Monday, September 19, 2005

Recap: Oregon Won a Battle of Good Offenses, but Average Defenses

Box Score

As I watched the game, it reminded me so much of the old WAC, lots of offense and very little defense. Fresno State and Oregon must tighten up their defenses or both are facing losses in their next game. The Bulldog's dominated the first quarter, the Ducks the second and both played evenly in the second half. Neither team looked great on defense, or proved worthy to be ranked in the top 25.

Fresno State fans, Pat Hill opened up the playbook, and Fresno State still lost. What Hill and Cignetti did against Oregon is what they tried to do against Boise State last year, but Paul Pinegar showed how great of a quarterback he is Saturday. A lot of his performance has to be attributed to him being injury free. It is evident that he has the confidence in his arm that he has not had the last two years. He made the all throws, and besides the one interception and bad pass to McDonald, he made little or no mistakes.

Oregon won Saturday's game because their coaching staff was better prepared. The Duck coaches had a backup plan and it worked beautifully. Fresno State was prepared to take what the Oregon defense gave them, but failed to work the run game in more. The Ducks stuck eight in the box, and Pinegar picked them apart in the first three drives for a quick 17-0 lead, but the offense sputtered the rest of the first half.

On defense Fresno State's coaches were prepared for the option, but had no answer for the no-huddle. Toledo has to be licking their chops, after watching the tape. Their spread is far more in tune than Oregon's, but the Rocket's athletes are not as talented.

Garrett McIntyre's absence had an influence on the defensive line's dismal performance, but the front four looked average at best against Weber State the week before, too. I, like many, attributed Fresno State's performance against Weber State as Fresno State running basic coverage and using very little blitz packages. Fresno State looked just as lost against the Ducks. In both games Fresno State was unable to put pressure on or contain the quarterback.

Richard Marshall was not his normal self, and neither was the Fresno State secondary. Against Weber State the secondary looked out of synch and it carried over to Autzen Stadium. Marshall was beat twice for touchdowns and was flagged for pass interference multiple times. Kellen Clemens had all day to throw the ball and repeatedly found receivers open in the zone. Bulldog players talked of not being able to hear their plays on defense, but that is inexcusable. The coaching staff should have been better prepared to handle the crowd noise.

Chalk one up for Oregon's offensive coordinator Gary Crowton for implementing a great game plan and for out coaching Dan Brown. Just like in years past against Boise State, the defense did not make adjustments quick enough. It cost the Bulldogs in the second quarter when Oregon scored twenty unanswered points.

Fresno State's secondary can not be blamed totally, it all starts up front. Ahijah Lane was spectacular. His speed proved to be what was missing on Fresno State's defensive line in the second quarter. Fresno State was unable to put any pressure on the quarterback except for a Jason Shirley pass knock down and Lane's two sacks.

Lane's sacks could not have come at more important times. His first came near the end of the second quarter when Oregon was driving at will on the Bulldogs. His sack on third down forced a punt and halted the Ducks twenty point second quarter. His last came in the middle of the fourth, after Fresno State had just pulled within three points at 30-27. The momentum finally was starting to shift back to Fresno State's favor. Oregon was deep in their own territory, trying to answer the Bulldog's score when Lane sacked Clemens on third down forcing the Ducks to punt. Fresno State got great field position after the punt near the Oregon 40, but was unable to capitalize.

Fresno State never got the run game going. The Bulldog's best runs were scrambles by Pinegar when receivers were covered. Oregon geared up to stop the run, but after Pinegar softened that up with the pass, the Bulldogs should have pounded it. Regardless, it proved costly late in the game when Fresno State seized some momentum, but after incomplete passes or allowing sacks squandered opportunities without attempting a run.

Bryson Sumlin had only two carries for one yard the entire game, even with the injury to Clifton Smith early in the game; Sumlin did not see much time. Roshon Vercher did not play much after the first quarter. Adam Jennings lined up at fullback/H-back for the entire second half, a spot Smith was probably slated to play prior to his injury.

Smith's injury might have hurt Hill's and Cignetti's game plan. His presence was great during Fresno State's second scoring drive, running once and catching a key pass inside the five yard line. After his injury, Fresno State did not miss a beat on its next drive and looked to be fine without him. The Bulldogs racked up 530 yards of total offense, but whether Smith would have improved on those numbers is left for the imagination.

In all Fresno State did not play great on defense and still almost came away with a victory at Oregon. Fresno State has over week to get the defense in order and work out any kinks with the run game before high flying Toledo comes to town. Are Logan Mankins and James Sanders departures bigger than first anticipated? We will soon find out.

Fresno State resembled the great 2001 team led by David Carr on Saturday. That team, like this year's, could score quickly, but in shootouts against Boise State and Hawaii when the offense sputtered, the defense was too tired to preserve the victory.

Fresno State is a better team than what was displayed on Saturday. Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski is a better quarterback than Kellen Clemens, and the Rockets offense is more potent. The Bulldogs have a lot to gain with a big victory over Toledo.

The extra time before the game gives the coaching staff more time to mend the young players’ minds and set up a great game plan for the Rockets. The Fresno State defense can redeem itself, and pick up some much needed momentum on the ESPN 2 telecast September 27.

The upcoming game is going to be Toledo's marquee game of the year, the Rockets are well coached and are just as good, if not a better team than Oregon. Toledo might not have the same athletes as the Ducks, but I would not be surprised if they came into Bulldog Stadium and beat Fresno State by two touchdowns.

The Bulldogs can not give up on the season just yet. There is still so much to play for: an outright WAC title, a much desired win against Boise State, and a little game at USC. First up is Toledo. Fresno State and its fans can not overlook the mighty Rockets.

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