Fresno State: The Matchups

California State University, Fresno, sends its Bulldogs football team to the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Fresno State, as it's more commonly known, is playing The University of Mississippi, more universally known as Ole Miss, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Now that you know the "who" involved, there is a lot more to this one than just names. Fresno State is looking to build on its fast 2-0 start to the 2010 season with a 28-14 victory over two-time Big East champion Cincinnati and a 41-24 win against Utah State.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, is hoping to find itself. It hasn't to this point. The Rebels are a highly-disappointing 1-2, with a 27-13 win at Tulane sandwiched between two unexpected losses – 49-48 to Jacksonville State and 28-14 to Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said the Rebels must pick up their play if they are to win Saturday night.

"We had a chance to win the games we lost this year but we had too many missed opportunities, too many turnovers, too many missed tackles, too many missed alignments," he said. "We can't do that. Come on, let's play the game the way we know we can play it."

Nutt said it's time his team played harder and played like it is having fun. The third-year UM head coach has always said fun is spelled W I N.

"We've always been known as a team that plays extremely hard," he said. "Everybody has to have their best effort. Everybody has a job to do - do it. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. We have some young guys who seem to be apprehensive and afraid to make a mistake. While we want to limit mistakes, on one hand, we want to turn it loose on the other. Turn it loose."

Fresno State has been having fun and intends to continue that trend in Oxford. Veteran head coach Pat Hill has his troops playing at a high level this season.

"We have had a good week of practice," said Hill, in his 14th season leading the Bulldogs. "I feel like our guys are focused on the task at hand. We know this is going to be a very tough football game."

Hill expounds on his view of the Rebels.

"We are playing a team with its back against the wall and a team that has a lot of pride. They have won the Cotton Bowl two years in a row, so we know how talented they are and that they know how to win. This is going to be a tough environment against a very talented team from the SEC. We look forward to these challenges. It's why guys come to Fresno State."

Pat Hill

Ole Miss offense in brief: The Rebels enter game four of the season with many question marks still remaining on the offensive side of the ball. The lack of a running attack has been frightening, and the passing game, while better, has been inconsistent. Many of the Rebels' woes begin with the offensive line. There is more reshuffling going on by the coaches for this weekend along the offensive front in hopes of finding a more productive combination. Jeremiah Masoli continues to hold the reins at quarterback, and if the line can come through with more continuity, the senior signal-caller and his host of backs and receivers can have more success.

Ole Miss defense in brief: While on offense there is a lack of consistency and productivity, almost the same can be said of the Rebel defense. The UM defenders have had their moments of greatness this season, but they've been too few and far between. A lack of pass rush, getting to the opposing quarterback, has been disturbing. The secondary and linebackers have had their breakdowns as well, such as giving up touchdown runs last weekend against Vanderbilt of 80 and 35 yards. There won't be as much reshuffling on defense as on offense, at least not currently. The Rebels will simply try to play better than they have.

Ole Miss wins if...the Rebels can somehow slow down a Fresno State team that comes in with a lot of confidence after two wins and an open date between. The defense likely holds the key in this one for Ole Miss. The Bulldog program is used to long road trips and also tough environments. There's a chance this one won't turn out to be that tough an environment unless the Rebels can stay close and have a shot to win it in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss must – let's repeat must – even things up in the turnover department. In each of the Rebs' two losses this year, they have had three turnovers and the opposition has had none.

Fresno State wins if...the same Rebel team shows up that has shown up in the previous two home games. Leading 31-10 against Jacksonville State in the second half of the season opener, the Rebel defense gave up big play after big play and never slowed the Gamecocks down. On offense, the Rebels scored just three total points in quarters three and four. Against Vandy, Ole Miss trailed 14-0 early but tied it 14-14 in the third period, only to immediately give up the 80-yard touchdown run and all the momentum. Fresno State hopes to capitalize on such situations. If Fresno keeps the heat on offensively and wins the turnover battle, the Bulldogs head home to California with a victory.

Ryan Colburn

Fresno State offensive player to watch: Senior quarterback Ryan Colburn, who ranks second in the WAC and 11th in the NCAA in passing efficiency. Through two games, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is 33 for 47 with five touchdowns and two interceptions. One of the hardest working players on the team, Colburn has a strong arm and has shown the ability to take off and run when needed. He has good leadership skills and showed tremendous improvement the past two seasons.

Fresno State defensive player to watch: Senior defensive back Desia Dunn, who leads the team in tackles with 16 total, including an impressive 11 solo stops. A former walkon who has earned a scholarship, the 5-9, 195 Dunn has been the team's top cornerback the past two seasons. He started all 13 games last season and played in all 13 games the season before that.

Noteworthy: Ole Miss has only played one school from California in football, a 29-13 UM win against Long Beach State in 1971 in Billy Kinard's first game as Rebel head coach...Fresno State has never played a team in football from Mississippi...This game marks the 28th contest against a BCS foe for Fresno State in the Coach Pat Hill era...The Bulldogs are 0-3 against the SEC, losing games to Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU, all since 1996...Several Bulldogs are among the national leaders in statistics. In addition to Colburn's ranking among passers, junior defensive tackle Logan Harrell is leading the nation in quarterback sacks (3.5) and ranks third in tackles for losses (4.5), while linemate Chris Carter ranks fifth in sacks (3.0). As a team, the Bulldogs lead the NCAA in quarterback sacks (5.0 per game).


OM Spirit Top Stories