The Idaho Vandals (4-6, 3-3 WAC) are rebuilding, while Fresno State (2-7, 2-4 WAC) is dealing with a RARE season in which wins are few-and-far-between. Injuries and other issues have hit the 'Dogs hard this year, but this is still a top-tier WAC team loaded with talent. They broke a seven game losing skid last week in beating NMSU, and they host an Idaho team recovering from two brutal losses.
Vandals (4-6, 3-3 WAC) are coming off two conference losses, and they didn't look good in either one. The Fresno State
Bulldogs (2-7, 2-4) are coming of their second win of the season in what could certainly be called an "anomaly" of a season for the 'Dogs. Idaho and Fresno State first played each other in 1946, a 13-12 Bulldog victory in Moscow. Idaho then went on to win the next four meetings between 1956 and 1967 (twice in Moscow, twice in Fresno). The series is currently tied at 4-4, with Fresno winning last year in The Dome 40-10 in their first meeting as conference mates. The Vandals are looking to even the score as they travel to Bulldog Stadium Saturday afternoon for a 2:00 PM (PST) kickoff.
RB Lonyae Miller
Bulldog Coach Pat Hill is trying to salvage whatever is left of this season. After beating Nevada
in their season opener, FSU went on a downward slop, narrowly losing to Pac-10 power Oregon
in Bulldog Stadium. That loss apparently took the wind out of their sails. They finally got their second win, and second wind, last week. This weekend represents the last home game of the season for Fresno, and the Bulldog seniors will be determined to go out in style...and at the expense of the Vandals.
For Idaho, coach Dennis Erickson
has to be scratching his head. After a valiant performance against BSU, they have looked flat and uninspired in their last two outings. This game is all about pride. Who wants it more...
The Vandals will have to bring their A-game if they plan on stealing a victory at Bulldog Stadium, a place where Pat Hill holds a record of 45-10.
WR Paul Williams
QB Tom Brandstater
Sophomore quaterback Tom Brandstater
(6-5, 220) will get the starting nod for the Bulldogs. He leads Fresno in passing yards, but has thrown 7 int's with his 8 touchdowns. The Bulldogs have experienced the same offensive woes as the Vandals, trying to get a consistent passing game going. He has receivers Chastin West
(6-1, 215, Fr.), Paul Williams
(6-2, 210, Sr.) and Joe Fernandez
(5-10, 175, Sr.) to throw to, and all are capable receivers. Williams is no secret. The senior phenom is electric when healthy, and could return to the field this week. In his absence, West has shown he's the next receiver to give Bulldog fans something to cheer about. The Bulldog offense also utilizes the tightend down the field. Sophomore Bear Pascoe
(6-5, 260) is solid up front, and has soft hands, which makes him a great redzone target.
RB Dwayne Wright
Junior runningback Dwayne Wright
(6-1, 220) has all the tools to play at the next level. He has been the bulk of the FSU offense this year, and the Vandals will likely see a heavy dose of him Saturday afternoon. Wright should reach the 1000 yard mark against Idaho, as he has 968 yards thus far. He also has 191 yards receiving out of the backfield. His backup, Lonyae Miller
(5-11, 210, Fr.) is more than capable when he's in, giving FSU one of the more impressive stables of runningbacks in the WAC. Miller has seen plenty of playing time, and has been very effective in his reserve role. The running attack is the strength of the Bulldog's offense. Plowing the way for the tailbacks will be senior fullback Roshon Vercher (5-11, 245). Vercher is a big and talented fullback who just may see the ball in the red zone this week, showing their appreciation for his career at FSU.
RB Lonyae Miller
The Vandal defense needs to stop the run. Dwayne Wright has quietly put together a great season for the Bulldogs, and is coming off one of his best performances of the year. At home, Pat Hill will want to establish the run throughout the contest, so the Vandal linebackers need to be prepared to stop the run every minute of the game. Wright is the bread and butter of the offense, and this game will be no different.
In the Trenches for the Bulldogs
TE Bear Pasco
On offense the Bulldogs lose their main man and NFL bound center, Kyle Young
, due to academics. Ryan Wendell
(6-2, 275, Jr.) will take his place. The left side is manned by tackle Kenny Avon
(6-3, 260, So.) and guard Cole Popovich
(6-2, 285, So.), while the right side is led by tackle Chris Denman
(6-6, 305, Sr.) and guard Adam McDowell
(6-4, 285, So.). Robin Kezerian (6-3, 300, Sr.) and Bobby Lepon (6-5, 285, So.) should see time rotating in at guard and tackle. This group is young, but they also have good experience and an entire season under the belt by now. Having a thousand yard rusher shows the kind of push this group is capable of, and the Vandal defensive front will have their hands full from the first whistle blown. The battle in the trenches is where the game is won, and both teams are playing for conference respect.
On defense, the Bulldogs have two very good pass rushing ends in Marlon Brisco
(6-3, 260, Sr.) and Tyler Clutts
(6-2, 245, Jr.). These two are some of the best in the WAC and will provide pressure all day long. Defensive tackle Charles Tolbert
(5-11, 265, Jr.) and nose tackle Jason Shirley
(6-5, 330, Jr.) will rotate with Louis Leonard
(6-4, 330, Sr.) and Jon Monga
(6-2, 280, Jr.) in the middle. This is a veteran group, and should provide plenty of challenges for the Vandal offensive line. Once again, the Vandal offensive line will need to step up against a good defensive line. And, once again, they will need to establish the run to work out the struggling passing game and keep pressure off of senior quarterback Steve Wichman
It can't be stressed enough that this game will be won or lost in the trenches. The Vandals have struggled with consistency throughout the season, and it all starts with line play. Both units have had tremendous games, and both units have had forgettable games. Fresno State's final home game will not be an easy one to steal from the Bulldogs, so both sides of the Vandal lines need to come ready to play, and win the battle in the trenches. The Bulldogs aren't exactly used to a season like this, and senior day at Bulldog Stadium should prove to be a battle.
MLB Dwayne Andrews
Outside linebacker Ahijah Lane
(6-1, 225, Jr.), middle linebacker Dwayne Andrews
(6-0, 24, Sr.) and outside linebacker Trevor Shamblee
(6-1, 220, Jr.) get the starting nod for the Bulldogs. Alan Goodwin
(6-2, 220, Sr.), Ikenna Ike
(6-1, 255, So.) and Ryan McKinley
(6-2, 220, So.) all contribute and will see some time. Andrews leads the team in tackles, while Lane and Ike have also made their marks on defense. Goodwin and Shamble rotate often, as both are play makers for the Bulldogs' D. These linebackers are big, fast and physical, and have played great defense all year. This will be one of the better defensive units the Vandals have faced, as there is senior and junior leadership throughout, and depth to boot.
The Bulldog defensive backfield is also littered with talented seniors. NFL bound cornerback Marcus McCauley
(6-1, 205, Sr.) plays opposite Elgin Simmons
(5-11, 185, Sr.). Josh Sherley
(6-0, 205, Sr.) is at strong safety while Marvin Haynes
(6-1, 195, Fr.) and Vincent Mays
(5-11, 205, Sr.) rotate at free safety. Sherley is tied for the lead in team tackles, which is a statement about his physical play, while McCauley has caught the attention of NFL scouts. The Vandal receiving corps will have to fight for every ball, and be prepared to take a hit. If Idaho is to be successful either throwing or passing, this unit will have to be willing to block as well as catch.
The Steve Wichman led Vandal offense needs to score early. When they do this, their confidence level carries throughout the entire game, and they compete. They can't have a series of three and out's. This is not a team that will light you up through the air, so their success depends on the run game, which will then open up the pass game for Wichman. The Bulldogs will probably stack the front and dare Wichman to beat them. Jayson Bird
and Brian Flowers
will need to run hard against this defense. If the Vandals establish a ground attack, and score early, then the Bulldogs will be in for a dog fight on their turf.
The Bulldogs boast playmaker Chestin West on kickoff return duties. He averages 22 yards per return. This is especially scary for Vandal fans, as their kickoff coverage has been dismal for a few weeks now, costing them big plays. All Vandal fans will have their eyes on kicker Tino Amancio
. After starting the season well, the sophomore has been more hot-and-cold the last few weeks. It should be interesting to see how he responds this week, as his opportunities are sure to come in this game.
It's All Vandal
One of Coach Dennis Erickson's very first assistant jobs was at Fresno State. This whole season has had amazing underlying stories when it comes to Erickson's relations to the teams he has faced week-in and week-out. His presence in the college football world is tough to get a grip on, as it spans the entire nation, as well as the college football landscape. It will be a sort of homecoming for Dennis, as he faces Fresno State's legendary head coach, Pat Hill. Both coaches have voiced their mutual respect, which should translate onto the field and provide a great game for fans.
The Vandals need this one bad. Even though the team has surpassed the expectations of every Vandal fan alive, there is still a chance - albeit a very slim chance - at a bowl. But the Vandals must win out. The Vandals are coming off a much needed bye-week, so they should be well-rested. Their focus has been on this game the entire time. If any coach can do it, Coach Erickson can. The answer is within the players. The Vandals are coming off some humbling, lop-sided losses the last two weeks. Have the players given up? Can Erickson get more out of this group?
With two weeks left in the season and the Vandals coming off their bye, look for Erickson to have his team fired up and giving their best effort in the next two weeks. He will have his Vandals ready to finish the season strong, and this team will battle to finish the season bowl-eligible for the first time in years.