Thursday, November 15, 2007

Not So Offensively Challenged Anymore

by nsc

Each time I write about our offense I have to refer to 2006 and how everything went horribly wrong. I don't do this because I enjoyed what happened during the 2006 season but instead I use 2006 as a reference to show Bulldog fans how bad things truly were for this program at this very same point last season. At this point last year Fresno State sat at 3-7. Our offense was non-existent aside one Dwayne Wright and our defense looked worse as the season wore on. Fans continually complained about the execution of our offense and how often the Bulldogs ran the ball regardless if the defense put nine men in the box to stop the run. Our QB looked lost, our plays lacked creativity, and our receivers did very little to help our QB succeed. We as fans threw most of the blame on the QB when in reality the problem lay with our offensive coordinator Steve Hagan. Hagan seemed to run the offense into the ground. The reason I say this is under Frank Cignetti the Bulldogs averaged 39 points a game the previous two seasons. In Hagan's one year as offensive coordinator the Dogs average dropped to 23 points per game. Fresno State had the same running game, three returning receivers, an outstanding tight end, and a stellar offensive line under Hagan yet they could not sustain a drive the entire season. At that time it may not have been obvious but our offensive coordinator was the sole reason this team struggled throughout the entire 2006 season. Enter Jim McElwain at offensive coordinator and everything immediately began to change.

Jim McElwain spent six years of his coaching career at Louisville and Michigan State. During his tenure at Louisville the Cardinals averaged 31 points per game. While McElwain wasn't the offensive coordinator for Louisville he helped lead the Cardinals to the Liberty Bowl in 2000 and 2001 and the GMAC bowl in 2002. From there McElwain moved on to Michigan State where the Spartans averaged 31 points a game as well. McElwain then made the jump to the NFL where he took over as the QB coach for the Oakland Raiders. However, we all know the Raiders had absolutely no talent to work with making J-Mac look much worse than he actually was. In a sense the Raider failure led J-Mac to Fresno State where for the first time in his coaching career he would become an offensive coordinator. J-Mac had his work cut out for him once he arrived here due to the fact that Hagan had ruined everything great about the Fresno State offense. McElwain was going to have to make the Bulldogs believe that they could dominate the game once again on offense. At the same time J-Mac would have to work under Pat Hill who had always preferred the run over the pass, the opposite of the offense J-Mac worked under in the past. Would J-Mac be able to succeed in a system that was foreign to him up until this point in his college career? In one word: yes.

To see the difference McElwain has made with the offense look no further than QB Tom Brandstater. His completion percentage has gone up 6% while he has thrown twice as many TD's as interceptions. Instead of handing games to the opponent Brandstater is now managing games in which he has given us a chance to win every single game this season aside the Oregon game. While the QB position has improved tenfold under the watchful eye of McElwain the running game has also thrived to the surprise of many. The Bulldogs knew going into the season they would have a strong runner in Lonyae Miller. What they did not realize was that Ryan Matthews as a true Freshman would shine the way he has. With two games remaining Matthews needs 250 yards rushing to top the 1000 yard barrier. If the Dogs qualify for a bowl game Matthews will have three games to reach the 1000 yard goal. While the running game has thrived in McElwain's system the wide receiving core has done far better than their counterparts in 2006. Seyi Ajirotutu has become a receiver the Dogs can count on down-field. Marlon Moore has emerged as a go to receiver in the slot. Clifton Smith has been amazing underneath and we all knew Bear Pascoe would be huge the entire season. The offense has gone from averaging 23 points a game in 2006 to 31 a game this season. While 31 points a game in college football is not an amazing number the way Fresno State gets to thirty one is the reason they are winning twice as many games as they did last season. McElwain has been able to keep defenses honest with his variety of formations that he lines up with. At times we see Brandstater alone with five receivers on the field. Other times have three receivers bunched on the left with one receiver to the right. Still there are times where McElwain will line up two running backs to stay in and block for Brandstater. In other words this offense is a shell of what it was in 2006.

Last season we as Bulldog fans realized how amazing our offense truly was before Steve Hagan arrived. We realized that maybe we had been spoiled with the offensive explosions the Dogs put up week after week. In one five game stretch during the 2004 season Fresno State averaged over fifty points a game. McElwain is trying his best to get the Bulldogs back to that level on offense. Generally it takes most teams years to improve their offense to the point they are happy with it. Fresno State will not work out all of the kinks in one season. We have made a vast improvement from the product that was put on the field in 2006. The goal from here on is to improve to the point that our offense in 2007 is an after thought. If Fresno State can hold on to McElwain at coordinator for the next couple of seasons this offense will begin to thrive in ways we have never seen before. Next year Ebahn Feathers comes into the Bulldogs system as he will add a variation to the Dogs offense we have never seen. I truly believe McElwain will use Feathers to help Brandstater enjoy his most successful season as a Bulldog. It is for these reasons that I believe when all is said and done the 2008 season will be one of the more successful seasons for the Fresno State Bulldogs. Finally Bulldog fans will be able to count on the Dogs scoring often once again, a feeling we all want back much sooner than later. With McElwain in charge I no longer worry about if this offense is going to explode but instead look forward to when it is going to happen.


Anonymous said...

Very true ,great write up.Now,what about our defense.They seemed to be just as much of an issue.Losing Riley will be huge,more so than Clutts,Shirley,or Jenkins.Run D has been atrocious,not so much the pass D,but when teams can run,they don't need to pass as much.That being said I still think there's been vast improvment in the secondary,I really think losing Jenkins is not going to hurt at all.

Anonymous said...

So you are thinking Feathers plays next year? If so,and he is to "help" Tommy, are you thinking he will play a "slash" position?

Just wondering...

Steve Burnes

nsc said...

Steve Feathers will probably be used like Smith or Matthews has beein this year from the QB spot. TB will be the starter (and rightfully so) and Feathers will come in from time to time but instead of running it every play he will also be able to throw the ball.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great to me!

Steve Burnes

Anonymous said...

very important match and great time to win it, so let's play for it.

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