Defensive Line - First and foremost everyone knows that we lost the motor that kept our defense going last season in Garrett McIntyre. However, Tyler Clutts will take over as the team leader on defense and I truly don't feel like we will lose much with respect to the departure of McIntyre. Do not get me wrong, he was a great asset to have on defense, but Fresno has plenty of experience and talent to more than makeup for the loss of McIntyre. The defensive line returns Tyler Clutts, Louis Leonard and Marlon Brisco. The strength of this Fresno State team may very well be it's defensive front line as Jason Shirley and Louis Leonard make up 600 pounds of meat in the middle of the line. They will be a huge reason opposing teams have a terrible time trying to break through the middle on this Bulldog run defense. While all of the returning starters will contribute to a stout defensive line it is quite possible that some of the returning non-starters and transfers will help to solidify this d-line. One of the biggest additions to the team is that of Mike Stuart. A blue chipper in 2004 Stuart departed USC and played one season at Moorpark JC. Stuart looked very impressive in each scrimmage and has the strength and speed to wreak havoc on the opposing team's qb. Joe Monga and Jason Roberts round out the front line and will get plenty of playing time as they are both physical talent's and can stop the run just as well as any of our players on the d-line. Overall this defensive line will be one of the better unit's Fresno State has put on the field. Expect plenty of pressure from them as they force Rowe to run all over the field forcing throws that he would rather not make.
I have to admit that I do not know how good Nevada's d-line is. I do know that they can be eaten up on the pass and can be run on quite frequently. While Nevada was able to score points in large amounts last year they also could give up points in a hurry. Fresno played an awful game against Nevada in 2005 yet put up 35 points in their game. Nevada returns two of it's defensive lineman in Charles Wilson and Matt Hines. Hines and Wilson combined for 6 sacks and 60 tackles on the season. However, Nevada will have to find a way to replace their team leader in both tackles and sacks in Roosevelt Cooks. Cooks accounted for 98 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2005. Nevada also lost another big defensive cog in Craig Bailey who accounted for 27 tackles and 4 sacks on the season. Nevada is going to have a hard time up front stopping the Bulldogs run game. The Bulldogs offensive line will wear down Nevada's defense with Versher and Wright coming at them play after play. With all that Nevada has lost I just don't see any way that their defensive line will be able to stop the Bulldogs running game.
Defensive Line Advantage - Fresno State
Linebackers - At one time Fresno State looked to have an experienced Linebacker core that had the talent to stop anyone on the field. The status of the Bulldogs linebacker core has unfortunately changed dramaticaly since practice began. With Riley and Brown out that leaves the Dogs with two experienced starters in Goodwin and Andrews. Now don't get me wrong, Goodwin and Andrews are solid Linebackers with Andrews being one of our top defensive talents. However, last year when Riley went down against USC it became apparent how important it was to have him on the weakside to stop the run. Before Riley went down the defense gave up an average of 14 points per game. After Riley's injury the defense gave up 39 points per game. It's no surprise that Reggie Bush did most of his damage against Fresno State last year after halftime when Riley came out of the game due to injury. How Fresno State replaces Riley is going to be the key to the Linebacking core this season. Brown would have provided a suitable replacement as he has size and speed to combat the opposing team's rushing game. Instead Ahjah Lane and Trevor Shamblee will have to pick up the slack at LB for the Bulldogs. Regardless of who plays this season at LB it will be an upgrade to Manual Sanchez who had various problems reading the run. Sanchez has departed and although he had heart and played tough he was out of position at LB. Nevada will have an opportunity to run their TE's at Fresno State's LB core. How Nevada matches up with Fresno's LB's might very well tell how the pace of this game will go.
Nevada returns all three of their LB's for this game against Fresno State. Nevada's LB's (Demars, Mauga, and Butler) combined for 146 tackles and eight sacks on the season. While Fresno's D-line is going to be their greatest asset in this game, Nevada's returning LB's may very well be their biggest strength. However, as I mentioned earlier Nevada is susceptable to giving up the big play over the middle. While Nevada's LB's have experience they tend to gamble when going for the ball. If Fresno can run reverses and counters they should find that the running room will be there play after play. Nevada may have the edge in the Linebacking core if for no reason other than experience. This facet of the game would tilt towards Fresno State if the Bulldogs returned all LB"s and were healthy but that is not the case this season. Regardless Fresno's O-line will be able to open holes for the running game and gain large amounts of yardage with Wright.
Lineback Advantage - Even
Secondary - Anyone who knows me at all will realize I believe McCauley is the single best corner we have ever had at Fresno State. I truly feel like there is no way that Nevada will be able to get the ball to their number one receiver Caleb Spencer. McCauley does not gamble as Marshall did and hits ferociously when the ball is caught. He will give the offense a two to three yard window but has amazing closing speed as witnessed in the game against USC. Very rarely is McCauley beaten downfield and when someone does get by him he will make them pay when they catch the ball (anyone remember the Tulsa game last season?) However, opposite of McCauley will be the challenge this season with the departure of Marshall (we wish him the best at Carolina). Jenkins and Simmons will vie for the other corner spot. At the moment Jenkins looks to have played his way onto the field much more than thought at the starting of camp. One positive is this corner will get every team's #2 receiver as McCauley will draw the #1. This should help soften the blow of starting for the first time for either Simmons or Jenkins. Regardless our corners will be some of the speediest corners in the nation this season as McCauley is the fastest player on the team being clocked at an amazing 4.3 40. Jenkins and Simmons can both fly as well. Thankfully Fresno State will return two safeties in Mays and Shirley. In other words Fresno will have three of the four secondary positions returning with experiencing. It is to bad that Marshall decided to leave because if he hadn't the Bulldogs would have one of the top secondary's in the WAC, if not the nation. Nevada will have a very hard time throwing the ball in the 15 to 20 yard range. Deep downfield on McCauley's side is almost non existant as an option for Nevada. If Nevada throws downfield they will have to attack Jenkins/Simmons side of the field in order to accomplish any kind of mid to deep passing attack.
Nevada returns one safety and one corner. Villasenor only registered 18 tackles last season but is a safety. Garcia on the other hand as corner registered 72 tackles and did all he could to solidify a run defense that was a mess for most of the season. Nevada did win nine games last season but their defense was not the reason for this. If Fresno can attack the corners they will have a large amount of success throwing to Fernandez and Williams. Williams will be matched up with Garcia and has a two inch height advantage, not to mention Williams has the leaping ability that many in the college ranks cannot compete with. Brandstater will have to find Williams early and often to open up the running game against Nevada. If Brandstater can find Williams, Fernandez, and Fairman against a weak pass defense Fresno will be able to run the ball down Nevada's throat. Fresno has a chance to beat the spread easily but only if Brandstater performs up to expectations. The Bulldogs have the edge in the secondary as their speed and experience should help them against Nevada.
Secondary Advantage - Fresno State
Next: 8/31 Special Teams and Game Prediction