Friday, October 14, 2005

Homecoming: Utah State Preview

as posted on the Barkboard

Homecoming 2005 is upon the Bulldog faithful, and Utah State is the sacrificial lamb. Most programs try to choose a low level team for homecoming to ensure a win. How many alumni want to travel to see their team get beat on homecoming? Utah State also has the honor of being Alabama’s homecoming opponent in two weeks.

Is Utah State really that bad of a team? No, the Aggies are just young. Utah State starts five freshman three of them true freshman. Ten other freshmen are on the two deep roster. Brent Guy has taken over a program that has not endured sustained success since the 1970’s.

Utah State had moderate success in the Big West Conference winning the conference title in 1993 and 1997, but the program has gradually fallen. When the Big West folded up as Division I-A football conference after the 2000 season the Aggies were forced to become an independent. The last two years the Aggies were a member of the Sun Belt, but now enter a new coach and new conference.

The 2005 season is a breath of fresh air for Utah State. The Western Athletic Conference is a perfect fit for Utah State, and Guy is the perfect coach to take the Aggies to the next level. Guy was an assistant for the Aggies from 1992-94, but spent the last four years at Arizona State as defensive coordinator.

Fresno State only has a one game lead in the series at 10-9-1. The Bulldogs have won the last two meetings, but from 1978-1981, Utah State won four in a row. Fresno State has never won more than three in a row in the series. A Utah State win would tie the series, but Aggie fans shouldn’t hold their breath.

Utah State counts 38 players from California on its roster, three being from Fresno. One of those players is Kevin Robinson. Robinson is the best player on the Aggie roster. The receiver/kick returner was named WAC player of the week for his performance last week against San Jose State. The Aggies will try to get the ball is his hands as much as possible.

His counterpart is Tony Pennyman. Pennyman is the Aggies leading receiver, and is leading the nation in kickoff returns. Pennyman and Robinson compare to any of the receivers Fresno State has seen this year, including Oregon.

Quarterback Leon Jackson is a good passer, but a even better runner. Utah State does use some option with Jackson, but he is more effective on the quarterback draw. The Bulldogs have had trouble with scrambling quarterbacks, and Jackson is the best they will see this year. He leads the Aggies in rushing.

Besides Jackson, Utah State’s running game is very weak. True freshman Ryan Bohm is the starting tailback, but only has 95 yards rushing through the first four games. Expect to see Robinson on reverses and draws by Jackson to pick up the slack against the Bulldogs.

Defensively, Utah State might be the best Fresno State has seen this year thus far. Utah State has not allowed an opponent to score above 31 points. Fresno State has scored at least 34 points in every game dating back to last year’s homecoming win over SMU, and is averaging 42.5 points per game this year. Something has to give.

“They are very fundamentally sound on defense,” Pat Hill said.

“Of the last three teams we've played, Utah State is the best defensive team of the three.”

“Brent Guy was a defensive coordinator at Arizona State and they play very hard. I watched their game with Utah. I was impressed with their team speed.”

The Aggie defensive line will be a good challenge for Fresno State. Defensive tackle Brian Soi, is a 6’3 318 lb monster on the line. Soi is comparable to Oregon’s Haloti Ngata; it often takes two players to contain him. His presence in the middle opens up the outside for ends John Chick and Jarom Fano.

At linebacker former Bullard High (Fresno) and Fresno City College standout D.J Brookter will be making his third consecutive start. The senior has been slowed by injuries in the spring and preseason, but is fast becoming one of the conferences best linebackers.

If Utah State expects to hang with Fresno State and have a shot to pull out a miracle in the fourth quarter, the defensive backs must play the game of their lives. Paul Pinegar and the Bulldog receivers can light up the scoreboard. This is the matchup that will be crucial for the Aggies to have any success in slowing down the Bulldogs.

Special teams are going to be fun to watch. Utah State has some of the best return men in the country, and Fresno State’s kick teams pride themselves on stopping returns. There will be at least one special team’s touchdown in this game.

Utah State has yet to be blown out this year, but Las Vegas must know something, the Bulldogs are -33 point favorites. The Aggies 24 point loss at Utah was a lot closer than the score indicated. It was Utah State’s season opener, while Utah was playing it’s second home game. It became the season opener after Hurricane Katrina forced the cancellation of their game with Nicholls State (La.). Utah State led the Utes for most of the first half, 7-0, but Utah pulled away in the second half.

Unfortunately for the Aggies Fresno State is better than Utah. Fresno State was forced to run the ball last week against New Mexico State because of the weather, but Pinegar should pass a lot more than the previous two games. Utah State will be a good test for the Bulldogs. These Aggies are a lot better than last week’s, and the Bulldogs will counter with a balanced attack.

I expect Fresno State to have their best offensive performance of the year. The game should be close for the first quarter, Utah State will be ready, but the Bulldogs will be too much for Aggies. Utah State could make it interesting with outstanding special team’s play and a good defensive performance. My fearless prediction for homecoming is, Fresno State 42, Utah State 10.

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