NSC's Difference Makers
As most of you already know Fresno State will be taking on San Jose State in a game that has the feel of a rivalry game for the first time in countless years. Fresno State comes into the game with three impressive victories over La. Tech, Nevada, and Idaho (the last two being on the road). San Jose State comes into this game winning three out of their past four games with their only loss coming at the hands of #17 Hawaii in overtime. Both teams are filled with players who are able to make a difference at any juncture of the game. Fresno State may be playing the game at home but they cannot forget about the talent that San Jose puts on the field. Here are the players that I feel can make the biggest difference during the course of the football game on Saturday:
Tom Brandstater - If you take a look at TB's numbers they will not wow you. TB has completed 60% of his passes with a 2 to 1 td to int ratio. TB has not thrown for the most yards in the nation as he currently sits at 1100 yards passing but those yards have been efficient. Last season teams were able to stack the line with nine forcing the Bulldogs to throw. This year if teams load up on the defensive line TB is able to make them pay as his throws have been far more accurate than they were in 2006. At the same time Brandstater has only been sacked eight times in six games. For a makeshift offensive line such as Fresno State's only allowing eight sacks to this point in the season is impressive but has a lot to do with TB's decision making ability. If San Jose decides to force the Dogs to throw the ball TB is capable of making the difference in this game. San Jose fans will be surprised at how far TB has come in the past season. This Bulldog team is not one dimensional and will use the pass to open up the run if they have to.
Adam Tafralis - Unfortunately for San Jose State their running attack has been non-existent this season. With that being said Adam Tafralis has stepped up his game the past four weeks. Tafralis has thrown for over three hundred yards four weeks in a row and looks to continue his hot streak against Fresno State. Tafralis showed that he could throw the deep ball accurately against the Bulldogs in 2006. Fresno State will have to prepare for a QB who seems to be gaining confidence with every game that passes. Over the past two seasons Tafralis has led the Spartans to a 12-8 record and has exceeded most expectations. In this game Tafralis will have the opportunity to make a difference just as Brandstater will. If Adam makes few mistakes and gets the hot hand this could turn into a high scoring affair between the two hated rivals.
Lonyae Miller & Ryan Matthews - Fresno State's two headed attack features a true freshman and a true Sophomore that have lead the way to dominating performances on the ground the past two weeks. Matthews has rushed for five TD's in the past two weeks while totaling near 240 yards rushing during that period. Lonyae Miller has totaled over 100 yards each game the past two weeks and looks to continue that trend against a Spartans defense that allows 170 yards on the ground per game. If Fresno State is able to control the clock with the ground game San Jose State will be in for a very long day. The past two weeks Fresno State has controlled the clock and virtually ended both games by halftime. Fresno State will look to do the same thing to the Spartans as they try to take them out of their game allowing the Dogs a big lead going into the half.
Kevin Jurovich & David Richmond - These two receivers have been Tafralis' favorite target early in the season. Jurovich has caught 44 passes and already has 638 yards receiving with five td's to go along with those gaudy stats. Richmond also has performed quite well as He has nearly 500 yards receiving with three td's to this point in the season. The Fresno State secondary is going to be tested early and often by the Spartans. If the Dogs defensive secondary can find a way to shut down these receivers they will have a shot to run away in this game. However, stopping the Spartans passing attack is going to be much easier said than done.
Bear Pascoe, Clifton Smith, Jason Crawley & Seyi Ajirotutu - Bear Pascoe is TB's favorite receiver. Pascoe does a great job of fighting off defenders to get to the ball and rarely does the ball get through his hands. Clifton Smith is a shifty back that can be used out of the backfield when the Dogs want to clear the field and give him some room to run. The past two weeks Clifton has made life much easier for TB by opening up the underneath passing game and allowing TB to dump the ball off when in trouble. Jason Crawley has done a good job of filling in for the injured Marlon Moore. While Crawley may not be the fastest of the Bulldogs he is physical and has great hands. If Fresno State needs a reception look for Crawley to step up and make the big catch. Seyi has done a phenomenal job of catching the deep routes this season. While Seyi does not have the wheels to outrun anyone he seems to run great routes and find himself open more often than not. If TB can find Seyi downfield the running game may open up allowing the Bulldogs to control the tempo on offense.
Corners and Secondary
A.J. Jefferson, Marvin Haynes, Damien Owens, & Moses Harris - The Bulldogs secondary has done a phenominal job on the field this season. The first team defense may not have an interception but they have limited what other teams can do. The Bulldogs do not give up the big play in the passing game often and are very physical. The Dogs hit very hard and will make every receiver pay if they come over the middle to make that all important third down reception. Fresno State will try to force San Jose to do what they don't want to and that is run the ball. If the Bulldogs can shut down Tafralis and the Spartans passing game the Dogs will be in great shape to walk away with a win.
Dwight Lowery & Christopher Owens - Lowery is one of the best corners in the WAC. He seems to have a nose for where the football is going and will more often than not walk away from a game with an int. He has 12 int's in 20 games for the Spartans so odds are better to stay away from this talented CB. Owens has done a good job on the other side of the field and actually has one more int that Lowery this season (Lowery has 3 Owens has 4). Fresno State will have to be careful when going to the air because these two men can turn the game around with one play.
Ben Jacobs & Marcus Riley - These are the two single most important men on the Bulldogs defense. Jacobs makes the calls and Riley seems to find himself near the ball every single play. Fresno State uses their LB's to control the running game and have done a very impressive job of shutting down other team's this season in all facets of the game. Look for both Riley and Jacobs to make some noise against San Jose as they are both capable of dominating this game on defense.
Matt Castelo - The Spartans took the field with only one LB on defense last week against Hawaii. Castelo would total 12 tackles in the game as he showed that he can be counted on in the middle of the field. Castelo will play a big role along with Owens and Lowery in stopping the Bulldogs running game. The Spartans will need Castelo to step up and play big in the middle to prevent the Bulldogs from running when they want to. If Castelo can find a way to neutralize the Bulldogs running game San Jose will have a much better chance of winning this game.
A.J. Jefferson and Clifton Smith - Fresno State is explosive both on kickoff and punt returns. A.J. Jefferson leads the nation in kick return average as he take the ball for 33 yards every time he touches it. Clifton Smith showed against Nevada that his shifting is back in gear and he will be hard to bring down if given enough room to roam the field. San Jose may be smart just to kick the ball out of bounds every time because these two can change the course of the game with one kick.
Overall this should be a hard fought game. I am sure I left some players out that can make a difference in the outcome of this game but the blog was running a bit long. Saturday is only two days away and from what I hear our tailgate will have some Spartan fans with us. Here's to a very well played game between two teams that will give their all out there on the football field. Go Dogs.