Get Ready for Great MPC Bowl Treat!

With Boise State bowling in the Liberty this year, Fresno State vs. Virginia is a dream matchup for the MPC Bowl. The game Monday, December 27th in Bronco Stadium will feature not only 2 of the top 30 teams in the country, but 2 of the top rushing attacks as well. In this preview of the game, we look at strengths of each team, as well as the starting lineups for this great bowl game.





     #18 Virginia and #28 Fresno State battle Monday, December 27th in Bronco Stadium in one of the greatest matchups in Boise bowl history.  The 2002 Humanitarian Bowl between Boise State and Iowa State was a classic, but certainly Virginia is the best visiting team to ever appear in Bronco Stadium in the post-season.  Virginia and Fresno State bring identical 8-3 records to the nationally-televised game but opposite results.  Virginia charged out to a 6-0 record and 1st place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, only to falter down the stretch.  Fresno State, meanwhile, knocked off BCS foes Kansas State and Washington on the road before hitting a bad stretch against Western Athletic Conference rivals Louisiana Tech, UTEP and Boise State.  Streaking Fresno State has not lost since in putting together 5 wins in a row.   


     The 20,000+ fans that saw the 2003 Humanitarian Bowl are witnesses to the overpowering running game that Georgia Tech had.  Virginia is even better, as the 2004 MPC Bowl will feature 2 of the top 15 rushing teams in the country--Virginia is 12th with 241.3 yards a game while Fresno State is 15th with 228 per contest.  How are the two defenses at stopping the run?  Virginia's defense is 18th against the rush allowing 109 yards per game.  Fresno is 66th allowing 156 a game.  That edge goes to Virginia.


     Both teams use the pass as a compliment to their running attack, not as a weapon.  Virginia is 87th in the nation throwing the ball, accounting for 182 yards per game through the air.  Fresno is 97th throwing for 172.  Defensively, the Bulldogs are 14th allowing just176 yards per game in the pass-happy WAC.  Virginia is 23rd allowing 191 per contest in the run-oriented ACC.  In the Pass Efficiency Defense statistics, Fresno State has been superb, ranking 4th in the country in that category, while Virginia is 63rd.  Slight edge to Fresno, more if Bulldog quarterback Paul Pinegar gets time to throw. 


     The MPC Bowl features the #1 and #2 teams in the country in 4th-down conversions.  The Cavaliers are an incredible 87.50% (7-8).  Fresno State is 6-7 (85.71%) but both teams' numbers are among the lowest number attempted.  It is apparent that both teams will only go for it on 4th down if they are a yard or 2 short, but when they do, they stand a good chance of making it.  Fresno State ranks 8th in 3rd-down conversions (48.57%) while Virginia converts at a 46.62% clip (69-148), good for 18th in the country.  Virginia's ball-control offense gets 22 first downs per game (#1 in ACC and 30th in the nation).  Fresno comes in 5th in the WAC (behind national leader Boise State, Hawai'i, Nevada and Rice) and 46th in I-A.


     Running and passing mean nothing if you can't put the ball over the goal line.  Fresno is 5th in the nation in scoring, averaging over 40 points per game.  Virginia is 32nd with less than 30 a game.  Defensively, Virginia is allowing 16 per outing and Fresno 20.  Slight edge to Fresno State. 


     With a point spread of 5 points, this one could come down to special teams play, mistakes and other factors.  Fresno is 36 yards in net punting  while Virginia is next to last in Division I-A with less than 30 in net punting.  Huge advantage to Fresno State, especially when you consider that neither team will gamble on 4th down very often.  If it's a game of punting, Fresno State will win.


     Virginia is the least penalized team in the ACC (57 penalties for 518).  The Cavaliers, or the Hoos as they like to call themselves, rank in the Top 30 in the country in least number of penalties.  Fresno State is the 28th most penalized team (85 penalties for 801 yards).  Huge advantage to Virginia here.



The Starting Lineups:



QB:  Paul Pinegar (6-4,220, Jr.) of Fresno State vs. Marques Hagans of Virginia.


     Frankly, Pinegar didn't have the kind of season that he did as a sophomore at the helm for the Bulldogs.  Pinegar was 150-256 for 1,864 yards and 18 touchdowns but 15 interceptions.  He was also sacked 17 times.  Blocking from the line improved as the season progressed, and so did Pinegar's performance.


     Marques Hagans (146-231) for 1,862, 8 TD's and 5 interceptions.  Hagans was sacked 14 times.  Hagans was 2nd in the ACC to Brock Berlin of Miami in

Pass Efficiency but only 7th in the ACC in yards.  He led the ACC with 63.2% completion percentage.  When called upon, Hagans is efficient, but he's not going to burn you time and time again for 70-yard scores.  He throws quick passes mostly to his tight end and running backs; hence the high completion percentage.  Both quarterbacks are ranked as efficient, yet both throw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns.  Hagans has the added dimension of his great running and scrambling ability.  Whichever quarterback makes correct decisions, does not throw into coverage and protects the ball will likely lead their team to victory in the MPC Bowl.  A slight edge here to Virginia.     


Running Back:  


  Both teams feature a 1-2 punch at running back.  First-team All-ACC Alvin Pearman for Virginia was 2nd in the ACC in rushing with 985 yards, and teammate Wali Lundy was 4th with 801 (161 carries).  Lundy also has scored 16 touchdowns, an indication that he gets the ball a lot around the goal line.  For the Bulldogs, Bryson Sumlin (5-10, 200, Jr.) has accumulated 1,010 yards on 170 carries for 13 touchdowns and Wendell Mathis (5-9, 185, Jr.) has toted the ball for another 869 on 183 carries for 12 scores.  This comparison is about as even as it gets.




     Tight end Heath Miller (6-5, 265, Jr.), has an innate ability to find an opening in defensive coverage.  Miller led the Hoos and was 6th in the ACC in receiving (36 catches for 475 yards and 5 TD's).  Miller received the Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end, was named All-American by the Associated Press, Walter Camp Foundation and and is a two-time first-team All-ACC honoree. The junior tight end led the nation's tight ends with 70 receptions and 835 yards, rewriting the UVa and ACC single-season records for a tight end. Miller leads the Cavaliers in receiving and has scored 20 career touchdowns, the most by a tight end in ACC history. He earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following UVa's win over With his size, he gives Hagans a great target in short-yardage situations and around the goal line, plus he's hard to bring down.  Michael McGrew (6-2, 200, Sr.) has excellent hands, came back after a broken leg that kept him out all of 2003.  McGrew was the 3rd leading receiver for Hagans (26 catches for 325 yards and 1 TD).    Deyon Williams (6-3, 185, So.)  has great size, quickness, hands, and speed, and accounted for 19 receptions for 261 yards and 1 score.  Fontel Mines (6-5, 205, So.) is a big target with impeccable hands and Ottowa Anderson (6-0, 186, Sr.) is a good receiver but inconsistent.  Pearson also grabbed 26 passes for 381 yards out of the backfield.  Williams is the deep threat on the team but with only 13.7 yards per catch, this suggests that the pass is only something that Virginia uses to keep defenses honest and they don't really go vertical.


     Joe Fernandez (5-10, 165, So.) has 33 catches for 474 and 4 TD's) is the leading receiver for Coach Pat Hill's team.  Jermaine Jamison (6-3, 200, Jr.) caught 20 passes but no one else had more than 20.  Duncan Reid (6-6, 220, Sr.) is the tight end.  It seems that in this year's MPC Bowl, as in last year's, the WAC team will have to stop the run to be successful.  Tulsa didn't last year and it hurt them dearly.  I would like to see the game where the ACC team is forced to win the game with the pass.  I like Fresno's chances if that is the case.  However, if Virginia is able to constantly move the chains at that 22 first downs per game clip and keep the Bulldogs confused with the occasional pass, it will be a similar outcome to the Georgia Tech win over Tulsa. 


Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line:


     Games are won and lost in the trenches, and Virginia's offensive line is superb.  Captain Elton Brown (6-6, 330, Sr.) has started on the line for Virginia since his sophomore season and is an outstanding blocker who has paved the way for the Virginia offense to grind out an ACC-leading 423.5 yards of total offense, an ACC-leading 241.3 yards on the ground, and the fewest sacks (15) allowed in the ACC this season. The first-team All-ACC honoree was named All-American by the Associated Press, Walter Camp Foundation, American Football Coaches Association and SI.Com and received the Jacobs Blocking Trophy each of the last two seasons as the ACC's top blocker. He also earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors twice this season. Brown was also one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award given to the nation's top lineman.  The three-year starter will play in the 2005 East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl.  Ian Yates Cunningham (6-6,310, So.) is the other guard.  Brad Butler (6-8, 275, Jr.) and All-ACC D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6-5, 265, Jr.) are the tackles and 2nd-team All-ACC Zac Yarbrough (6-4, 275, Sr.) is the center.  The group has become a cohesive unit this season and improved in run-blocking which was their weakness in past years. 

     Defensive ends for Fresno State are #55 Brian Morris (6-2, 250, Sr.) and Claude Sanders (6-3, 240, Sr.), Garrett McIntyre (6-3, 250, Jr.) is the tackle and Donyell Booker (6-2,305, Sr.) will start at nose tackle.  McIntyre has recorded 7 sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss this season.

     Starters on the offensive line for Fresno State will be tackles Logan Mankins (6-4, 320, Sr.) and Matt Stevenson (6-7, 290, Jr.), guards Dartagnon Shack (6-2, 300, Jr.) and Ryan Wendell (6-2, 260, Fr.) with Kyle Young (6-5, 320, So.) at center.  Wendell, the WAC's Co-Freshman of the year, was selected by The Sporting News for its 2nd team All-Freshman team.

     They'll be trying to keep a ferocious Virginia defensive line from wreaking havoc in the Fresno State backfield.  This will be the best defensive line Fresno has played against.  Virginia uses a 3-4 defensive scheme to allow its linebackers the opportunity to make plays.  All-ACC Chris Canty (6-7, 290, Sr.) and powerful Brennan Schmidt (6-3,269, Jr.) will start at defensive end for the Cavaliers.  Canty is a monster with excellent skills.  Schmidt is a hard worker in the weight room and has a strong motor.  Andrew Hoffman (6-5, 293, Sr.) has improved dramatically at defensive tackle, forcing offenses to double-team him.

     Virginia has great size and talent on both sides of the ball on the line.  If they are allowed to impose their will on a smaller group of Bulldogs, it will be a very long day.  Virginia has a decided edge on the line and Fresno's Offensive Coordinator will need to design plays that move Pinegar around behind the line and use deception to keep the Hoo defense confused.  



     Darryl Blackstock (6-4,235, Jr.), Kai Parham (6-3,240, Sr.), Ahmad Brooks (6-4, 250, So.), and Dennis Haley (6-1,240, Sr.) at linebacker make up a great group that Virginia fans call the best unit in their history.  A first-team All-ACC performer, Brooks is one of the fastest players on the Virginia team. Brooks was a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, is the team's leading tackler this fall with 85 tackles and was named a Division I-A All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation, 2nd team by the Associated Press and Honorable Mention by He also leads the Cavaliers with 11 quarterback hurries.  Blackstock was a second-team All-ACC selection and was 7th in the nation with 10 ½ sacks.  Darryl has started since his freshman year and has not looked back. Parham is the strongest player on the team and it shows as he busts through holes to disrupt the offense of opposing teams.

     Dwayne Andrews (6-0, 240, So.) is the middle linebacker for the Bulldogs, joined by Manuel Sanchez (6-1, 215, Sr.) and Todd Garcia (5-11, 240, Sr.) on the outside.  A big edge to Virginia at linebacker.  


Defensive Secondary:


     Tony Franklin (5-11, 190) and Marcus Hamilton (6-0, 192) anchor the corners for Virginia, with Lance Evans (6-4, 200) and Robbie Catterton (6-2, 190) at safety in an all-sophomore defensive backfield.  Hamilton leads the team with 4 interceptions this season.


     Richard Marshall (5-11, 170, So.) leads an outstanding Bulldog secondary with 55 tackles and 3 interceptions.  Marcus McCauley (6-1, 190, So.) led Fresno with 8 pass breakups and will start opposite Marshall at cornerback.  James Sanders is the strong safety with leading tackler Tyrone Culver (6-1, 200, Jr., 59 tackles) the free safety.  Fresno State's talented quartet has a definite edge here.      





     Connor Hughes nailed 15 of 22 field goals but missed 3 extra points.  He scored 83 points, 3rd in the ACC.  Breaking down his field goal attempts, he was perfect (7-7) within 30 yards, 5-7 from 30-39 yards but only 3-8 from outside the 40.  Sean Johnson is the punter for the Cavaliers, averaging 35.3 yards per attempt.


     Brett Visintainer was 9-13 in field goals for Fresno and finished with 78 points.  He was 7-10 within 30 yards, 2-2 from 30-39 and 0-1 beyond 40.  Mike Lingua is the punter, finishing last in the WAC with a 36.4 yards per kick average.


     The kicker matchup appears to be a push.


     Overall, Virginia seems to have the play on the lines and great size throughout their lineup to be the better team on paper.  After all, the Cavaliers are rated higher and were tabbed as 5-point favorites by the odds makers.  With a Fresno-friendly crowd, however, anything could happen—that's why they play the games.  This should be an exciting match up; Fresno Coach Pat Hill does a terrific job of getting his team ready for big opportunities and, with a nationwide ESPN television audience watching in the post-season, this will be Fresno's most visible opportunity in years.  It is also a good opportunity for the WAC's visibility and a chance to silence the naysayers who say it's a "mid-major" conference.  Over 20,000 figure to be on hand for the noon kickoff between the Bulldogs and Cavaliers—don't miss it!




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