PREVIEW: Tigers ready to host Fresno State

After dropping their fifth straight game 68-37 at the hands of Hawaii last weekend, Fresno State looks to have more than its hands full Saturday when they travel to Baton Rouge to face LSU.

The Tigers, who are coming off a 49-0 victory over the University of Kentucky, have averaged 417.7 yards per game this season and will look to put up another big game against the Bulldogs, who have allowed 358 yards per out so far this year.

 

Fresno State, a traditional powerhouse in the Western Athletic Conference, has struggled throughout the 2006 campaign. The Bulldogs won their season opener against Nevada but since then have fallen to Oregon, Washington, Colorado State, Utah State and Hawaii to sit at 1-5 for the year.

 

The game will be the first ever meeting between the Tigers and the Bulldogs.

 

Fresno State has seen success on the offensive end of the football thus far in 2006, led by sophomore quarterback Tom Brandstater, who has taken over the starting role left by All-conference QB Paul Pinegar. Brandstater appeared in eight games as an understudy last season, where he completed six of 13 passes for 49 yards.

 

Through six games this season, he has thrown for 853 yards and six touchdowns to average 142.2 yards per game while allowing six interceptions.

 

Brandstater has also rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown this season.

 

Backup quarterback Sean Norton has also seen playing time this season, throwing for 225 yards and three scores despite completing just 14 of 24 passes.

 

The Bulldog receiving side of the passing game is headed by true freshman wide out Chastin West, who has hauled in 17 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Following West is a trio of senior wide receivers in Paul Williams, Joe Fernandez and Jaron Fairman. Williams leads the three with 16 catches for 149 yards a touchdown, while Fernandez and Fairman have each brought in 12 receptions and one touchdown.

Sophomore tight end Bear Pascoe has also been a contributor in the receiving game, with eight catches for 153 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the year.

 

On the ground, the Bulldogs have put up equally solid numbers this season, rushing for 172.8 yards per game.

 

Leading the ground attack is junior running back Dwayne Wright, who put up solid numbers during the 2003 season, but missed most of the '04 campaign and all of last season while rehabilitating from a knee injury.

 

Now back at full speed, Wright has run for 679 yards and seven touchdowns through the first six games this season. He has also caught 12 passes for 98 yards on the year.

 

Behind the junior is freshman running back Lonyae Miller, who has gained 151 yards and scored one touchdown on 24 carries.

 

Paving the way up front for the Bulldogs is a talented and experienced offensive line, consisting of center Kyle Young, guards Ryan Wendell and Cole Popovich, and tackles Chris Denman and Bobby Lepori.

 

Young is at the heart of the front five, starting regularly at center since the 2003 season, and is considered one of the top offensive line prospects for the upcoming NFL draft. Denman also has considerable experience in the trenches, starting since the 2003 season, while Wendell has been a regular since '04.

 

The offensive line has allowed just three sacks so far in 2006.

 

Fresno State also welcomes back experience on the other side of the line in defensive ends Marlon Brisco and Tyler Clutts, as well as tackle Louis Leonard. Brisco leads the team with three sacks on the year, while Clutts and Leonard have recorded 1.5 sacks each.

 

Rejoining the defensive front is junior nose tackle Jason Shirley, who started the first five games of last season before a nagging injury kept his playing time to a minimum.

 

Through six games this season, Shirley has recorded six tackles and 1.5 sacks.

 

Fresno's linebacker unit also returns a great deal of experience this season, with middle linebacker Dwayne Andrews and outside LBs Alan Goodwin and Marcus Riley all starting regularly last year.

 

Andrews leads the team with 43 tackles, while Goodwin is third on the team with 33. Junior Ahijah has taken over the lead role at Riley's spot, and has recorded 33 tackles this season as well.

 

The Bulldogs have been solid in the box so far this year, allowing 122.7 rushing yards per game while picking up 10 sacks.

 

The weakest point of the Fresno State defense can be found in the secondary, which has allowed 235.3 passing yards per game as well as 15 touchdowns through the air this season. They also have not recorded an interception all year.

 

Senior strong safety Josh Sherley leads the secondary as one of two returning starters, tallying 40 tackles on the year. The other returnee is senior cornerback Marcus McCauley, a second-team All-WAC selection last year who has recorded 29 tackles and four pass deflections this season.

 

Joining the secondary this season are senior free safety Vincent Mays and senior cornerback Elgin Simmons. Mays has recorded 21 tackles and three pass deflections during his first year as a starter, while Simmons is tied for the team lead with four broken up passes.

 

On special teams, the Bulldogs are led by place kicker Clint Stitser, who has been successful on four of eight field goal tries, and is 16-18 on extra points.

 

Punting duties have been split between Robert Malone and Kyle Zimmerman thus far, with Malone making 20 punts with an average of 37.2 yards. Zimmerman is averaging 38.5 yards on 10 punts, five of which have ended up inside the 20 yard line.

 

Joe Fernandez is the chief kick returner for Fresno, averaging 20 yards per return on 10 attempts.

 

Handling punt returns has been Clifton Smith, who has nine returns for a total of 74 yards.


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