Five questions: Fresno State

BRR publisher Josh Harvey talks the Fresno State Bulldogs with BarkBoard.com staff writer Josh Webb.

1.) For a team that returned their starting linebackers, an All-American safety, and has somewhat of a unique defensive system, what has been the problem so far in the first two weeks?

“The Bulldogs can’t seem to generate any pass rush right now and their corners are playing off-man against receivers they have no business giving 5-7 yards off the LOS. As much as defensive coordinator Nick Toth may think of the Bulldog corners, the truth of the matter is that they weren’t good enough to be giving guys like Nelson Agholor, Juju Smith, and Dres Anderson the kind of respect that they gave them during their games against USC and Utah.”

If you’re going to play off your man, you need to develop some kid of pass rush so that you’re corners aren’t trying to keep pace with All-American and future-NFL receivers. The Bulldogs were trying a rotating system on the defensive line, but it’s not been generating the kind of pass rush that they need to make an impact in game. Fresno State is going to need to generate that pass rush from their linebacker spot. They clearly don’t have the athletes up-front to dominate against bigger schools.”

2.) Is there a sense of relief that this team is finally getting a chance to play at home, usually a spot where teams play a little bit better?

“You’d normally think so, but this is a team that’s given up 1,227 yards on defense in their last two games and they’re welcoming in a Top 25 program with just as many play-makers. Right now, Fresno State needs to be more worried about playing a complete game and installing an effective offense than they do playing at home. The home crowd is great, but that advantage is going to disappear if the Huskers are up 14-0 or 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Fresno State has been outscored 62-14 in the first half of play and that’s not going to cut it against a team with as many weapons as the Huskers. The most critical part of turning around this season will be for the Bulldogs to have a good start on Saturday. This team operates on confidence and they don’t have much of it right now. Establishing a couple of effective drives and giving quarterback Brandon Connette a chance to build his confidence early and find timing with his receivers.”

3.) What is going on at the quarterback position this week and how would you rate the transition from Carr to Connette/Burrell so far?

“Hell if I know what’s going on at the quarterback position, that’s sorta been the million-dollar question of the week. It actually looks like Connette is going to be the guy this week. DeRuyter said that they’re sticking with their system, but did say they would be making some slight changes to it. One of those slight changes is likely to be Connette getting the first snaps of the game, as opposed to coming in when his team is trailing by a decent margin.

Brian Burrell has proven that he’s not quite ready for the big stage and Connette hasn’t really managed the ball well during his tries. Both of these guys have flashed brilliance in scrimmages and practices, but neither one has delivered when the chips have been on the table. Connette may have the edge right now because he seems to have more confidence, but he also lacks an intimate knowledge of the playbook and that’s something Pelini loves in opposing quarterbacks. Connette is likely going to be your starter, but it’s probably likely that both of those quarterbacks will be on a short leash.

As for what has happened since Carr departed, it’s pretty self-evident. There are some questions emerging about Schramm’s ability to develop quarterbacks. Most people realize that Carr was more than capable of doing anything Fresno asked of him and then some. Though this staff likes to remind people that they’re not the “Fighting Derek Carrs,” they haven’t exactly been showing much fight since Derek Carr left.”

4.) Keys to a Fresno State victory ?

“As mentioned early, the most crucial thing for the Bulldogs is establishing a confidence baseline. This team has minimal confidence right now. Players look like they’re going through the motions and there doesn’t seem to be the same fight there was in 2013. Part of that is going to be the ridiculous schedule this team has faced, but the other part of that has been their inability to establish a new team identity.

Fresno State must score early and get a defensive stop or two. Even one defensive stop at a critical time could be just the type of confidence infusion this team needs. The Bulldogs are at their best when they’re feeding off the energy and emotion of the passionate fans in Fresno. Nebraska has shown that they can be rattled and taken off their game. If Fresno State is going to announce to the Mountain West that they’ve got their mojo back, doing it against Nebraska would go a long way toward delivering that message. Remember, it’s not like the rest of the Mountain West has lit up the night sky against Power Five opponents.”

5.) What type of atmosphere should Nebraska fans who are making the trip expect?

“I’ve been pretty consistent with this and I’m not going to change that now. The Husker fan-base should expect a warm welcome and a Nebraska-type atmosphere when they arrive. The Red Wave have not forgotten how well they were treated when they came to Lincoln two years ago and they’ve been planning out repaying the kindness for some time now. Rumor is that they’re trying to organize a standing ovation when the Huskers take the field as a way to thank them for coming to Fresno when so many other programs said no.

The Red Wave can certainly be as brash as any fan-base when things aren’t going well, but they usually keep that fighting in-house. Put another way, they tend to take it out on each other more than opposing fans. Win or lose, Husker fans should expect a warm welcome and a tremendous enthusiasm for their arrival in Fresno. Bulldog fans appreciate a football-minded fan-base and Nebraska fans are second to none in this respect.”

BONUS:

6.) Your prediction and why…

“A lot to a little, Nebraska. Until Fresno State starts showing signs of improvement, I’m not going to pick against a Top 25 team. Regardless of the fact that McNeese may have knocked the Huskers out of some polls, this is a young team that is loaded with talent. The type of talent possessed by Nebraska has been an unimaginable nightmare for Bulldog fans. The Husker may be doing their own soul-searching after McNeese, but they appear to be further along the accountability spectrum than do the Fresno State players.

I think this game can be close if the Bulldogs are able to generate offense. Will they be able to generate offense? They certainly have the speed to give Nebraska fits. The problem the Bulldogs have been having is finding a way to get that speed in space and let it loose. If they can do this, then they can remain undefeated at home. Nebraska may have a ton of talent, but they certainly appear “down” after two weeks. Appearances can be deceiving, though.”

Final score – Nebraska 44, Fresno State 31


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