Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fresno State at Rutgers- Position, Individual and Unit Comparisons

It's a brand new season, so all stats are for last year. This is the first meeting between the two teams, and it is the furthest the Bulldogs have ever travelled. Rutgers is coming off a 8-5 season, with losses at home to Maryland, #20 Cincinnati, #6 West Virginia, and at Louisville and #16 Connecticut, and beat South Florida when they were ranked #2 in the country. They are coming off a 52-30 win over Ball State in the International Bowl. The bulldogs return much of a team that went 9-4 with wins over Kansas State and Georgia Tech.

Quarterbacks- Rutgers returns senior quarterback Mike Teel, who is coming off an impressive year having completed 203 of 349 attempts for a 58.2 percentage. He threw for 3,147 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is not much of a duel threat, however, having netted -49 yards rushing last season. He passed for 9 yards per attempt for a 145.4 passing efficiency, 2nd for returning QBs in the Big East. Fresno State's senior QB Tom Brandstater went 211 of 337 for a 62.6 percentage, throwing for 2654 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is more of a threat outside of the pocket, netting 118 yards rushing with 3TDs and averaging 2.5 yards per carry. He is 2nd in passing efficiency for returning WAC quarterbacks with 7.9 yards per attempt and an efficiency of 150.8.
Advantage- Even, though slightly in Fresno State's favor because of Brandstater's scramble and slightly better percentages. Teel was injured late last season to his thumb, which negatively impacted his numbers, but both are of similar size and ability at around 6-4 220. Unfortunately for Brandstater, last year's Rutgers team was the 2nd most tenacious passing D in the nation, giving up only 1927 yards in the air. Fresno State was a more middling 60th in this category. The Bulldogs' improved D-line should prove important to pressuring Teel, whose mobility is a question mark for the Knights. Both QB's are also likely to bring a senior-year, multiple-year starter maturity to the position which should make the game interesting.

Running Backs- This unit is going to be interesting for Rutgers, as it was lead by school- and Big East- record holder Ray Rice, whose 2012 yards and 24 TD's last year will be sorely missed by the Scarlet Knights, whose leading returning rusher is backup QB Jabu Lovelace with 332 yards and 4TDs. Mason Robinson, as sophomore, is the starter who produced only 202 yards and no TDs last year behind Rice. Along with Robinson, Kordell Young went for 58 yards last year and will return. Fresno State returns multiple options in Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding, all of whom rushed for over 400 yards last year with Mathews leading the pack with 866 yards and 14 TD's despite limited playing time. The unit was 19th in the country last year with 2493 total rushing yards, and loses only Clifton Smith form last year's team.
Advantage- Even without Clifton Smith's 625 yards and 5 TDs, the Fresno State running attack should be much stronger than the Scarlet Knight's with the loss of so important an element a Ray Rice, though one hastens to discount his backups of previous years on mere stats alone. That said, Fresno State has multiple options and an scheme with multiple sets, giving the running game more depth and complexity. Both rush defenses were in the bottom half of running yards allowed in the NCAA last season, meaning a strong ruining game from Fresno State provides a solid advantage for the Bulldogs.

Receivers/ Tight Ends – Both teams have important returnees in this unit, with Rutgers returning Kenny Britt, Tiquan Underwood, Tim Brown, and Kevin Brock, their four leading receivers, all returning. Britt lead the team last year with 1232 yards on 62 catches averaging 19.9 yards per catch and 8 TD's, followed by Underwood with 1100 yards off of 65 receptions for a 16.9 average and 7 TD's. Brown and Brock round out the receiving corp with 340 and 241 yards, respectively, and 2 touchdowns apiece. Fresno, too returns its top receivers in Marlon Moore, Bear Pascoe, and Seyi Ajirotutu. Moore went for 694 yards of 48 receptions with 5 trip to the end zone, while TE Bear Pascoe caught 45 catches for 553 yards and 4 TD's. Ajirotuto rounded out the top three with 29 catches for 491 yards. Also contributing were Jason Crawley, Isaac Kitner, Tim Lang and Jamel Hamler with 199, 111, 82, and 8 yards between them, respectively. Chastin West, lost at the end of last August, also returns for the Bulldogs. Last year Rutgers' receiving unit was 39th in the nation in total receiving yards with 3267 and 273 yards per game, compared with Fresno State at number 69 with 2760 and 230 yards per game.
Advantage – Even, veering slightly toward Rutgers. Both are likely to be the best receiving corps either team will have seen for some time, and will be among the top of their conferences and in the upper echelons of I-A football. While Rutgers' unit outproduced the Bulldogs by 500 total yards last season, Fresno State does return West who is likely to make up for the difference and this should make an impact. The major note of concern is noted above in the QB section- Rutgers' pass D is the 2nd best in the nation in terms of fewest yards allowed, meaning the Bulldogs' receivers will face a difficult challenge.

Defenses- This can be something of an area of concern for the Bulldogs. I have talked briefly already about the defenses for both sides, but a more detailed examination of each is revealing. Rutgers was 31st in the nation last year in fewest points allowed per game, giving up only 21.8; Fresno State was 62nd overall, giving up 26.9 points per game. Rutgers' pass D is the most troubling area of concern, giving up only 1927 passing yards, 2nd best in the nation after Ohio State. Fresno State is 60th nationwide in this category, having given up 2725 yards in the air. Neither team is in the upper half of rushing D, though Rutgers does also lead in that category in ruining yards allowed, 1871 to Fresno State's 2193. Free Safety Courtney Greene lead the Knights in tackles last year with 101 and returns, along with defensive tackle Jamaal Westerman who recorded 8 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss. CB Jason McCourty also blocked 12 punts for Rutgers last season. Fresno State loses a 132 tackler in Marcus Riley, and returns Ben Jacobs who recorded 81 tackles last season. Jon Monga was credited with 6.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss last year for the 'Dogs.
Advantage- Rutgers. Both teams are very similar in most categories, but Rutgers is exceptional in its ability to stop the pass, and the Bulldogs lose some important components in Marcus Riley, Tyler Clutts, and Damon Jenkins for our defense. Rutgers looks to continue it's solid pass D as they return 7 from their backfield which will be a major issue for the Bulldogs if the running game is unable to make up for the difference.

Special Teams- Fresno State returns AJ Jefferson who lead the nation in kick returns with 930 yards and a 35.8 yard per return average, which compares favorably with Rutgers' Tim Brown and Mason Robinson, a tandem who averaged 20.7 and 19.6, respectively, last season. Both teams face major losses to their kickers, as the Bulldogs lose Clint Stitser and the Knights lose Jeremy Ito, both of whom had a huge impact for this unit and it will be difficult for either team to replace their production. Rutgers also loses their special teams coach Darren Rizzi, who has become the head coach at Rhode Island. The Bulldogs also lose punter Kyle Zimmerman and punt returner Clifton Smith to graduation, and both are important losses.
Advantage- Toss-up. Both teams are pretty much gutted. the Bulldogs look to start Kevin Goessling as kicker and Robert Malone as punter, both underclassmen. Rutgers looks to do no better starting San San Te at kicker and Teddy Dellaganna, also two underclassmen. The one obvious advantage for the Bulldogs is the return of AJ Jefferson, who lead the nation in kick return average and should be in good form to do so again this season. I will note that, in watching game tape from both teams, both head coaches seem to enjoy trickery from special teams. I give two examples: in 2004, at home against Hawai'i in what would be a 70-14 rout, Pat Hill had just scored the 2nd TD of the 1st quarter when he lined up to return the ball, only to fake an onside kick which was recovered by the Bulldogs. For Rutgers, in last year's win over USF, the Knights missed a third down conversion and were forced to give the ball over, and lined up to kick it to the Bulls at the far end. Jeremy Ito took the snap and, instead of kicking it away, passed it to a receiver to secure the first down and continue the drive. My point is both teams will utilize such methods and I would look out for them to come very early in the game.

Coaches- Fresno State’s Pat Hill is 85-55 (.607) coming into Monday’s game. He’s 60-27 against the WAC, and 30-39 away from Bulldog Stadium. Rutgers' Greg Schiano is 38-46 (.428) with a home record of 23-22, and is 2-15 against teams in the top 25, which Fresno State is for the Coaches' Poll, but not the AP.
Advantage- Fresno State’s Pat Hill is willing to take on anyone, anytime, anywhere, and will have his team more than ready for the cross-country game in Rutgers Stadium in front of 43,000 (just 1,969 more than Bulldog Stadium, so a similar environment in that respect- even the same colors!). Greg Schiano has turned around a program that was close to sharing Temple's fate of being kicked out of the Big East and looking for friendlier digs in the MAC. Schiano ensured that would not happen and through a combination of smart recruiting in Florida, a connection with the populated NY/NJ corridor, and and AD willing to stick with a guy after a 1-11 season, and has proven to be one of the best coaches of the decade. And, he's got the balls to take on the Bulldogs, which about 60-odd other BCS schools can't say, even ones with coaches that used to play and coach here... I'm going with another toss-up in this category as well, both men are solid coaches on and off the field.

“Taste of the Town”- It’s California vs. New York, East Coast vs. West Coast, BCS vs. Mid Major... Now, I've got to admit a West Coast Bias. Always had one. But I finally moved to the East Coast (Boston) and found the place to be pretty all-right. New York is an amazing place, with amazing food, lights, and all the rest. But, New Brunswick/ Piscataway isn't quite the same as Manhattan. But it is close enough.
Advantage- Fresno. West Coast Bias. But, if you've never been to Manhattan, you are missing out.

Conclusion- This is going to be an amazing game. The two teams are surprisingly evenly matched in each position, with similar quarterbacks, wide receivers, defenses, and losses on (and tricks by) the special teams. Two places they radically differentiate- Rutgers lost their super-star running back, while Fresno returns multiple options; and Rutgers returns virtually all what is statistically next to the best pass defense in the nation. The Bulldogs will likely exploit the advantage on the ground and keep the maturing Kight running game in check. However, Rutgers' passing attack should be an interesting test for going into the much more pass-happy offenses to be faced later in the season. Fresno State and Rutgers are an interesting statistical match-up, though I think the running game of the Bulldogs will be the decisive factor in a Bulldog victory, so long as the team can focus after the long travel and change in atmosphere. I also forecast special teams to play a major role and hope that it is a role in our favor, as we have seen costly special teams mistakes take a toll in the past. Still, my call is: Bulldogs 32 - Scarlet Knights 27

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The 2008 Fresno State Bulldogs Offense

Fresno State fans to this point have addressed their worries as to how the Bulldogs are going to be able to stop opposing team’s offenses. While our front line on defense should be strong the best answer as to how the Bulldogs will stop the other team’s offense is through the use of our own. I realize this may sound confusing but sometime’s a team’s best defense is their offense when it comes to college football. The longer Brandstater and company are on the football field the better. If the Bulldogs can find a way to put together long drives that eat up time off the clock look for the defense to be energized each time they step onto the football field. Here is a review of those offensive players who will do their best to make the defense’s job that much easier.

At QB Tom Brandstater will take the reigns for his senior season. The offense will only go as far as Brandstater directs them to. While the running game is a huge part of the Fresno State offense the Bulldogs will need Brandstater to come through when the running game is not churning out yard after yard. Chances are that the Bulldogs will have to rely on Brandstater at least once this season. In 2007 when the Dogs had to turn to Brandstater he came through nearly every time. If the Bulldogs can get similar stats from Brandstater look for them to make noise on the BCS front this season.

The RB situation is one that is usually positive for the Bulldogs. 2008 will be no different due to the fact that Fresno State returns Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding. All look to be in outstanding physical shape and have a healthy level of competition between one another. With the offensive line opening holes for the Bulldog running backs look for one of these backs to break the 1,000 yard barrier this season. At the same time one cannot forget that A.J. Ellis and Rashad Evans will be used in the Fresno State offense as well. Each of these players brings a different aspect of explosiveness to the field which will allow the Dogs many more options on offense. While the situation at QB and RB seems positive they in no way compare to what the Bulldogs have returning at wide receiver and Tight End.

The Wide Receivers may be the position with the most talent for this 2008 Bulldog football team. With returning receivers such as Marlon Moore, Seyi Ajirotutu (who looks to have enhanced his game since last season), Jason Crawley, Devon Wylie, Matt Lindsay, Darren Newborne, and Chastin West the Bulldogs look to have the height (Ajirotutu, Lindsay), speed (Moore, Wylie) and physical nature (Crawley, Moore) to dominate the outside of the field. Add in the fact that Bear Pascoe is next to impossible to cover and you have a Fresno State offense that is going to score early and often. In 2006 the Bulldogs averaged 23 points per game on offense. In 2007 the Bulldogs improved their offense to the tune of 33 points a game. If Fresno State can improve slightly in 2008 they will average anywhere between 35-40 points per game. If Fresno State can find a way to put that many points on the board every week opposing teams will have a hard time keeping up with this high octane offense. This very well may be one of the best offenses the Bulldogs have ever fielded. Unfortunately we will have to wait 26 more days until we know if this offense is truly as good as they look to be.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will Fresno State be Defensively Challenged in 08?

Throughout the summer fans of Fresno State continued to realize that 2008 may be a special year not only for the players but for the fans of the Fresno State Bulldogs. With 16 returning starters Fresno State has the experience to make a serious run at the BCS. The offense will be explosive in 2008 as every starter returns aside Ryan Wendell. Replacing Wendell will be tough but Fresno State has always been known for its outstanding offensive line and 2008 should be no different. While the offensive side of the ball looks great the defensive side is left with nothing but questions. Can Fresno State replace WAC defensive player of the year Marcus Riley? Will Fresno State be able to create more takeaways en route to one win after another? Will the defensive line have enough depth to cause problems for opposing team’s offenses? The problem is there is no sure answer to any of these questions. I will do my best to answer each of these questions as I sat through practice today and have a bit better idea as to how good our defense truly will be.

To begin let’s address the defensive line. Fresno State finished second in the WAC with 36 sacks this past season. Look for that total to increase this season. Ikenna Ike and Wilson Ramos are going to give offensive lineman fits as defensive ends. Cornell Banks has both the speed and side to put pressure on the offensive backfield. Chris Lewis will do a great job coming in with the second team to provide pressure from the defensive end position. Bryce Harris looks to be a mountain of a man and should do well with the second team as well. Chase McEntee and Anthony Williams (who looks gigantic) will come in and provide depth right from day one. With all of this talent there should be no worries as to how much pressure our defensive line will cause. If you noticed I haven’t even mentioned the one player that I feel will cause the most havoc on the defensive line: Jon Monga. Monga will be the leader of this defensive line. Look for Monga to have an outstanding season as both a run stopper and momentum killer as well. I realize that many of you worry that our LB’s are going to have a problem stopping the run due to the loss of Marcus Riley. Let’s see how the LB’s break down this season.

Our top three linebackers will be Ben Jacobs, Nico Herron, and more than likely Chris Carter (who has not played the position in two years). Quaadir Brown will be at fall camp but he may not be able to go due to personal issues. We can only hope that Brown finds his way back to football because he is definitely needed on defense. With that being said our first team LB’s are solid. Carter may be stepping into the LB role again but do remember that was his position in high school. He will adapt to the LB role much faster than any other newcomer may have. Damion Whittington will be in fall camp this week providing much needed depth. Kyle Knox, Austin Raphael, and Sean Plummer will provide depth at this position as well. LB is definitely the weakest of any area for the Bulldogs. On the positive side the secondary will be deep and provide the LB’s with the help they need to get through the season.

The secondary will have little problems improving on their paltry takeaway totals from 2007. With A.J. Jefferson, Damion Owens, and Sharrod Davis at corner the Bulldogs should be able to cover man to man and press often. Marvin Haynes and Moses Harris will provide safety help as they have the ability to run with anyone in the nation. Backing up Harris and Haynes will be Zak Hill and Jake Jorde. Both of these men also have the ability to lock down the secondary with their cover skills. It will be because of the secondary that this defense is able to gamble and blitz much more this season than ever before. Look for the Bulldogs secondary to go to press coverage in order to give the safeties and corners time to blitz the QB. If the defensive front four combined with one or two CB’s or safeties blitz there will be very few teams who can stop Fresno State.

The Bulldogs defense is not nearly as worrisome as many have made them out to be. The first and second teams are strong and have the experience to make plays. Fresno State’s offense will provide the defense a large margin for error as the offense should average anywhere between 35-42 points per game. Fresno State’s defense will be fine and they will find a way to hold the other team just enough to give the offense a chance to win every game on the schedule.