Monday, September 18, 2006
Who's To Blame?
The last two weeks have not been very good to Fresno State fans. With two close losses that could have easily been wins Fresno State is now looking at an uphill battle to turn this into a successful season. The problems that lay ahead for the Dogs is the fact that their schedule still includes Hawaii, Boise State, LSU, and La. Tech. If Fresno State does not fix their offensive woes they will lose all four of these games leaving them with a 6-6 record this season. Obviously that will not go down as a great season for a Fresno State team that has continually made it to a bowl game year after year. Over the last two weeks I have read many comments on who is to blame for this mess that we have had on the football field. Some fans blame the players, while others blame the special teams. Other fans blame the coaching or some have just pinned it on inexperience and bad luck. Here is my take on who is to blame for the past two games.
1) Inexperience - I am not sure why so many people thought the transition from one quarterback to the next would be flawless. Look around the nation and aside USC most schools struggle with this aspect in college football. You cannot take a four year starter (albeit I was never a fan of Pinegar) and replace him with someone who has thrown a total of 13 passes in his college career. Yes, Brandstater has been in the system for two years up to this point, but his game experience had been next to nothing. You cannot simulate game experience and because Brandstater has little game experience you had to feel he would struggle throughout the early games this season. I am one of those fans who is in the Norton corner, I just can't understand putting a parade All American on the bench but I trust in Pat Hill and know he does what is in the best interest for this football team. Those of you who are calling for Norton this early in the season can't be serious. If you feel like Brandstater is the reason we lost the last two games you are not watching closely. Brandstater is not given the chance to throw the ball unless you consider throwing it 21 times in a game a chance. Fresno State is a run first offense and as long as Hill is the coach they always will be. I will touch more on the qb situation a little later in this post.
2) Play Calling - Cignetti left Fresno and for most of us this wasn't something that seemed to be a bad thing for Fresno State. Cignetti's offense has been known as vanilla by so many other coaches because of the relative predictability that it entails (North Carolina is not doing too much better with Cignetti as their coordinator) . I have to say that Steve Hagen's offense is exactly the same. Everyone knows it is going to be Dwayne Wright on first down and a majority of second downs as well. Many of our fans will say that is because Brandstater cannot make the throws, but how do you know that? Do you know why Brandstater struggles on third and longs? How many chances during the course of a game is Brandstater given the chance to throw the ball 15 yards? Against Washington he probably threw the ball 15 yards four times. So of course when the game is on the line with a 3rd and 15 he is going to mis-fire. Brandstater has to have the opportunity to unleash the ball from time to time and the offensive play calling does not allow this. Case in point: Watch the film from games 1-3 and tell me how many times he has gone deep to someone else aside Williams? If your answer is none then you are correct. What kind of offense only draws up deep routes for one player? If your answer is Fresno State you are correct. Even with Cignetti we still tried to go deep to Williams and Jennings. Now defenses know they just have to cover Williams deep because the Dogs will not throw to anyone else down field aside Williams. If the Dogs are to make this a successful seaosn (which is definitely possible) they need to open up the playbook. Dinking and dunking the ball five yards here and there isn't going to get it done. If it didn't work against one of the bottom three teams from the Pac-10 it isn't going to work against anyone.
3) Special Teams - I don't understand what has happened to this facet of Bulldog football. First you have the blocked field goal that turns into a nightmare. Next you have the fake field goal that ends up being the difference in the game. The following week you have two botched snaps and a ball trickle into the end zone that should have been downed on the one yard line. Not to mention our special teams coverage has been bad this season. Against Oregon we allowed two big punt returns putting the Ducks in great field position to start drives. Stitser had every reason to be upset the past week as his holder could not get the ball down into good position for him on both missed kicks. He also pooched it beautifully on a field goal he could have easily made and I believe that is why he was so upset. Hill took a chance away from Stitser to give us three points because he wanted to pin Washington deep and our special teams could not get it done. If there is anyone area of the Bulldogs that has been a disappointment this season it has been the special teams unit.
However you look at the start of the season there are two people you cannot in any way blame for the losses: Pat Hill and Tom Brandstater. Pat Hill does not call the offensive plays, Steve Hagen does. If you have a problem with the offensive playcalling (which I definitely do) address Hagen when posting, not Hill. If you have a problem with the quarterback situation realize that Brandstater has thrown the ball 91 times in his college career. If you expected him to come in and take over right where Pinegar left off then you put unrealistic expectations on this young man and that is on you as fans. There is no way anyone should expect Brandstater to be flawless at this point in his college career. If he still makes the types of mistakes he has made this year as a senior then you have a reason to complain but right now he is learning and the play calling is not helping him one bit.
Fresno State has an opportunity to get back to 3-2 before Hawaii comes calling. It is going to be very important over the next three weeks to get Brandstater some snaps against both Colorado State and Utah State. These games are both very winnable games for the Dogs. If they can pull these out then we have our biggest rivalry coming to town on October 14th (somebody's 29th birthday by the way, yes it's me). If ever there was a time that Fresno needs our support as fans it is now. Every year is not going to have an 8-1 start with a #16 ranking. We need to support the Dogs when Colorado State comes to town. The point I always make is Tennessee did not play in a bowl game last year but still sold out every home game. Their fan support was there and look how they started out this season. They lost to a very good Florida team but are now ranked #15. If you just have faith it will work out in due time. Fresno State will be ok, just let them work out their problems. It is early in the season, and believe me it is much better to have these problems now rather than later. If we can just fix them the season will be a success. It's still Bulldog football, don't forget that.
So my question for all of you Dogs fans is who do you blame for what has happened and why? Should we blame anyone or should we just support the Dogs? I am on the latter half here. I do throw blame out there but I will be a Bulldog fan regardless and I hope most of you will as well.