Though the Bulldogs have been somewhat supplanted as the consensus powerhouse in the WAC conference with the rise of Boise State, Fresno State finished last season on a fine note, winning their last six – scoring 42, 52, 70, 54, 62, and 37 points in the process. The last was in a win over #18 ranked Virginia in the MPC Computers Bowl, taking the Bulldogs to a final record of 9-3 and a #22 ranking in both polls.
Check those numbers again… and when you realize the Bulldogs are returning 17 starting players from that team, it is clear this will be a bell-weather test for the Ducks. With USC next to call, it will be a pivotal game to their season's aspirations as well.
Clearly the immediate task for the Ducks is on the defensive side of the ball and in taking control of the Fresno State offense. Led by senior QB Paul Pinegar (173-292, 2099 yd. 23 TD, 15 INT), the Bulldogs also feature two solid ground threats in RB's Bryson Sumlin (191 att, 1104 yd, 13 TD) and Wendell Mathis (146 att, 995 yd, 12 TD). The leading two WR's return as well. Sophomore RB Clifton Smith and junior WR Paul Williams both enjoyed solid spring performances and will provide depth to an already talented group of skill position players.
Any vulnerability in the Bulldog attack appears to be with Pinegar. The 6' 4", 220 pound senior, despite being relatively well protected by a solid offensive line - he was only sacked 18 times - threw 15 interceptions last year. In way of comparison, Kellen Clemens threw only 10 interceptions playing behind an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks last season. If the Ducks can disguise their coverages well and get pressure on the quarterback with the defensively line and with timely blitzing, it will reduce the amount of time Pinegar has to find open receivers and prevent the Bulldogs from establishing any balance to their offensive attack. Pinegar's backups have completed only two collegiate passes, so any injury would be devastating to the Bulldog chances.
This is somewhat the antithesis of the Ducks normal defensive approach of stopping the run first and then defending the pass. For the Bulldogs it is the passing game that opens up the field for that pair of tailbacks, so it will be up to the Duck secondary to lock down the Fresno State receivers from the start. If they are successful in that task, Oregon will put enough points on the board to come away with a victory. If they cannot… well, there is one week to make adjustments for SC.
Fresno State is also scheduled to play the Trojans later in the season, so this two week portion of Oregon's schedule will provide useful insight into that highly anticipated November match-up in the LA Coliseum as well as going a long way toward defining the 2005 football season for the Ducks. It is possible - perhaps even likely - all three teams will finish ranked in the top twenty – and if one of the three is able to defeat the other two, a top-5 finish wouldn't be out of the question. To paraphrase Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, two games to remember this September.
Till the next time…