Monday, November 22, 2010

Idaho "playing for everything"

idaho men's football coach Robb Akey is hyped. And he's gearing his team up to play with its collective hair on fire Saturday at Bulldog Stadium. His vandals are 5-6 with two games remaining, meaning they have to win out to become bowl eligible at 7-6(their final game is home against perennial doormat san jose state).

“Hey, we’re playing for everything right now,” Akey said, in this write-up, “a lot more than they’re playing for.”

Umm, excuse me Robb with two b's -- Fresno State is playing for a ton. A seventh win guarantees the 'Dogs a bowl bid and a winning record in the WAC.

Anyway, let's get to the point. It's always fun to listen to manly man Robb Akey talk in his deep, gravelly voice. And ever since he was hired at idaho a few years ago I've been trying to place why he sounds so dang familiar. Nothing a little YouTube search can't solve (is there such a thing as a voice doppelganger?):

Fresno State's Got Talent

The strangest thing happened today. During the Pat Hill Show on KMJ 580 (which should be uploaded to podcast by tomorrow), Hill said boise state is more talented than Fresno State. Just about the time I realized what he'd said, and concluded that I must have misheard, he alluded to it again. And from the sound of things, he didn't think it was very close.

In the past, that's never been the case. The Bulldogs have almost assuredly had more talent than the Broncos 8 of the past 10 years. And with what seems like a loaded Bulldogs roster this season, it was someone surprising to hear Hill talk as if the talent difference is an issue.

But let's look deeper. And yes, this blog post required my visiting the official boise state athletics site to make sure I had the most up to date stats. I don't make a habit of visiting such sites, and am all for parents blocking said site from their children by any means necessary. So I quickly looked at the stats, cleared my browser history and ran to the bathroom to wash my hands -- twice.

So, is boise state really THAT much more talented than Fresno State right now...?

Obviously, and this is probably the most painful sports-related thing I've ever written, QB Kellen Moore is the best player in the country. He puts balls in his receivers' hands ever so gently, and right on the mark -- every time. No matter how tight the coverage (ask Isaiah Green) the ball is always catchable. Fresno State QB Ryan Colburn (a sixth-year senior counting the greyshirt year) struggled mightily on Friday night, completing just 6 of 23 passes for 76 yards with 2 interceptions. And, once again, looked miserable in blitz situations and delayed in decision-making. So that's one big edge for boise state.

But Fresno State's Robbie Rouse, 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game, is as good as anyone boise has and the wide receiving corps is ridiculously deep. The Bulldogs don't have anyone as dominant as Titus Young or Austin Pettis right now, but have an NFL-caliber target in Jamel Hamler and are far superior in depth at the position.

That brings us to the offensive line, which might be the answer. Fresno State is traditionally among the nation's leaders in sacks allowed, but this season has given up a whopping 25 sacks in 10 games. For a team that only passes 41% of its plays, and was projected as one of the nation's top lines in the preseason, that's insanely high. In comparison, boise state's line has given up 5 sacks on the season. Now, granted, part of that can be attributed to Moore make better, quicker decisions under pressure than Colburn does -- but part is also due to protection and picking up blitzes. boise state also averages 5.3 yards per carry, while Fresno State is at 4.3. Pat Hill use to preach that games are won and lost in the trenches, and he might still say that. If so, a lot of blame for Friday's 51-0 debacle lies here.

While boise state's defensive line is incredible, and leads the nation with 39 sacks, the Bulldogs also boast a very good defensive front (27 sacks). Chris Carter is perhaps as good any player on either line, and is tied for the WAC lead in sacks with teammate Logan Harrell (9 each). The difference is boise state has four dominant defensive linemen, while Fresno State has two, an above average DT Cornell Banks and an average Chris Lewis at the other DE spot (he was injured vs. boise).

Both teams have comparable linebackers, and Fresno State's Travis Brown is perhaps the best of any of them. Defensive backs are also comparable, with Phillip Thomas perhaps the best safety and Jermaine Thomas the best CB (although he missed the game with injury). That said, Will Venable is a force at whatever they call his hybrid position.

It'd be wonderful to hear Hill break down the talent difference by position (we won't hold our breath), but analyzing the rosters makes one wonder if he's really talking mostly about the QB position, with the offensive line a close second...?

Or is the real difference in how the two teams are coaching their talent...?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Returning the favor: Interview with a bronco (OBNUG)

How hard is it to like anything boise state? 10 out of 10 doctors say it's impossible. 

But the closest thing to an exception comes via OBNUG, the boise state-themed blog led by Kevan Lee (to which I explained our relationship in a previous blog). OBNUG produces a generous amount of boise state-related content, which is generally pretty entertaining until they get to talking Fresno State. Then the double standard kicks in. 

It has become OBNUG tradition to Q&A and blog bet opposing teams throughout the football season. We accepted the opportunity exchange opinions on our programs, but said no thanks on the blog bet (for which we have several reasons, none of which is fear of an opposing blog appearing here). 

Kevan posted my answers in his Interview with a Bulldog blog yesterday, so check that out. (We appreciate his compliment that we cover FS athletics from a smart fan's perspective.)

Today I share Kevan's answers to our set of questions. So take your preemptive does of Pepto Bismol and stomach the continued humility and thrown your way from the perspective of a boise state fan. 

The Q&A:

1. What is the perception of Fresno State athletics in boise? Perception of Fresno in general?

I don't think I would be understating myself in saying that Boise State fans do not think too highly of Fresno State football. I assume you meant football when you said athletics because, as a Bronco fan, I am not aware that any other sports exist.

For quite some time, we Bronco fans harped on the "overrated" Fresno State teams that always seemed to be ranked preseason Top 25 and favored to win the conference. Those days are gone, so I think the resentment has softened. Like I've seen you mention on your site, Fresno is not lacking talent, and Bronco fans are aware of that. So our new thing is ripping the Bulldogs for underperforming every year. And of course we can't stand Pat Hill. But I hear that neither can you.

Fresno in general gets a bad rap in Boise because of the Fresno fans. They come across as arrogant, rude, offensive, inconsiderate, and poor sports. And yes, I recognize the irony in a Boise State fan saying all those things (really though, Boise State fans come in all shapes and sizes and it just so happens that the poorly shaped and poorly sized ones make the most noise nowadays).

2. What things do you like and/or respect about Fresno State? Things you hate?

Things I like:

Recruiting and community involvement. I hear these are the only things keeping Pat Hill around, so he must be good at it. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like every year Fresno beats out USC for a high school player. Gotta respect that.
Old-school offense. I am a traditionalist, so I appreciate that Fresno hasn't completely abandoned a semi-traditional approach to offense. Yet.
Checkerboard end zones.

Things I hate:

The V on the helmets. I just don't get it. I mean, I know what it stands for, but I just don't get it.
Whining about Boise State. Seems like Fresno fans hate on our schedule, our players, our fans, our city, etc. It just gets tiring.
Fresno blowing games they should win. Sometimes it is incredibly enjoyable. Other times, it is infuriating.

3. What is the difference between Fresno State's and boise state's football programs right now?

I think the difference is in leadership. Coach Pete trumps Pat Hill a thousand times over with his management of the team, his football coaching, and his considerable god-like qualities. Boise State really hit the jackpot with Petersen. I don't think that the Bulldogs should fire Hill and go out and get a Petersen of their own because I don't think that other Petersens exist. But the Hill-Pete dynamic is going to keep the two programs apart as long as the two coaches stay at their respective schools. Now, that isn't to say that Fresno won't beat Boise ever over the next decade, but from a macro level, the two teams will remain quite different.

4. Flip-flop the successes and failures of Fresno and boise since 2001. What is a boise fan's evaluation of the broncos in the current state Fresno State is in?

If I read the question right, you want me to pretend that Boise State is Fresno State? OK. If I have to.

Fresno seems to have better inroads with nonconference scheduling, and I wouldn't mind that at all. Anyone, anywhere, anytime is really the only way that a non-BCS school can overcome its conference schedule.

Attendance seems about on par with Boise State's, although you do have us beat on stadium capacity. A 41,000-seat stadium in Boise would be sweet.

Fan support in Fresno appears, to an outsider, to be kind of depressing. You don't like your coach. You are tired of underwhelming seasons. It doesn't sound like much fun to be a Fresno fan.

Perhaps the biggest thing I wouldn't like is the athletic budget and state deficit. That would be very hard to work with.

Other than that, Fresno isn't in too bad of a place. You recruit good athletes, you play a decent schedule. The losing would get tiring, but if I get to bring Coach Pete with me, we could fix that.

5. From an opposing fan's perspective, what does Pat Hill appear to do well, and what does he appear to do poorly? If he was the boise coach, at what point, if at all, would he no longer be your coach (or would he still be), all things considered?

It's hard to tell what it would take to get a coach fired at Boise State these days. I can't remember the last one who got booted. Most seem to leave for better opportunities. I guess that the one area that would be taboo is losing fan interest. That's what happened to the men's basketball program and Greg Graham got the boot because of it. Of course, fan interest is tied to wins and losses and performing as expected, so I'd say that a decade worth of Pat Hill mediocrity would be enough to lose fans and get fired.

Like I said above, I believe Hill recruits well and has cultivated a strong tie to the community. I don't believe he coaches football well. In fact, he reminds me a little of Dan Hawkins in that regard. Hawkins was a great motivator and great recruiter, but he lacked a certain something on gameday. Fortunately for him (and for Hill), much of a college coach's job extends beyond gameday.

This next portion includes some of Kevan's questions posed to me, which subtle changes in the details for certain questions:

 6. Describe your team's season to date in 100 words or less. "Just turns me on" must be four of those words.

Hearing poll results just turns me on. Not! Boise State has done everything as expected this year - great QB play, stellar offense, dominating defense - but the overarching theme has always been the polls. It's too bad. This Bronco team may be the greatest in school history. Fans have learned (or are learning) to appreciate that and block out the rest.

7. If Fresno State could pick one player from your team to come play with them, who would it be? If you could pick one Fresno State player to go play for your team, who would it be? Explain.

I'd give Fresno Austin Pettis. Partly because I'm mad at him right now for dropping some balls, but mostly because he is an offense's best friend and someone who could keep drives alive by moving the chains and making solid catches. He's like a better version of Devon Wylie.

I'd take Ben Jacobs if I were Boise. The Broncos lost Byron Hout for the season and could use some depth at linebacker, especially a player of Jacobs' caliber.

8. Imagine for a moment that your team is ESPN's college football coverage. What part is Ron Franklin and what part is Pam Ward? (In other words, strengths and weaknesses.)

Ron Franklin: Defensive line. It is incredible.

Pam Ward: Personal foul penalties. We get a lot of them.

9. On a scale of boy bands, with O*Town being not at all and N*Sync being supremely, how confident are you that your team will win on Friday?

I have what you would call cautious optimism. Or cynical realism. Or tempered pessimism. I guess there's really no easy way to explain it. I have every belief that the Broncos will pull off the win on Friday night, considering how thoroughly they have beaten teams this year and how completely in control they were against Hawaii. In my opinion, Fresno is not as good as Hawaii. Now that doesn't mean that the Bulldogs won't play the Broncos closer than the Warriors, but it does mean I'd be shocked to see FS win outright.

Mark me down as a Backstreet Boys in confidence this week. But not the bad Backstreet Boys, the good ones. Like the "Backstreet's back" Backstreet Boys.

We thank Kevan for his contribution and for his continuous respect and support of our blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bulldogs arrive in boise, walk on water marked with yard lines in walkthrough

Fresno State has finally arrived to the land of better-than-you, where pinky fingers aren't allowed near the drinking glass and the manliest man is the one who thumbs his nose up first to pick up the tab.

However, Kevan over at OBNUG and myself have created sort of a weird "Bring it On" mutual respect sort of thing. Kevan just recently posted my answers from our recent Q&A exchange over on OBNUG, with his answers to our questions to follow shortly here on our blog.

In the meantime, Kevan and the guys over at OBNUG have been talking 'Dogs/broncos all week and the rimshots are working overtime in the comment section to try and keep up.

Check back soon for Fresno State vs boise state related updates, but for now, feel free to praise my connections to the underground. Exclusively for Bulldog Bounce readers, a portrait of a young Kellen Moore. Amazing what a simple set of donkey ears can achieve.

Kellen Moore as "Donkey" from Shrek
Halloween 2001

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keys to beating nevada down

Let's talk keys to the game. And understand, Saturday is a big, big game. The type of game the lowly nevada program is not used to. The type of game the drunken morons sitting behind the end zone cheering for the wolf pack in last year's debacle won't be able to comprehend.

No. 21 nevada, in its highest ranking since the 1940s, visits Bulldog Stadium. Last year with Colin Kaepernick at QB. Coming off two straight wins over Fresno State for the first time (ever?) and last year's beatdown when Ryan Mathews was lost to injury.

Comment and let us know what you think the keys are? Here's how we break it down:

Will Ault be 'Colin' passing plays?
A somewhat overlooked stat from the past two meetings between these teams is Kaepernick's lack of passing prowess. He's 13 for 29 with 173 yards. Numbers like that remove the cape from Kaep and make it a wonder how he could be a legit Heisman candidate. If Fresno State makes nevada pass, the 'Dogs win the ballgame.

Can Fresno State make nevada pass?
The answer the past two years has been overwhelmingly no. But make no mistake, this year's Bulldog defense is a far cry from the last two years' (and they made us cry a lot those two years). DE Chris Carter and DT Logan Harrell are both among the top six sack leaders in the country. That bodes well if nevada is forced to pass, but can it be forced? Perhaps. Travis Brown is a huge upgrade at LB, Phillip Thomas is one of the WAC's best players at S. The Bulldogs have playmakers throughout the defense now. But S Lorne Bell, who doesn't have top end speed, will have to be near flawless in his assignment discipline to prevent the giant runs nevada rode to victory last year. It helps that the Bulldogs' defense has played so many running QBs (cincinnati, utah state, ole miss, cal poly) but the one opponent that ran nevada-esque plays was ole miss -- and the 'Dogs got burned multiple times on big runs, including a read option up the middle for a huge gain. Another X-factor on defense would have been CB Jermaine Thomas, but the 'Dogs could be without him for the rest of the year after he was injured on the final play at louisiana tech.

Can 'Dogs replace J.T.?
Jermaine Thomas is really, really good. Most in the local media don't realize how good. Maybe no one in the local media does. Thomas is the best CB the team has had in years, and is not only lockdown capable in pass coverage, but has helped in the run-stopping game, namely against cincinnati. Think about it -- how many times have you seen Thomas while watching TV this year? It's rare -- because opposing QBs don't even throw to his side of the field. He usually goes unnoticed with his side of the field locked down (save for the TD he gave up to that ole miss receiver who was like 8-foot-6). Replacing Thomas in the lineup on Saturday will be either Isaiah Green or L.J. Jones. Green has lots of experience, and is one of the team's fastest players. But as recently as the san jose state game, he got burned for a big play TD pass. Can't have that this week. The good news on Green is he's a very sure open field tackler, something the 'Dogs will need. Jones is less experienced but will be a very impactful player before his career is over.

What other keys would you add...?