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).


  1. worst. preview. ever.

  2. OK, I normally don't comment, but I've finally seen enough comments of ridiculousness. How is this the worst preview ever. Are you a hawaii fan? Even then, why be so disrespectful? I read a lot of sports blogs out there, and as a Fresno State fan, read this blog as often as any. As far as a commenting fan base goes, this has to be among the worst. People for some reason just don't appreciate the fact that we even have another outlet, and a good one in my opinion, to get more Fresno State perspectives.

    I've been reading this blog since the beginning and have appreciated the different angles they throw out there, and the different styles each one writes with is appreciated. Sometimes I've found myself laughing out loud, and other times I've just enjoyed some really thought out pieces that have been provided. On top of that, if you actually read many of the things they write, it's obvious that a lot of the time they share insight from people either close to or actually a part of the programs. That doesn't go unnoticed by me. When you think about it that way, it's unfortunate more people don't get involved on here. I've discovered many other articles, videos, opposing team news, etc. thanks to what they've posted.

    As for this particular preview, first off, remember it's a blog with opinions. There are hardly predictions as to how the game will play out and to be honest, the logic behind what's said makes great sense every time. Also remember that their preview compares the advantages a unit has. It's more of a personnel assessment. Keep that in mind.

    Look around at the blog communities for other schools and notice the interaction. For some reason, a lot of people try to find ways to prove them wrong in some manner or something, and end up putting words in their mouth. I have seen some comments thanking them for their effort and a job well done, but I still think this is one of the best kept secrets about Fresno State sports.

    For example, I went back to some of their fall camp rundowns, which proved to be more detailed and enjoyable than anything else I read. If you remember, they were high on the prospects of people like Robbie Rouse and Jamel Hamler, both of whom have since made a lot of noise. Then they said that Mathews was on another level this year, which he is. They also made observations about the qbs, and pointed out that Ryan Colburn threw interceptions on almost a daily basis, while Carr threw only one the entire camp. They also maintained that despite this Colburn would get the job and they would support him, and they have. Of course they can't be right on everything, but there was obviously some educated opinions going on there.

    I don't mean to sound like the blog groupie, but I think too many people overlook these points. Some people have been hypocritical and contradictory to them, when they want to see the same things we do. With attitudes like that, it's no wonder Pat Hill can't get the job done. Show some support.

    I for one will keep reading and hope that more people jump aboard. Bulldogs fans are missing out.

  3. whoa, settle down beavis. he was just saying this preview was a little bit douchey.


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