First Look At Fresno State's "Mere Tuneup"

No matter how many Fresno State fans drive down the I-5 this weekend, the game is setting up as Bruins being huge underdogs in their own home stadium. The ESPN game preview is in fact calling it nothing more than a “mere tuneup” for Fresno State:

When Fresno State scheduled a road game against UCLA, the Bulldogs and coach Pat Hill probably didn't figure it would look like a mere tuneup heading into the WAC season.

If UCLA plays anything like it did for the last two games, it would be hard to imagine any other outcome.

There is not much we can say in response given how our team has performed in last two games. And it doesn’t seem to far off the mark from our off season projection when we marked this game as a “tossup” writing that “the prospects for the Bruins in this game depends on how the offense is performing under Olson or Craft or Forcier with a brand new OL.” Well the results from last two weekends are not too encouraging to say the least. So Craft and his team-mates are going to have their hands full against a team that will be looking to make some kind of statement with their first ever victory against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Fresno State is coming into the game after a thrilling 55-54 double OT win against Toledo in which Toledo gambled and lost. Toledo went for two rather than kick the extra point following their TD. Toledo offense rolled up 598 yards of balanced offense with 297 yards coming via their ground attack.

As mentioned earlier today Fresno is also coming into this game missing two of their best DL. So the game presents an opportunity for the Bruin OL to build upon its improved performance against Arizona, particularly if we get Ray Cater back in full speed and have Bell available for action.

We don’t need to go over our offensive statistics since we have been barraged with all the gory statistics from last two weeks. As for Fresno State here are few numbers that kind of jumped out to me:

  • FSU opponents have been averaging 4.68 yards per rushing attempts (557 yards in 119 attempts
  • FSU’s passing defense has been pretty decent holding opposing QBs to a very average 52.7 percent completion rate

FSU’s defense is headlined by their MLB Brandon Jacobs. From Kevin Pearson’s notes at PE.com:

BEN JACOBS (6-3, 240, So.): The Bulldogs middle linebacker, Jacobs leads the team with 28 tackles, including three for a loss. He has also recovered a fumble and blocked a kick this season.

The numbers highlighted above indicate that FSU has a solid secondary. That was the assessment in this preview by Rivals.com before the season:

STRONGEST AREA: The secondary returns cornerback Damion Owens, strong safety Moses Harris and free safety Marvin Haynes from a team that ranked third in the WAC in pass-efficiency defense, though Haynes still must beat out senior Jake Jorde to keep his starting job. Owens, Harris and Haynes have two years of starting experience each. The only hole is at the second cornerback spot, where standout kick returner A.J. Jefferson gets first dibs at replacing departed three-year starter Damon Jenkins.

We have talked all week about how the pressure is on Craft to produce this weekend. Hopefully the return of Bell and Carter will give him a decent ground game to work with this week. The key for Craft and UCLA’s offense will be gain 4-5 yards in first down so that they can get themselves in manageable 2nd and 3rd situations. Otherwise, if the offense gets itself into 3rd and long often, it will be another long afternoon at the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, on offense here are the key players per Pearson’s notes:

QB TOM BRANDSTATER (6-5, 225, Sr.): Brandstater is a highly regarded NFL prospect who is among the best quarterbacks the Bruins will see this season. He is big and smart, throwing for five touchdowns and one interception this season. He is averaging 224 passing yards per game.

TE BEAR PASCOE (6-5, 260, Sr.): Pascoe is likely one of the best tight ends UCLA will see this year. He leads the team with 11 receptions and is an adept blocker and will certainly create some tough matchups for the Bruins.

In addition to those two tailback Ryan Matthews is having a decent start to the season. He has rushed for 304 yards in 61 carries averaging 5 yards per carry (3TDs). More from Rival.com’s season preview, which once again headlines Pascoe:

STAR POWER: How good a tight end is senior Bear Pascoe? Ask Texas A&M. Pascoe scored three touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 47-45 triple-overtime loss to the Aggies last season. Pascoe finished with 45 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns. He could emerge as one of the nation's top tight ends this season.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Fresno State has so much experience on offense that it will be tough for any first-year guy to get much playing time, but the Bulldogs' leading scorer still could end up being a redshirt freshman. We're referring to Kevin Goessling, the favorite to win the kicking job.

IT'S HIS TIME: Wide receiver Chastin West was one of Fresno State's most promising underclassmen after catching 33 passes for 365 yards as a freshman two years ago, but he missed 2007 with an injured left knee. If West can stay healthy for an entire season, he has star potential.

STRONGEST AREA: Fresno State was 14th in the nation in rushing offense and capped the season by running for 286 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl against a highly regarded Georgia Tech defense. And the Bulldogs delivered that big performance against the Yellow Jackets without leading rusher Ryan Mathews, who finished the season with 866 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding are back after combining for 1,878 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. They will be running behind a veteran line that features left tackle Bobby Lepori, right guard Andrew Jackson and right tackle Kenny Avon.

WEAKEST AREA: Although Fresno State's line boasts plenty of experience, the departure of Ryan Wendell leaves a big hole at center. The Bulldogs are counting on senior Adam McDowell or sophomore Joe Bernardi to fill the void. This offense doesn't have many weaknesses, but the situation at center does offer cause for concern.

It will be interesting to see how the defense stacks up against Pascoe given the success Gronkowski and Pitta enjoyed against us last two weekends. One thing that could potentially help Walker is that Fresno State runs more of a traditional pro set offense and their QB doesn’t have the same mobility as Tuitatama.

Another data point that stuck out to me re. Fresno St

  • Once they get into the red zone they are deadly (91.67%) while their opponents convert 76.92% of red zone opportunities.

The obvious challenge for next weekend is for UCLA to play a mistake free football game and play solid special teams. We can’t afford to give FSU’s offense short field like we did to Arizona time after time last weekend. You can check out more numbers on Fresno State here and here.

Obviously we will have post more notes on FSU next couple of days. Meanwhile, we would love to hear your thoughts on how the Bruins can pull of this upset in this “tuneup” game for Fresno State.

GO BRUINS.

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