 / San Jose State bye

Are you kiddin' me Vandals? This is starting to get ridiculous, and as hot as they are, there's no reason to think the dreadful-looking Spartans can stop them. San Jose State has been solid at home under Dick Tomey, but struggled to beat Cal Poly two weeks ago. Idaho comes up big again against the Spartans' sad state of offense and will be one win from bowl eligibility -- unreal.
Prediction: Idaho

Utah State (1-3) @ New Mexico State (2-3, 0-1)
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN 360
Last week: BYU 35, Utah State 17 / San Diego State 34, New Mexico State 17

New Mexico State is real, real bad. Period. Utah State is much, much better. But the blueish/slight purple tinted Aggies of Logan have played tough competition with losses to Texas A&M, Utah and BYU. Utah State wins big this week.
Prediction: Utah State

Fresno State (1-3, 0-1) @ Hawaii (2-2, 0-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m., Bulldog Sports Network/ESPNU
Last week: Fresno State bye / Louisiana Tech 27, Hawaii 6

Pat Hill's Bulldogs have struggled mightily on the island, winning just one of six attemps under the fu manchu. It's just flat tough to justify picking against Fresno State this season with the talent differential, experience and depth.
Prediction: Fresno State

No. 6 Boise State (5-0, 1-0)
Last week: Boise State 34, UC Davis 16

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Preview: Fresno State (1-3, 0-1) @ Hawaii (2-2, 0-1)

Fresno State

Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State’s Ryan Colburn (6-3, 220) continues to make mistakes at the most inopportune times – granted any interception thrown in a close loss is going to look like a glaring mistake. But Fresno State now has three close losses – at No. 25 Wisconsin, to No. 6 Boise State and at No. 8 Cincinnati. Against Cincinnati two weeks ago, the Bulldogs were at the 5-yard line about to take a fourth-quarter lead when Colburn threw a pass seemingly directed to a Cincinnati linebacker instead of the wide-open fullback. He was also picked off in the end zone in double overtime at Wisconsin, and started the Boise State game by throwing a pick-six. But it hasn’t been all bad for the junior in his first year as starter. Colburn has proved to be a much more potent passing threat than Tom Brandstater was the previous three years, especially with consistency on the deep ball. On the year, he’s completed 56.4% for 790 yards, 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The yards are a positive, considering he played about half of the opening blowout over UC Davis and the Bulldogs ran the ball most of the day at Cincinnati. But the touchdown-interception ratio is not going to cut it – after four games there were just four quarterbacks in the nation with more picks than Colburn – and the completion percentage needs to bump above 60%. Coach Pat Hill is sticking with Colburn as the leader of the nation’s seventh most prolific offense in yards per game. Expect to see redshirt freshman Ebahn Feathers (6-0, 210) in at least one series on Saturday to keep Hawaii off balance, but true freshman Derek Carr (6-3, 190) won’t play unless it’s a blowout or Hill’s ready to make a switch from Colburn.

The quarterback competition would have been more interesting before Hawaii’s 27-6 loss this past Wednesday at Louisiana Tech, when starter Greg Alexander’s impressive senior season came to an end. Alexander was flushed out of the pocket scrambling, and upon getting lit up by a La Tech defender, hurt his knee. Going in to that game, Alexander led the nation in passing efficiency. His replacement will be former Fresno City College quarterback sophomore Bryant Moniz (6-0, 190). Moniz offers more speed at the position, though Alexander led the Warriors with 103 yards rushing on the year. Against La Tech, Moniz came on in relief, completing 5 of 11 passes for 109yards. Though sophomore Shane Austin (6-0, 200) is listed as the backup, senior Inoke Funaki (5-11, 205), who was converted to running back before the season, starter under center in a 32-29 overtime win at Fresno State last season. In that game, Funaki passed for 170 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 14 times for 79 yards. Fresno State would be wise to prepare in case Hawaii coach Greg McMackin gets any ideas.

Running Backs
Edge: Bulldogs
Fresno State presents an onslaught of backfield talent led by junior Ryan Mathews (5-11, 220), who ranks third in the nation with 592 yards rushing (with one less game played than the nation’s leader after last week’s bye). Mathews averages 6.8 yards per carry (No. 2 in the nation) and has a team-high five touchdowns. Being that Bulldogs seniors Lonyae Miller (5-11, 220) and Anthony Harding (6-0, 220) harassed Hawaii last season for 161 and 157 yards respectively, the Warriors better also have those two on their radar. But Mathews has never before played against Hawaii, being sidelined with injuries the last two times the two rivals met. Miller had two touchdowns in last year’s match-up, including an 80-yarder. On the season, Miller has 137 yards, 24 yards less than he rushed for in one game against Hawaii last season, and Harding has just 12 yards. The two backs have seen decreased roles with Mathews’ health. If containing those three isn’t enough of a head-banger for the Warriors, they’ll also be introduced to true freshman Robbie Rouse (5-7, 185), who is second on the team with 224 yards on 8 yards per carry. Rouse brings elusiveness that rivals former Bulldog Clifton Smith, but with more speed.

Containing Hawaii’s rushing attack (if it can be called an attack) is the least of Fresno State’s worries. The Warriors had just one player with more than 100 yards, and it was Alexander, their quarterback who is out for the season with injury. Their leading running back is junior Alex Green (6-2, 220), who has 20 carries for 93 yards (4.7 per carry) and two touchdowns. Senior starter Leon Wright-Jackson (6-1, 215) has 12 carries for 46 yards (3.8 average) and one score. Hawaii will likely take advantage of Fresno State’s defense keying on the pass for a few substantial runs, but it shouldn’t make a big difference.

Edge: Even
The Bulldogs are coming off their least impressive aerial performance of the season, but still managed to produce the emergence of highly-touted sophomore Jamel Hamler (6-2, 205). Hamler led the team with 57 yards on four catches, including a 22-yard touchdown where he located the hole in Cincinnati’s coverage and sat in it. Senior H-back/tight end Isaac Kinter also had four catches and added 27 yards in his first significant offensive output of the year. But the Bulldogs would prefer to let the tight ends block and go to the big-play receivers more often this season. Senior speedster Marlon Moore (6-1, 190) has essentially disappeared from the stat sheet the past two games (though he left the Boise State game early with injury). Senior Seyi Ajirotutu (6-4, 210) leads the team with 13 catches for 183 yards and two scores, while junior burner Devon Wylie (5-9, 170) has a team-high 188 yards on 11 grabs for two scores. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the big-play emergence of senior Chastin West (6-1, 215), who has seven catches for 120 yards. West has shown the ability to battle for tough, acrobatic catches in traffic – a recent addition to his repertoire which was previously defined as a possession receiver.

Hawaii put up its typically obscene passing numbers with Alexander at the helm in the run-and-shoot, but it remains to be seen whether that will change with Moniz. Junior Greg Salas (6-2, 200) emerged a year later than predicted to lead the Warriors (and the country) with 601 yards and four touchdowns on 26 catches (a whopping 23.1 yards per catch), and junior Rodney Bradley (6-0, 190) has 423 yards and four scores on 22 receptions (19.2 average), including a 73-yarder. The possession guy is definitely junior Kealoha Pilares (5-11, 200), a converted running back who’s racked up 35 catches for 317 yards and a touchdown. Pilares hurt the Bulldogs last season with 7.2 yards per carry, but got just eight rushing attempts. Hawaii has completed passes to just seven players this season, and just six receivers. While Fresno State’s wideouts are deeper and more talented, Hawaii’s offense runs through its receivers allowing for more gaudy numbers.

Offensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
Mathews redirects much of the credit for his rushing success to the guys in the trenches, which have played beyond expectations early on for Fresno State. Junior center Joey Bernardi (6-2, 280), the tiny one of the group, played through the second half at Cincinnati with an injury but used the bye week to recover and is expected to play Saturday. He’s off to an All-WAC-caliber start, as is junior right guard Andrew Jackson (6-5, 295), who might be the WAC’s best NFL prospect not named Mathews. The Bulldogs have allowed just four sacks on the year.

Hawaii, on the other hand, allowed seven sacks – in its last game at La Tech. The Warriors have given up 14 on the season. With a quarterback entering his first major college start, it’ll be disastrous if his line doesn’t offer better protection than it did last week. The Warriors will have to defend against the WAC’s speediest defensive end, though overall the Bulldogs’ pass rush has been lackluster.

Defensive Line
Edge: Bulldogs
If Fresno State gets anywhere near the type of pass rush La Tech did against Hawaii, these Bulldogs will win big. But that’s a substantial “if,” considering junior end Chris Carter (6-2, 230) is the only member of the unit with a sack this season – he has a WAC-high three (four tackles for losses). The interior linemen have provided very little pressure on the opposing quarterback. Junior Chris Lewis (6-3, 260) and sophomore Logan Harrell (6-2, 275) have shown flashes, but aren’t doing anything consistently. Redshirt sophomore end Kenny Borg (6-3, 245) offers speed opposite Carter, but has had little impact so far with just six tackles and 0.5 tackles for losses. The Bulldogs will need to produce havoc with their front four, or risk the rest of the defense being nickel-and-dimed in the intermediate passing game.

Only two Hawaii defenders had started a game before this season – one of them being sophomore tackle Vaughn Meatoga (6-2, 290). But the most dangerous of the group might be senior Tuika Tufaga (6-2, 285), who is second on the team with 3.5 tackles for losses and a sack. He recoverd one of three fumbles in last year’s win at Fresno State. The unit has combined for three sacks on the year, and will not only face the best offensive line it has seen this season – but also the best group of running backs and receivers.

Edge: Even
It’s still a head-scratcher that Fresno State used three-linebacker sets so often against Cincinnati’s spread attack. And now the Bulldogs face a similar passing challenge from Hawaii. Junior linebacker Ben Jacobs (6-3, 225) leads the team with 31tackles (two for losses) but hasn’t yet shown that he can dominate from his position. The casual fan doesn’t yet turn on the TV and say, “Wow, that No. 54 is a force.” And that’s what the Bulldogs need from Jacobs. Junior strong side Nico Herron (6-3, 240) came close to getting his second pick of the season at Cincinnati, but couldn’t jump the passing lane quick enough. With his size, Fresno State should be getting more bone-crunching hits, but something is lacking. Sophomore Kyle Knox (6-1, 215) is the most athletic and explosive of the starting trio, but isn’t consistently wreaking havoc – something the Bulldogs should expect from starters.

The stud of Hawaii’s defense is first-year starting sophomore Corey Paredes (5-11, 230), whose fourth on the team with 28 tackles but has a Warrior-best three sacks (four tackles for losses) and three forced fumbles. Senior Blaze Soares (6-1, 245) leads Hawaii with 37 tackles, and senior R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane (5-11, 225) is the only linebacker with starting experience before this season. Kiesel-Kauhane also had a fumble recovery against Fresno State last year. The group is capable of flying to the football, but will have to make sure tackles to have any hoping of slowing Mathews’ rushing attack.

Defensive Backs
Edge: Warriors
Fresno State’s secondary success could hinge on whether junior free safety Lorne Bell (5-10, 200) returns from an injury sustained at Wisconsin, as expected. Bell missed the past two games and had a bye week to recover, after being slowed much of the past two years with a different injury. But he came out this season as the defense’s heart and soul and most fearsome hitter. In Bell’s absence, senior Marvin Haynes (6-1, 205) was disappointing and sophomore Zak Hill (6-2, 200) looked ill-suited for the responsibility, missing a tackle on Cincinnati’s tight end that resulted in a touchdown, and being caught out of position twice on big plays by Boise State. It might also be time to start grooming the youth at corner, including sophomore Isaiah Green (5-10, 180), who has seen mostly special teams action so far. With no interceptions recorded by the entire secondary yet this season, it’s tough not to wonder if it’s a personnel issue. It’s either that or a scheming problem with the coaches. Either way, it needs to be fixed – soon.

Facing a Fresno State quarterback who’s been prone to throwing inopportune interceptions, Hawaii boasts junior free safety Mana Silva (6-1, 220) who ranks sixth in the nation with three interceptions. Junior strong safety Spencer Smith (5-11, 205), who Hawaii lists at the SAM position, is second on the team with 32 tackles, and has a team-high five pass breakups. Hawaii’s corners will face a stiff challenge from Fresno State’s bigger receivers – the tallest Warrior corner is junior reserve Lametrius Davis (6-0, 190). Junior starters Tank Hopkins (5-9, 165) and Jeramy Bryant (5-10, 180) will be well undersized if matched against Ajirotutu (6-4), Hamler (6-2) and Moore (6-1).

Special Teams
Edge: Bulldogs
The kicking game and coverage units were much improved at Cincinnati, with redshirt freshman kickoff specialist Andrew Shapiro (6-1, 180) accounting for two touchbacks, something sophomore Kevin Goessling (6-0, 190) hasn’t done consistently in his career. In last season’s loss to Hawaii, Goessling missed a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation and missed another in overtime. He’ll need to get rid of the demons on Saturday. Kick returner A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190), the NCAA’s active leader, finally came close to breaking one at Cincinnati but was stopped by the kicker after a 34-yard return. He’s averaging a disappointing 23.7 yards per return.

Sophomore receiver Royce Pollard (6-0, 175) averages 25.4 yards per kick return for Hawaii, who had to find a replacement at kicker for standout Dan Kelly. Junior Scott Enos (5-9, 180) is off to a good start, connecting on 6 of 7 attempts with a long of 47 yards. There are questions at punter though, with freshman Alex Dunnachie (6-3, 235) averaging just 34.8 yards, about 12 yards less than Fresno State senior Robert Malone (6-2, 225)

Edge: Bulldogs
Though Fresno State coach Pat Hill has won just once (in 2005) on the island in six tries at the helm, he’s much more proven than Hawaii’s second-year coach Greg McMackin, who led a subpar Warriors squad to a Hawaii Bowl appearance last season (losing to Notre Dame). Hill’s highly ranked 2001 team lost at Hawaii on a last-second touchdown catch by Ashley Lelie (who wasn’t called for an obvious pass interference in the end zone).

Edge: Warriors
The Hawaiian islands are an eye-opener of scenery for anyone who’s never been before, and it’s easy to get distracted – part of the reason the Warriors are always tough to beat at Aloha Stadium. Hawaii fans are rabid and sometimes as maniacal as the players doing their pre-game dance routine (no dance comments please McMackin). But Fresno State has an obvious talent edge and should win as long as Mathews and company aren’t tripped up by the trash constantly blowing across the Aloha Stadium field. There’s always extra intensity when these two rivals meet up, but might be a little extra distaste from Hawaii fans who remember Fresno State’s Marcus Riley delivering a slobber-knocking hit to their beloved Colt Brennan two years ago (we’ll post video for old time’s sake).