Broncos, Bulldogs Battle in Pivotal WAC Game

Boise State versus Fresno State. Some of the most memorable games in recent years have pitted the two WAC powers. As Saturday's matchup is less than a week away, we take a look at the Bulldogs.

Oooh FresNoooo!



Boise State vs. Fresno St, October 23, 2004

Bronco Stadium, ESPN2, 8:15PM



     For o so many weeks, countless fanatics of college football and programming executives had circled in red ink this date on their calendar, and were counting down the days in which the Broncos and Bulldogs would meet up again.  This game would no doubt be a key cog in the gear of a WAC championship, and many thought that it might have a role in deciding which team might ultimately be the BCS buster.  But alas, such is not our fortune.  Boise State's new-found rivals, the Bulldogs of Fresno State have stumbled of late and lost its two most recent contests, first to Louisiana Tech 28-21 in Ruston, and then to UTEP 24-21 in Fresno.  These most recent results have tragically diminished the bright red circle on your October calendar to a pale, lackluster pink.  Despite Fresno State's early season dominance at Washington and Kansas State, the Bulldogs have two conference losses and need a significant miracle to re-capture a portion of first place in the Western Athletic Conference.


     Meanwhile, Boise State is coming off a close win at Tulsa to remain unde…undefea…und…well, the ‘U' word, with six straight wins against zero losses.  Make no mistake; the results of the Bronco-Bulldog contest will have a dramatic impact on the positioning at the top of the WAC.  Should Boise State win, it will maintain its conference winning streak, at least until Hawaii hits town next week, and will continue to aim for a third-straight WAC championship.  This would also mean that Fresno State is effectively eliminated from any portion of a shared championship.  However, should Fresno State defeat the Broncos, this would stop all kinds of streaks for Boise State: consecutive wins (17), consecutive wins at home (22), consecutive wins in conference (21), and consecutive wins over Fresno St (3).  It would also mean that Fresno State is still in the hunt for a co-championship and that Boise State would have to win its remaining conference contests to maintain its dominance over the WAC.


     Last week was a break for the Bulldogs, which couldn't have come at a better time.  Over the past couple of weeks, the Bulldog offense has sputtered with turning the ball over and an ineffective passing game.  With the offense struggling, Fresno St hasn't been able to find the "W" column since September 18th.  With the bye week, Pat Hill was able to refocus the offensive skill players and reinforce the fundamentals with all of his players.   While playing the two-time defending WAC champions may seem like a daunting task just when the Bulldogs are struggling, we should be recall that since 2000, Fresno State is 5-1 coming off bye weeks. 


     However, looking back at the past several years, Fresno State is reminded of Bronco dominance since joining the WAC, once the singular playground of the Bulldogs.  In 2001, when Fresno State made its most national noise with David Carr and a national ranking of #8, the Broncos went to Sweeney Field and walked out with a surprising upset over the Bulldogs, 35-30, holding on late with a sack and fumble on the future first round draft pick Carr.  The following year in 2002, in front of a national ESPN audience and with revenge on their minds, the Bulldogs were victimized in Bronco Stadium by a determined Ryan Dinwiddie, 67-21.  In 2003, the Bulldogs greeted the Broncos back to Sweeney promising retribution.  Another solid performance by Dinwiddie and his favorite receiver Tim Gilligan performed a surgical 31-17 experiment in Fresno.  The series between Fresno State and Boise State is now even at 3 wins and 3 losses, including two Fresno State wins when Boise State was still a Division 1AA program (1977 and 1984).


     Fresno State started out the 2004 season just like many of the past several years with so much promise, defeating big conference foes in Washington (35-16) and Kansas State (45-21), both on the road.  The Bulldogs followed these wins up with a home victory over Portland State (27-17).  That ended Fresno State's non-conference slate, and seemingly their luck.  For the past two weeks, the Bulldogs have run into a WAC buzzsaw, losing to Louisiana Tech in Ruston (21-28) and UTEP in Fresno (21-24).  What became of such a prospective BCS buster and a favorite to win the WAC in the eyes of many?


     The difference appears to be a tale of two teams, not one.  Against Washington, Kansas State and Portland State, the Bulldogs were averaging 35.7 ppg on offense and allowing 18.0 ppg on defense.  Compare these to the scoring average against La Tech and UTEP: 21.0 ppg on offense (a drop of 14.7 ppg) and 26 ppg allowed on defense (an increase of 8.0 ppg).


     Offensively, the Bulldogs gained 170.3 ypg passing during the first 3 games and only 115.0 ypg in the last 2 games (a drop of 55.3 ypg).  While rushing, Fresno State actually went up from 139.0 ypg to 232.0 ypg (an increase of 93.0 ypg).  However, defensively, the Bulldogs seem to be losing their grip.  Fresno State permitted 157.0 ypg in the air during non-conference play and 171.5 ypg in conference (allowing 14.5 ypg more).  Against the rush, non-conference foes gained only 117.7 ypg and conference foes gained 168.0 ypg (an increase of 50.3 ypg).  With the struggles that the Bulldogs have experienced in conference match-ups, no one needs to remind Coach Hill that the WAC is stronger than most outsiders give credit.


    Part of the problem that the Bulldog's offense has experienced is the sub-par performance on the part of Paul Pinegar.  This 6'4", 220lbs junior from Woodland, CA has a QB rating of 96.25 after five games, including a season low 75.13 against LaTech (compare against Zabransky's QB rating for the season of 148.8).  He's thrown five TD's, but against ten interceptions.  Pat Hill had high expectations for Pinegar coming into the 2004 season, as he had a quality freshman season and a solid sophomore season, despite missing about half the season with a torn pectoral muscle.


     After only about 6 quarters of play, the Bulldogs lost their starting RB for the season, junior Dwayne Wright who had managed to rush for 183 yards in under two games.  This has caused a great deal of consternation in the Bulldog nation, but have found more-than-adequate replacements in 5'10", 200 lbs junior Bryson Sumlin (78 carries, 417 yards, 5.3 ypc, 3 TD's) and 5'9", 185lbs junior Wendell Mathis (46 carries, 323 yards, 7.0 ypc, 3 TD's).  These two "replacements" are leading the Bulldog offense with a team 232 rushing yards in the past two games.


     Fresno State's offense, when compared to the Bronco defense, shows opportunity for Boise State.  Bulldog scoring average for the season is 29.8 ppg against the Bronco defense scoring average of 26.8 ppg.  Fresno St is averaging 352.2 ypg for the season, while Boise State's defense allows 350.67 ypg.  If reality meets statistics, then Boise State will permit Fresno State to gain as many yards as it typically does and score as many points as it usually does.


     Conversely, it appears that the defense for Fresno State is its strong suit.  The Bulldog defense is permitting only 21.2 ppg.  This compares to Boise State's nationally-leading offense of 46.0 ppg.  The Bulldog total defense permitted this season is 299.0 ypg, while the Broncos are accustomed to gaining 496.8 ypg.  This battle alone is worth the price of admission.  The Bronco offense against the Bulldog defense--the winner of this sub-contest will likely control the outcome of the game.


     Several times this season the Bronco defense has looked vulnerable, while the Bulldog offense hasn't yet gotten off-track.  Meanwhile, the Bronco offense has looked at times spectacular and other times ineffective.  The Bulldog defense has been the anchor of the team, though it has allowed the Fresno State ship to bob mightily the past couple of weeks.  My two biggest questions for Saturday night:  Which Bronco team will show up?  Which Bulldog team will show up?



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