Saturday, September 24, 2005

Spread 'Em: Toledo Game Preview

posted on the Barkboard

Fresno State versus Toledo, a great match up of a power running team against an all out passing team. The funny thing is the smash mouth Bulldogs are 69th in the nation in rushing but 10th in passing. On the flip side, the pass happy Rockets are 44th in the pass, but a surprising 23rd in rushing. It should be the other way around, right? Fresno State returns Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis, two 995 yard plus rushers, plus five offensive lineman with starting experience. While, Toledo has senior Heisman Trophy candidate Bruce Gradkowski directing the spread offense.

I am sure no one would have thought at the start of the season Fresno State’s Paul Pinegar would be on pace to throw for 3,642 yards and 30 touchdowns, but he is. If he keeps it up, he will shatter David Carr’s record of 70 career touchdown passes. Carr will be there live to see Pinegar in action Tuesday night, well at least the first quarter. Carr will have his number eight retired in a ceremony just before kickoff at 5:30 pm. He will leave around 7:00 pm after a live interview with ESPN 2.

Carr will miss a great match up of conference front runners. Bruce Gradkowski will be the best quarterback to walk down the ramp at Bulldog Stadium since Carr himself. Gradkowski’s health is a concern. He had trouble breathing after taking a hit in the first half last week against Temple. He sat out the first series of the second half, but continued to play with some obvious pain. There is no doubt Gradkowski will suit up and play against the Bulldogs, the question is, whether he will be 100 percent?

Toledo runs a spread offense, similar to what Fresno State saw last week at Oregon, but different in many ways. The Rockets give defenses fits with their myriad formations, screen passes and quick strike capability.

John Shannon took over for former offensive coordinator Rob Spence this year, and the offense has not missed a beat. The Rockets are averaging 468.7 yards per game compared to the 459.2 last year. Through their first three games, they are showing good balance averaging 220 yards rushing and 248.7 passing. Toledo has beaten their opponents by the average score of 53.3 to 18, yet Western Illinois, Western Michigan, and Temple are nothing to write home about.

The surprise for the Toledo offense early on has been the play of redshirt freshman running back Richard Davis. The 6’0 200lb Davis leads the Rockets in rushing averaging 74 yards a game, and has a kickoff return for a touchdown, while backing up starter Trinity Dawson.

The receiving corps was depleted due to graduation and only returned one starter in Steve Odom this year. Tight end Chris Hopkins leads the team with 11 receptions. The receivers have yet to face a secondary as hard-nosed and fast as Fresno State’s. This is the biggest match up of the game. If Toledo’s receivers get open, the game will become a shootout.

Fresno State’s secondary was picked apart by Oregon’s Kellen Clemens. Receivers found open pockets in the zone, when the Ducks ran the no huddle offense. Surprise, Toledo uses the no huddle, as well. The Bulldog’s lack of a pass rush from the defensive front had a lot do with Clemens’ and his receiver’s success.

The Bulldog’s defensive adjustments from last week’s game to this week’s game against Toledo will be the key. Garrett McIntyre is probable for the game, and his presence alone will not be enough. The Bulldogs also failed to get pressure on Weber State’s Ian Pizarro, and have only totaled three sacks for the season.

Toledo can not line up and just pound the football. That is not their style, but the Bulldogs have not been able to contain the quarterback from scrambling out of the pocket. Gradkowski is not known as a runner, but he can move, especially, if there are open lanes. Fresno State’s linebackers are playing good. Ahijah Lane’s play against Oregon was instrumental, as he recorded two sacks. Fresno State might have to continue to use Lane to put pressure on Gradkowski.

Fresno State opened up the playbook and Paul Pinegar had a career night against the Ducks. His 33 pass completions and 418 yards through the air were Autzen Stadium records. Bulldog receiver Paul Williams also had a breakthrough game catching 5 balls for 122 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldog running game has yet to reveal itself in the first two games. Toledo will get to see plenty of Mathis and Sumlin Tuesday, as the Bulldogs should have plenty of success on the ground.

Oregon put eight in the box and forced Fresno State to pass, and Pinegar lit up the Duck defense. Toledo does not have the defensive line to stop Fresno State, even if they gear up to stop the run. Toledo’s defensive coordinator Tim Rose is familiar with Fresno State. Rose held the same position at Louisiana Tech last year when they upset Fresno State 28-21.

Rose uses a 3-4 base defense, the same he used at Louisiana Tech last year. Rose has some playmakers on his Toledo defense. Linebacker Anthony Jordan is a monster in the middle. He leads the Rockets with 29 tackles, and is tied for first in tackles for losses with three. Rover Keon Jackson is better than any of the defensive backs Fresno State saw last week at Oregon. Jackson is second on the team with 20 tackles, and has returned an interception for a touchdown against Temple.

Toledo fans might feel confident that Rose’s defense at Louisiana Tech held Fresno State to 21 points last year, but that is moot. Fresno State ran for 269 yards last year on Rose’s defense, and the Bulldogs look to do the same this year. The Bulldogs fell apart in Ruston last year because the defense could not stop running back Ryan Moats, and the passing game was non existent throwing for a mere 104 yards.

Pinegar is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency this year and I do not see a number 20 with the name Moats on Toledo’s roster. Fresno State 42, Toledo 28.


Anonymous said...

So you feel that even with Gradkowski at less than 100%, Toledo can still compete in the game if the FSU secondary does not play well? I do not know a whole lot about FSU but I have seen Toledo a lot the last few years. I saw that you predict a 42-28 FSU win. How confident are you with that and how close do your predictions usually get?? I am a betting man and do a lot of research on game days. I enjoyed reading your column but wanted to see how much you actually know. Please post again before the game. Thanks.

mdg said...

Right now my prediction would be a push, as the line has jumped to Fresno -14. It is becoming more evident Gradkowski might not even play.

I am 173-50 straight up so far this season in games involving DIA teams. I usually don't pick against the spread. One, it takes a lot of research I don't have the time for, and two I am not much of a gambler.

I predicted the 42-28 score with Gradkowski playing at 80-100%. I still think Toledo's system will have some success without him, but Fresno State's ground game will be too much for Toledo to overcome.

I still like Fresno State to win, but it is a game that could get closer on the scoreboard than on the field. Toledo's 3-4 does not match up well defensively against Fresno State. FS can run or pass. The Bulldogs have the backs and OL to control the clock.

With Gradkowski out, the Dogs might take some chances on defense. Clint Cochran is only a rFR, and Bulldog Stadium is not the easiest place to make your first career start. The crowd will not be a sell out, but it will be louder than any MAC stadium.

Pat Hill is not the type of coach to run up the score. I think Fresno State will build up a 20+ lead in the second half.

The line at -14 is scary because Toledo does not quit, and they have a quick strike offense. Fresno State could be up 42-21 in the 4th, but if Toledo scores a late td the game is a push.

I loved it -9.5, but not at -14. Fresno State will score early and often, but may not need to score many points to win if Gradkowski is out. Fresno State could dominate the Rockets in all phases, but the second string could allow some meaningless touchdowns late.

I do not know much about Cochran, I may be giving him too much credit. All I know is he is 14-16 for 92 yds, 87% completion rate is impressive even if your just playing catch. If he is not ready and can't run the offense, Fresno State will win by at least 3 tds, but if he can run the offense, Vegas is about on the money with Toledo +14.