Saturday, October 17, 2009

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.