When most people think of Fresno State they think of a school that generally produces NFL type QB's because of the pro style offense that is used. From Trent Dilfer to Billy Volek to David Carr the Bulldogs have produced three QB's who have made a name for themselves in the NFL in a span of just ten seasons (Although Carr is still doing his best to get on track for a pathetic Texans franchise). What most people don't realize is that Fresno State's number one strength may be the running game. Quick, name the last time Fresno State did not have a 1,000 yard rusher during the course of a season? Most Fresno State fans know in order to answer this question you have to travel back to the pre David Carr years. Fresno State has produced one great Running Back after another en route to where they stand today: With three RB's who can break away on any given play.
During 2006 Fresno State may have enjoyed their single greatest rushing season in team history. Maybe statistically it was not the greatest rushing season, but when considering how poorly the passing game was executed the Bulldogs running game was quite amazing. Although every single team knew the Dogs could not throw the ball Dwayne Wright was still able to run for over 1400 yards averaging over five yards a carry. Both Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding (pictured above) were also seen on the field showing glimpses of what they will be giving Fresno State for the next three seasons. Each of these RB's contributed as well as they filled in nicely for Wright when he needed a breather. Miller rushed for 287 yards and an average of 5.3 yards a carry while Harding was able to churn out 141 yards with an average of 4.7 yards a carry in limited time. Although these two did not play a majority of the time they were given an opportunity to get a feel for the game as Freshman and one would expect these two to thrive in Fresno State's pro style offense in 2007.
Many of us remember the one-two punch we had in 2004 with Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis nearly eclipsing 1000 yards a piece by the end of the season. 2007 should give us something very similar to that situation as Miller seems to be the kind of RB who can run over anyone en route to gaining his five yards a carry. Harding on the other hand is a RB who is explosive and once he hits the hole defenders will have a tough time catching him as he has the speed to outrun anyone on the field at any given time. To say that the Bulldogs are set up nicely in the running game would be the understatement of the year. While these two RB's will be the primary guys during 2007 one would expect to see Ryan Mathews of Bakersfield on the field as a true Freshman. Mathews may be used as a third down back or as a receiver out of the backfield in his first season with the Bulldogs. Mathews led the nation in rushing during his senior season in high school and would have been more highly touted had his grades been a bit higher. We as Fresno State fans should be thankful that Mathews loves the Bulldogs so much. He will be a star by the time he leaves Fresno due to his size, speed, and amazing ability to find the hole and burst through it.
While these three RB's will help to provide a strong nucleus in the running game, the Dogs also reeled in Bryson Hodges who is a short but strong RB who does not go down upon first contact. Hodges may red shirt this season, but look for him to make a name for himself in the years to come. Devon Wylie may be used in the backfield from time to time as well due to his amazing speed. In the end Fresno State has all the tools in the backfield to give opposing teams fits. With Harding, Miller, Mathews, and Wylie seeing playing time this season the Dogs will either be able to outrun their opponent or run them over depending on who they choose to put in the game. What we used to call our QB university is now changing as the Dogs look to have three RB's who can play on the NFL level one day. These RB's will be one of the many reasons that Fresno State will improve on their 4-8 record during the 2007 season. Regardless of what happens these young men will be at Fresno State creating highlight reels for the next three years, something most of us Dogs fans have absolutely no problems with.
Note: Monday I will cover the Wide Receiver improvements that are needed for the Bulldogs to be a successful team. We have a handful of returning receivers who are only in their second seasons which means someone will have to step up to get the job done. We will see which one I feel has the best chance of doing so.