The Difference Between 9-3 and 7-5
Four games remain for the Fresno State Bulldogs. All four of these games will challenge the Bulldogs in one way or another. Each team remaining on their schedule does not provide the same type of challenge. None the less each team will force Fresno State to play a different style of football to win the game. New Mexico State and Hawaii run similar offenses so the game plan against both teams will have to be quite similar. Kansas State is a defensive team that will force the Dogs to throw and Utah State will come into Bulldog stadium with absolutely nothing to lose. In other words Fresno State had better be ready for the final four games of the season. If they aren't they very well could lose each game remaining on their schedule. While four losses is possible it is not probable. A Probable finish for Fresno State would be 7-5 with wins over NMSU and Utah State and losses to Kansas State and Hawaii. However, Fresno State has an outside shot at winning their final four games. The only way that is going to happen is if the following improvements are made over the course of these games.
1) Improved QB play - Let's not sugarcoat this aspect of Bulldog football. Tom Brandstater has not made many mistakes this season. Unfortunately he has not made many big plays either. Brandstater is about as average an QB as a team could have on it's roster. If Fresno State is going to make a run at 9-3 they are going to need Brandstater to step up and make some big throws. When the Dogs face a third and ten they will need Tom to hit a receiver in stride. When the Dogs have a third and eight they will need Tom to find the open receiver in the middle of the field. Fresno State will not be able to settle for improved field position against teams such as Hawaii. The Warriors will drive down the field in less than four minutes regardless of where the ball is at. Without an improved effort from Brandstater the Dogs will win no more than two games as I am willing to bet that both Kansas State and Hawaii will force Fresno State to throw the ball to beat them.
2) Offensive Line Cohesion - Going into the Boise game Fresno's offensive line looked to have gelled to the point where Brandstater was getting put on his back at a rate of once a game. Although Tom was only sacked three times against Boise he was hit at least ten times on top of that. In order for the Dogs to win they will need to protect their QB and allow him the time to throw. Without time Tom tends to rush his decision making process and force balls into coverages he cannot complete.
3) Lock down Corner Play - This may be one of the most important factors that allows the Bulldogs a run at 4-0 to finish the season. Damon Jenkins has had problems at the corner spot all season. He tends to give too much of a cushion and seems to allow the big first down every time the ball is thtown to his side of the field. Hawaii is going to pick on Jenkins just as Boise did. If there is a third and long for the Rainbows Jenkins will be the man they attack on the field. How well Jenkins adjusts to what is happening around him will make the difference between a punt or another third down conversion for the opponent's offense.
4) Field Goal Success - While it is true that Stitser made six field goals in a row before the Boise game the reality is that he seems to become erratic when the Dogs need him the most. Last year Stitser was nowhere to be found during the season and before he converted six attempts in a row this season he was erratic once again. Stitser's missed 47 and 39 yard field goal attempts certainly were not the only reason the Bulldogs lost to Boise, but they played a huge factor in the game. Fresno will have to capitalize on every scoring opportunity and will need Stitser to find his groove here in the last part of the season if they wish to be successful.
5) Run Defense Improvement - Boise stretched the field with their running game causing Fresno State problems with respect to bottling up the runner. If the Bulldogs can not figure out how to isolate the runner and make the tackle when the opportunity is there they will not beat anyone left on their schedule.
6) Lastly, better play calling - As I posted on the bark board, I do not oppose the plays that are called for the Bulldogs offense. I am disappointed instead with the timing that these plays are being called. If we have a 2nd or 3rd and 1 run the ball. Fresno State has always been able to get that extra yard to extend their drives and to try and throw the ball on a down such as the one mentioned above takes away the strength of Bulldog football. At the same time it would not hurt to have one of our RB's pass the ball when they line up at QB. If they were to throw it occasionally the defense would not be able to stack the line to stop the run.
Fresno State has the ability to make improvements in each of the above mentioned areas. The Dogs have the talent in place to make a 4-0 run a reality. In order for the final four games to be a success Fresno State will have to find a way to hold on to the ball and take it away from the opponent. We still have one interception on the season and quite honestly that is pathetic. Florida Atlantic has one player with seven interceptions this year. Fresno State has to do whatever it takes to create extra opportunities for the offense. If the Dogs cannot control the clock and improve their offense they will lose at least two of the final four games they play. A 7-5 finish is exactly what I expected from this team at the starting of the year. I would love to see this team prove me wrong. In fact I am sure that is something the entire Fresno State fan base would love and I truly hope the Dogs can turn this team into a winning product. It is going to take much more than showing up to win these games for the Dogs. All we can do as fans is hope that the coaching staff can elevate this team's willingness to win each game they play. If the Dogs can show the same intensity that we have seen in the past this should be a fun final month of the season. If they can't then once again we will struggle to finish the season and will sit at home while every other team enjoys a bowl game.