If you were to use one word to describe Fresno State as a team in 2006 Broken may be the most appropriate. Our offense seemed flustered more times than not, our defense seemed lost for the most part, our kicking game was a problem for the first time in countless years, and our special teams unit played as poorly as any unit in the nation. To concentrate on one area with respect to poor performance for Fresno State would be a mistake. Fresno State will have to find a way to fix much more than one aspect of their football team. The problems with Fresno State really can be broken down into three different areas, of which I will rank from least to most imporant.
1) Defensive secondary - I know most will say I am crazy for thinking this is the least of our problems but I don't feel the secondary underperformed nearly as much as we have viewed them as doing. In most of our games the defense kept the games close enough for us to win. We lost games by 7, 1, 12, 1, and 10. Yes the three games in the middle were not close but I am not going to blame it on the defense. No one stopped Hawaii from scoring this season and LSU was just too much for us to handle. For most of the season the Bulldogs defense played good enough for us to win nine of our games. Unfortunately it did not work out for the Dogs. If we plan on making a jump next season to eight or nine wins the secondary will have to force more turnovers. At the same time the corners and safeties will have to learn how to play not only the receiver but the ball at the same time. Countless times the Dogs defenders could have had interceptions if they had just turned around during the flight of the ball. With Davis and Jenkins at corner we should play much better on defense as we will also have plenty of speed in the secondary. Our LB's if healthy will be fast and able to contain any offense when running to the outside. Overall the defense will have to step up their gameplay a notch to give us a chance in every game we play.
2) Offensive Production - I am sure most of you feel like this is the number one problem the Dogs have overall. However, I feel like there is one more aspect of Bulldog football that caused more problems than our offense did. But first let's concentrate on the offensive woes of the team. Our QB had problems throwing the ball and I don't foresee that changing unless he develops a progression chart in his mind. Brandstater has to realize that there are three receivers on most plays and he does not have to force the ball to the number one option. More often than not Chastin West will be our go to guy through the air next season along with Bear Pascoe. Brandstater is going to have to see that he can dump the ball off to either Harding or Miller if everyone else is covered. At the same time Brandstater will have to try and get the ball to Moore, Crawley, and Ajirotutu in order to spread the offense out. Of course this is all going to depend on our new offensive coordinator and the type of gameplan we decide to use. Our offensive line should be quite good again and the addition of Cunningham will only make the line that much stronger. Running lanes will be there keeping the pressure on Brandstater down. If Tom can somehow find some timing with the young receivers on the field the Dogs offense should see an increase in offensive production keeping the defense off of the field for longer periods of time. Unfortunately this will not matter if the last piece of Bulldog football does not come around.
3) Special Teams - In my opinion our special teams unit is what did us in far more than any other part of the team this season. Our punting was bad, our kick return coverage stunk, and our field goal units on both offense and defense took a step back with respect to production. Stitser did not kick at the level we are used to seeing him be at, Christensen dropped far too many snaps as a holder, and Smith was not the punt returner we all remembered him to be. Because of our special teams we continually gave the opposing team's offenses a short field to play on. It is not hard to score points when you begin on the 45-50 yard line every time you touch the ball. Colorado State practically sat on our side of the field the entire game. Boise State, Hawaii, LSU, and San Jose State did the same thing. Because Malone could not do the job punting Zimmerman was forced to step in and do something he generally does not do. He is not a punter and that becaome evident this season. Our kick return coverage allowed two touchdowns this season on punts and one touchdown on a kickoff. In order for the Bulldogs to win games they will have to continually win the field position game. Go back and watch the highlights of the USC game. (They are located on the right side of this blog) You will notice how often Adam Jennings gave us great field position throughout the course of the game. It would be great field position that made it that much easier for Fresno State to put points on the board. I know Chastin West is a great player but he does not seem like a kick returner. We can only hope that Wylie and Smith can step back and return kickoffs the way we are used to seeing here at Fresno State. If we cannot fix our special teams the 2007 season will once again be a long tumultuous season filled with numerous plays we would just as soon forget.
Each of us has a differing opinion as to what is the most important aspect of the football team that needs to be repaired. As I stated I feel our special teams unit puts us in a tough position every time they take the field. If you feel differently share what you think. Regardless we have plenty of problems to fix and there may have been a few that I missed over the course of this blog.