Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Confident Realization

by nsc

We are all familiar with the offensive problems that the Bulldogs suffered throughout the 2006 football season. We are all also very familiar with the offensive improvement that was shown on the football field in 2007. Tom Brandstater looked like the QB we all hoped he would turn into. Our running game once again dominated nearly every game as the Bulldogs averaged over 200 yards on the ground per game. Receivers such as Marlon Moore, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Jason Crawley showed they can be the go to guy when the game is on the line. Fresno State raised their points per game average nearly ten points from 23 to 33 and showed the ability to not only hit on big plays but to control the clock for the entirety of a game. While it would be nice to credit the players for this improvement the fact is their offensive coordinator is the reason the Bulldogs changed their fortune during the course of the season. Many may have forgotten that this Bulldog team began the season just as the 2006 team did: 1-2 with a close loss to a top twenty five team. In 2006 the Bulldogs came unglued faltering in their next six games following their hard fought loss to Oregon. When 2007 began in the same manner with a hard fought loss at Texas A&M many worried that the Dogs would fall apart once again. However, J-Mac would not let the 2007 Bulldogs suffer the same fate as the team of year's past had experienced.

It would be unfair to credit only the offense for the 9-4 record the Bulldogs achieved in 2007. But to ignore what J-Mac did for this offense would be naive in every sense of the imagination. J-Mac took an offense with little direction and turned them into a powerful unit that would be capable of scoring each time they had the ball. In 2006 Fresno State often led with the run because the creative side of the Dogs offense had disappeared. No longer did the Dogs rely on passing the ball to gain yardage. Many Bulldog fans were left wondering if the coaches had any faith in the Fresno State offense. Steve Hagen (one of the single worst offensive coordinators to ever set foot at Fresno State) let this team fall apart right in front of our very eyes. The offensive woes culminated with one of the single most embarrassing defeats in Fresno State history: A 13-12 defeat at the hands of winless Utah State. The Aggies would go on to finish with one win in 2006 and Fresno State would be the lone victim. During their loss to Utah State it became apparent that the Bulldogs lacked any type of downfield threat. The reason for the lack of passing however did not lay in the hands of the players themselves. Fresno State had receivers capable of making plays but the offensive coordinator did not allow the Bulldogs to exploit Utah State and their horrendous pass defense. Instead Hagen chose to allow Utah State to remain in the game by constantly running the ball between the tackles. That was an experience that no Bulldog coach, player, or fan ever wanted to experience again. J-Mac made sure this became a realization in 2007.

In 2007 the Bulldogs opened the season just as they had in 2006: Leading with the run. However, something was different about the 2007 Bulldogs offense. Instead of calling 60% run plays the passing game began to make an appearance on the football field. J-Mac showed that he was the type of coach that not only would pass the ball, but if the defense allowed him to J-Mac would direct the offense to throw the ball often. The first sign of the passing game occurred against the Aggies of Texas A&M. In a game Fresno State trailed 19-0 at halftime the Bulldogs opened the second half allowing Brandstater to open the offense up. That was exactly what Brandstater did as the Dogs scored 45 points over the span of the second half and three overtimes. While the Dogs offense did not explode after this game it was only a short period of time before Fresno State fans were able to see what J-Mac could truly direct this offense to do. Three weeks later Fresno State traveled to Nevada and scored 49 followed by 37 at Idaho and 30 against San Jose State. In eight of their last nine games the Bulldogs scored at least 30 points in each game. The offense had arrived and the fans in Fresno finally were able to see what this team was capable of on the field of play.

As I stated earlier it would be foolish to think that J-Mac had little to do with the improvement the offense showed in 2007. So it should have come as no surprise that J-Mac immediately became a hot commodity to the rest of the college football world. His alma mater Eastern Washington offered him the head coaching position. While the decision was tough for J-Mac he realized that Fresno is where he wants to be for now. Once the Bulldogs offense heard the news that J-Mac was staying they exhaled and were able to breathe fresh air once again. Players such as Tom Brandstater, Ryan Matthews, and Marlon Moore know this offense is because of J-Mac's creativity. Without J-Mac these players would not show the level of confidence that they do on the football field today. it is because of J-Mac's creativity that the Bulldogs feel they can score on anyone anytime they take the field. While the Bulldogs may not be able to hold on to J-Mac for many more years into the future they seem intent on doing their best to take full advantage of his creative mind sooner than later. It is J-Mac that allows the Bulldogs to confidently realize that in 2008 they may just become the type offense that no team can shut down regardless of what conference they play in.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

NSC asks...Can Fresno State Replace These Seniors?

by nsc

In 2007 the Bulldogs will endure the losses of a handful of seniors. Fresno State's offense will bid adeu to both Clifton Smith and Ryan Wendell. On the defensive side of the ball the Bulldogs will say goodbye to Marcus Riley (ouch), Damon Jenkins, Tyler Clutts, and Charles Tolbert. On special teams the Bulldogs say goodbye to Clint Stitser and Kyle Zimmerman. Obviously there are more seniors moving on such as Shannon Dorsey and Jesus Tapia but the players listed above are the ones that will be the most important to replace. How Fresno State goes about replacing these key players may determine what happens on the field of play in 2008. Since the offense has the least amount of work to do we will start with them.

2008 Bulldogs Offense: Key Losses: Clifton Smith and Ryan Wendell. Key returning players: Everyone else. Yes I could list the players returning but you all know who is coming back if you are a true Bulldog fan. With our entire receiving core returning Fresno State's offense should be as explosive as any team in the nation. It should also be noted that Fresno State returns three RB's who made a name for themselves on the field in 2007. While returning so many core players is important it should also be noted that our QB returns, our #1 TE threat returns, and our entire offensive line minus Wendell returns. I realize Wendell was wonderful on the offensive line but Fresno State rarely has problems with the offensive line. There is a reason this team rushes for so many yards season after season. The offensive line is the main reason that Brandstater has been sacked 23 times in 24 games over the past two seasons. Anytime an offensive line gives up less than one sack a game they are doing their job to protect the quarterback.

What to expect from the 2008 Offense: Expect the Bulldogs to plug in players such as A.J. Ellis , Tim Lang, and Devon Wylie to help shoulder the loss of Clifton Smith. While these players may not have the moves that Smith did they are young and will have time to develop on the field of play. Each of these three players bring different aspects to the field and will be able to show how talented they are in 2008. The replacement of Wendell will be much easier as Fresno State has so a plethora of offensive lineman to step in and play right away. Players such as Joe Bernandi and Devan Cunningham will be on the field often opening up holes for our three headed running attack in 2008. Expect this Bulldog team to score nearly 40 points a game during the 2008 season.

2008 Bulldogs Defense: Key Losses: Marcus Riley, Charles Tolbert and Tyler Cutts. Key Returning Players: A. J. Jefferson, Damian Owens, Ben Jacobs, Quaadir Brown, and Jon Monga. Defense is going to be the question mark of this football team in 2008. The offense will produce early and often for the Dogs so the defense is going to have to make sure that the opposing team does not hang with the high powered offense of the Dogs. Fresno State will not be able to replace Marcus Riley. He is not the kind of player you can replace in one season. Ricky Pemesa was tabbed to replace Riley and may be able to do so, but it will take much longer than one season. Ben Jacobs, Q Brown, Todd Chisom, Nico Herron, Ryan Machado, and Ryan Mckinley will all have to step up and find a way to bring the defensive intensity that Riley brought to the field. If the defense can find a way to compensate for the loss of Riley they will do fine in the long run.

What to expect from the 2008 Defense: Early on the Dogs will suffer on defense if for no other reason than team leadership. I realize we have a good amount of players returning on defense but the intensity that players such as Tolbert, Clutts, and Riley brought to the field will be hard to match. Fresno State will do it's best as they will add the Jackson brothers and Matt Akers to their defensive line. While he has not committed a player such as Valentine could single handedly sure up this defensive line. The secondary will be a step up from 2007 as both Harris and Haynes return as safeties with Jefferson and Owens at corner. Although Jenkins started for Fresno State for the greater part of his college career he never truly developed into the type of corner the Dogs had hoped he would. With Jenkins gone other players such as Davis will have a chance to make a name for himself in 2008. Fresno State will give up a lot early on but expect this defensive unit to come together and eventually learn to make plays by the middle of 2008.

2008 Special Teams Key Losses: Kyle Zimmerman and Clint Stitser. The special teams unit will now turn the reigns over to redshirt Freshman Kevin Goessling. This kid has an amazing leg and will do just fine as our field goal kicker. He is left footed which may remind many of you of Asen Asperuhov. Goessling will do his best to make us forget about Clint Stitser. As for punting Robert Malone will take over duties here. Malone was tabbed the punter a season ago only to lose his job to Zimmerman. Hopefully in 2008 Malone will mature to the point that he becomes the type of punter this program always thought he would be. Special teams may take a while to come around in the kicking game. We shall see how this plays out.

Overall the Dogs look to have a solid team on paper. At the end of 2007 the Dogs finished 30th in coaches poll. Look for Fresno State to open near the top 25. If the Dogs play strong at UCLA and K-State look for a top ten Wisconsin team to head to Fresno to face a top 20 Bulldogs team. Hopefully everyone remembers the last time a top ten team came to Fresno. If you don't it was Oregon State in 2001. This Bulldog team has the talent to do exactly what the Dogs did to Oregon State in 2001. Here is hoping that it is in the cards for the Dogs to make a run like they did in 2001. If the newcomers play to their potential 2008 will be a great season for Fresno State. All the Dogs need to remember is the only game that matters right now is their next game against UCLA.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The State of the Bulldogs

by nsc

Recently, I spent three days in Boise, Idaho to watch our Fresno State Bulldogs take on the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. I had high hopes for Fresno State coming into the Humanitarian bowl if for no other reason than the fact that the Bulldogs were able to turn around their fortunes on the football field when compared to what happened during 2006. Since the Bulldogs defeated Georgia Tech I have read that Fresno State will be the team to watch out for in 2008. I have read that if there is a mid-major primed to make a run at the BCS in 2008 it's the Bulldogs. While I tend to agree with this sentiment I want to cover a few thoughts that fans of Fresno State should stear clear of during what should be a very eventful offseason for Fresno State. I realize that Pat Hill is currently en route to signing one of his best recruiting classes in Bulldog history, but staying grounded is what we as Bulldog fans need to do from now until August 31st and the following reasons are why I think we need to be cautious as to what we dream of.

1) Refrain from all BCS talk: Yes it's great to believe that Fresno State is a team on the cusp of the BCS. Yes it's great to believe that our beloved Dogs will one day rise above the rest and find a way to run the table regardless of how tough their schedule is. However, I warn all Bulldog fans to stay away from BCS talk. Fresno State is going to be a good team in 2008, I have no doubts about that. However, we do play a very grueling schedule and after the Hawaii debacle it is going to be even tougher to qualify for a BCS game as a mid-major. No, they won't change the formula or the way a mid-major has to qualify but the voters will be much more apprehensive when voting for a mid-major. With that being said Fresno State does have a schedule that can reap rewards if they play smart. To me smart is attempting to go 1-0 for twelve straight weeks. It does not matter what happens in week 5 if you don't win in week 1. I advise all of you as fans to begin the season believing that a 1-0 start at the Rose Bowl is exactly what this team needs. We do not need to look ahead to Boise or Wisconsin. We need to play UCLA first and that is where the journey begins.

2) Understand Fresno State must improve on defense: Yes the Bulldogs went 9-4 this past season. But the Dogs defense gave up more yards than the offense gained. We continually had problems as we once again had a season with five or less int's. Fresno State is going to have to find a way to improve their defensive numbers in order to become a top flight team. Yes our offense will be loaded and we will score plenty of points, but will that matter if we lose 48-45? Without an improved defense the Dogs will lose the same games they did this past year, and believe me when I say this is going to be hard to do seeing that our best Linebacker in Bulldog history no longer with us (Marcus Riley). If we do not have anyone step up the defense could be in for another long season.

3) Do not put too much stock into true Freshman: I know Ebahn Feathers will be debuting for the Bulldogs next fall but remember he is a Freshman. Yes it is possible for a Freshman to make an impact such as Ryan Matthews did in 2007 but it does not happen often. If you realize that these young players have plenty to learn then you will be pleasantly surprised at how good they do when given the chance to play. You won't see these players on the field nearly as much as the upperclassmen and rightfully so, but we will need contributions from every player on the team if we hope to have an oustanding 2008 season.

4) Last but not least please let Tom be Tom: My last request and to me most important is to let Brandstater be himself in 2008. I think fans came along ways in 2007 with respect to accepting Tommy B. as our QB. But I still read plenty of messages and threads that say Tom is not as accurate as Carr or as talented as Carr. In the end all I want is for Tom to be himself. I think he is going to be great in 2008 and I think he has done just fine with the team he has. I believe his Junior year was very impressive and when I watch him play I see the skills that tell me one day he will play past Fresno State. I just hope everyone else in Bulldog land will accept him for who he is. Tom does not need to be Carr, Tom needs to be Tom. If Brandstater is the best he can possibly be week in and week out the Bulldogs will win a majority of their games in 2008.

2008 can be a special season for Fresno State. We have the talent, we have the coaching, and we have the determination as a team to make 2008 unforgettable. But we as fans need to hold back and keep all of this talk about winning every game under raps until the twelth game of the season. If the Dogs are 11-0 then I have no problems talking about where they may end up. Remember we were upset with Pat Hill for dreaming of the BCS a few years ago when we could not win the WAC. That is exactly what we need to stay away from as fans. Enjoy the offseason. We will have plenty of news about practices, players, and the direction of this team. Just enjoy it because right now isn't it great to be a Bulldog fan?