Fresno State Has Experience And Talent

The Fighting Illini football team lost a last-second heartbreaker to Fresno State at home to end the 2009 season, and the two teams meet again in California Friday night. The Bulldogs return a large number of lettermen from last year's team and are a tough opponent, especially at home. A look at their lineups brings back haunting memories from 2009.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill is highly successful. He has produced competitive teams year after year and has sent 35 assistants on to higher profile coaching jobs in his 14 seasons at the school. The impressive list includes Lane Kiffin and Jeff Tedford, head coaches at USC and California respectively. Among other things, Hill is considered one of the finest special teams coaches in the country.

The Bulldogs are 7-4 overall this season, 5-3 in the Western Athletic Conference. They lost badly at Boise State, to no one's surprise, but they lost by just one point to a ranked Nevada team that defeated Boise State.

Senior Ryan Colburn (6'-3", 220) again leads the offense. He has completed 181 of 296 passes for 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The lefty is averaging 202 yards passing per game. For his career, he ranks 9th among Bulldogs in total passing yards. He also runs well enough to gain more yards than he loses in sacks.

FSU lost star running back Ryan Mathews to the pros after last season, but sophomore Robbie Rouse (5'-7", 185) has replaced him without missing a beat. He has gained 1097 net yards on the campaign and is averaging 109.7 yards a game. He gained 286 yards in 43 carries at Louisiana Tech, and he had back-to-back 200 yard games. Sophomore A.J. Ellis (5'-11", 205) backs him up and is averaging 40 yards a game.

Junior Jamel Hamler (6'-2", 195) is a two year letterman at receiver, and he is backed by letterman Rashad Evans (5'-11", 190). Hamler is 6th in the WAC in yards per game. It was his touchdown grab that set the Bulldogs up for their miraculous two-point conversion to defeat Illinois in Champaign last year.

Redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson (6'-0", 195) is the other wideout, and freshmen Jalen Saunders (5'-9", 160) and Isaiah Burse (5'-10", 180) back him up. Tight end Vince Pascoe (6'-0", 230) is a three year letterman, and he's backed by sophomores Tapa Taumoepeau (6'-3", 220) and Marcel Jensen (6'-6", 285). Pascoe doubles as a fullback.

The offensive line that sprung Mathews for over 200 yards against the Illini last year returns intact, including senior Devon Cunningham (6'-6", 360), who caught the tipped pass to score the game-deciding two point conversion against the UI last year.

Senior Andrew Jackson (6'-5", 295) is a first-team CoSIDA ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American, first team All-WAC player and honorable mention All-American. Senior center Joe Bernardi (6'-3", 285) has been on the Rimington Award Watch List the last two seasons. Senior Kenny Wiggins (6'-7", 310) was second team All-WAC in 2009. Junior Bryce Harris (6'-6", 305) starts at the other tackle.

Senior defensive end Chris Carter (6'-2", 245) and junior defensive tackle Logan Harrell (6'-2", 275) have 10 and 9.5 sacks respectively for the Bulldogs. Carter ranks 10th in the NCAA in this category. They are joined on the defensive line by senior nose tackle Cornell Banks (6'-3", 300) and junior end Donahvaughn Pritchett (6'-5", 290).

Senior middle linebacker Ben Jacobs (6'-3", 225) leads the team in tackles. His 372 career tackles ranks third all-time in FSU history. Junior Kyle Knox (6'-1", 215) is second on the team in tackles, and sophomore Travis Brown (6'-2", 235) is third in tackles.

All four members of the secondary are letter winners. Senior strong safety Lorne Bell (5'-10", 200) is starting for his third straight year. He had 10 tackles at Illinois last season. Senior Desia Dunn (5'-9", 190) also has three letters. They are joined by sophomore free safety Philip Thomas (6'-1", 205) and junior cornerback Isaiah Green (5'-10", 180). Thomas has three interceptions and Dunn two.

Fresno State is touting junior placekicker Kevin Goessling as one of the best in the country. He is a two-time Lou Groza Award Semifinalist. He has made 30 of his last 34 kicks extending back to last year. He had a long field goal of 58 yards in 2008. The punter is sophomore Andrew Shapiro, who has a 38.4 net average.

Evans is one of the top punt returners in the country, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. Saunders and Burse are each averaging 23.2 yards per kickoff return, with Saunders getting most of the chances.

This game could be another barn burner. FSU has plenty of firepower, and its balanced attack will be tough to stop.

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