Thursday, September 15, 2005

'Dogs-Ducks Preview

Fresno State at Oregon Sat. 4pm PT on TBS
posted on the Barkboard

An argument can be made that the game against Oregon this weekend could be the biggest of the season for Fresno State. The 23rd ranked Bulldogs are the only school not from a Bowl Championship Series conference that is ranked in either of the major polls. The Bulldogs will carry the flag for every non-BCS school this weekend. Boise State has fallen off the BCS radar faster than you can say Buster Bronco. TCU proved to be a pretender after following up their upset over 7th ranked Oklahoma with a loss to lowly rival SMU. Only a handful of non-BCS schools are still unbeaten, but none have the schedule or talent of Fresno State. The Bulldogs must win at Oregon to continue their goal of a BCS bowl.

This Saturday is the sixth time Oregon and Fresno State will meet, but will be the first time Fresno State enters the game ranked in the top 25. The last two games in Eugene, the Ducks were huge double-digit favorites, yet Fresno State outplayed them in both games but came up short in the win column. Fresno State will enter Autzen Stadium as a slight underdog according to Las Vegas odds makers, but are expected by many to win.

Most would think Oregon would be overlooking Fresno State in anticipation of number one Southern California coming to town September 24, but “there’s not even a thought in a million we’ll overlook Fresno State,” UO coach Mike Bellotti says.

The Duck players know Fresno State will be no cakewalk, either. In past years, Fresno State would use games against Oregon as a measuring stick, but it seems the roles are reversed this year.

“We’ll find out whether we’re for real,” quarterback Kellen Clemens says.

Oregon enters the game 2-0 with wins over Houston and Montana. Hardly, the same level of talent as a Fresno State. The Ducks are 3-2 under Bellotti against ranked non-conference opponents. Both losses have come away from Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks hired former BYU head coach Gary Crowton as their new offensive coordinator, replacing former Bulldog assistant Andy Ludwig. Ludwig was hired to replace another former Bulldog coach Jeff Tedford in 2002. In his three years at Oregon, the Ducks offense averaged just 385 yards a game, compared to 441 yards per game during Tedford’s four years.

For 2005 Crowton has installed the “Oregon” offense. It is a hybrid of his former offense at BYU and the spread used by Florida head coach Urban Meyer, with some elements of the traditional pro-set Oregon is accustomed to. It seems to have worked, as the Ducks are averaging 490 yards per game through the first two games, albeit Houston and Montana are not powerhouses.

The running game is still a concern for Oregon. The Ducks only netted 87 yards rushing against Montana, and last year’s 1,000 rusher Terrance Whitehead has only 67 yards on the season. Clemens is the team’s leading rusher with 79 yards, and former high school All-American true frosh Jonathan Stewart is third with 52 yards. Stewart is questionable for this weekend’s game, meaning redshirt freshman Terrell Jackson, a former prep standout himself, may get more carries. With such a dismal performance against an I-AA team, how are the Ducks going to run and compete with a top 25 team like the Bulldogs.

Fresno State has a lot more speed and athleticism at linebacker and defensive back than either Houston or Montana. It remains to be seen if Clemens can get to the corner with the option against a higher caliber defense.

“Oh, yeah, we can compete,” Clemens says. “We have guys healthy this year, and we have fresh legs.”
“We’re pretty good, dangerous on the perimeter,” he adds, “we’re just not showing as good as we can running the ball inside.”

Fresno State will be minus their best defensive lineman. All conference performer Garrett McIntyre is out with a high ankle sprain. Replacing him is not going to be easy. What McIntyre brings to field is something few can do.

“He's the heartbeat of our defense," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "I don't see him playing in this game. Hope to have him back soon. Losing a guy like Garrett is a hard one. Someone's going to have to step up and improve our game.”

Adam McDowell, Marlon Brisco, and Ricky Miller will all have to step up this week. Jason Shirley and Louis Leonard are big bodies in the middle, and must pick up the intensity, as well, with McIntyre sitting.

Fresno State’s vaunted secondary will have their hands full with Oregon’s athletic and speedy wide receivers. Demetrius Williams is the Clemens’ main target averaging seven catches and 113 yards per game with two touchdowns. The Bulldogs looked a little flakey and missed some coverage assignments against Weber State last week. They can not make the same mistakes against Oregon and expect to win. Furthermore, back up free safety Vince Mays is likely out with a knee sprain.

Fresno State has an excellent one, two punch at running back in Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin. Special team’s return specialist Clifton Smith also will line up at running back giving the Bulldogs another threat in the backfield.

Quarterback Paul Pinegar is third in the nation in pass efficiency, and looks to have continued where he left off last year in the MPC Computers Bowl. Pinegar has thrown seven touchdowns in his last two games, and Hill has the up most confidence in his abilities.

"I thought Paul Pinegar played exceptionally well.” Hill said of Pinegar’s performance against Weber State.

“He's really matured and come into his own and I think he's going to have a special season. His numbers were very good for a half of action and he was nearly flawless."

Fresno State’s receiving corps has been considered the weak spot of an otherwise strong offense, but Oregon’s secondary was torched by Houston’s Kevin Kolb for 312 yards. This could prove to be key match up.

The most important match up in the game will be Fresno State’s offensive line against Oregon’s defensive line.

The Bulldogs have a quick, mobile line that plays with an attitude. Hill, a former offensive lineman himself, recruits a certain type of player who “feel as if they have something to prove,” Bellotti says. “If they don’t have that, he creates that for them.”

Oregon counters with one of the best defensive lines in the Pac Ten, led by future NFL first rounder Haloti Ngata. Defensive end Devan Long, brother of 2002 Outland Trophy winner Rien Long, is questionable for the game, but the defensive front four is still the strong point of the Duck defense.

Whoever is able to control the line of scrimmage will have the upper hand in the game. If Oregon gets their run game going against Fresno State, it could prove to be long night for the Bulldog defense. Fresno State’s run defense is a huge question mark. The Bulldog’s shut down Weber State’s ground attack, but the Wildcats were forced to pass after Fresno State took a quick 21-0 lead.

How will Fresno State’s defensive line respond without McIntyre? Oregon’s running attack has been rather pedestrian, but the Duck tailbacks are as talented as they come in the nation. It would not be a surprise if Whitehead and company gain some yards.

On the other hand if Fresno State breaks into the secondary with its run game, can Oregon’s linebackers contain their speed? How will Oregon’s secondary react to Pinegar and the play action pass?

Oregon cornerback Justin Phinisee is confident and says the Ducks are quick enough.
“Inside, outside, wherever,” he says. “As long as we execute our techniques, we’ll be all right. Scouting — watching film — will be pretty important, too.”

This game has all the makings of a classic, and with instant replay the outcome should be determined on the field and not by the gentlemen wearing the stripes. Fresno State is too talented and too hungry not to come away from Eugene with a win. Clemens and Oregon will not be stopped through the air, but will find it more difficult to run against a speedier defense.

Pinegar will continue his consistent play and Fresno State’s ground game should take control of the game in the fourth quarter, Bulldogs 35 Ducks 24.

De La Salle Reunion

Backup Fresno State sophomore cornerback Damon Jenkins will be having a reunion of sorts. Jenkins is the only Bulldog on the roster from the storied high school in Concord, Ca. Oregon, however, has six De La Salle alums on its roster: CB Jackie Bates So., WR Cameron Colvin So., CB Willie Glasper Fr., LB Chris Mulvanny Jr., WR Demetrius Williams Sr., and DB Terrell Ward Fr..

No comments: