Breaking Down the Bulldogs

Veteran sports writer Robert Kuwada, who covers Fresno State for the Fresno Bee, provides his insight about Rutgers will get when it opens the season Thursday at Fresno State.

Robert Kuwada is a veteran sports writer who covers Fresno State football for the Fresno Bee. He also covered the Oakland Athletics for the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Dodgers and UCLA football and basketball for the Orange County Register.

He took time to answer questions provided by ahead of Thursday's season opener between Rutgers and Fresno State.

Q: Do you see a lot of first-time visiting teams struggle with the heat during games?
No, not really. There are days here when you can walk outside and your lungs will start burning from the change in temperature -- really an odd sensation, by the way -- and I've had my phone shut down from overheating a few times, but I don't see the heat being a game factor unless your guys make it one.

It will probably be in the low 90s to mid 80s at kickoff, which isn't bad. It's a 7:30 kickoff, so it's not like the sun will be beating down on them and by that time your sideline will mostly be in the shade ... Unless there's a freak weather occurrence Thursday there won't be any humidity, really, either.

Mississippi came in here for an early season night game two years ago and it didn't bother them at all. No humidity, and if there was any they'd be used to it as I'd imagine your guys would, also.

I'd be more concerned about the game time than the heat - guessing you're coming out on Tuesday, but even then it's tough to adjust that body clock, especially if they've been getting up early for meetings or lifts or practice.

How does this Fresno State offense compare to the one that beat Rutgers in 2008?
The offense is completely different than it was in 2008. They were running pro-style two-back stuff back then and are in an up-tempo spread now.

For a first year in that system, they did pretty well last season. They racked up 477.5 yards and 37.9 points a game, running 77.4 plays per game. But they want to play at a faster pace this year and should be able to. They had a lot of injury and suspension issues in the receivers group last year, so only one outside receiver ever settled into one spot, which slowed them down a bit. A lot of guys were never really comfortable bouncing inside and out. They also have given the quarterback much more freedom to adjust and check at the line, which will help with their pace of play.

So, yeah, completely different.

Why is Derek Carr so productive? What does he do well?
The thing about Carr is he's really smart. Show him anything and he'll know how to beat it.

He passed for 4,104 yards and had 37 TDs last year and when you consider the receivers group was unsettled all year and he played through a sports hernia that limited his mobility and ability to make plays with his feet, that's an impressive year.

I'd expect him to take another step forward this year for reasons mentioned above. He took some criticism last year for holding into the ball too long and taking sacks, but he could barely move. In those situations this year, he'll be able to slide around in the pocket or get outside and be able to keep plays alive.

He also has three receivers and a big tight end that all could play in a BCS conference. I covered UCLA for a long time, so maybe this is not saying much because they're not very good. but this is the best group I've seen on a day to day basis.

How is the locker room handling preseason hype as a "BCS buster"?
I don't think there's an answer to that question yet. They have a lot of guys that have had great summers in their strength and conditioning program, they have practiced well to this point and have said all the right things about 12-0 and all that ... But their last game, the bowl loss, was so bad they're in a "prove it" mode no matter what anyone in the local or national media thinks.

For me, this game against Rutgers is the biggest one they will play all year. Boise State, yeah, whatever. That's three more games down the line. If they haven't learned how to compete at a high level Rutgers will come in here and beat them. We'll have to wait and see if they realize that or not .

What are the biggest question marks and concerns for Fresno State coming out of training camp?
There are probably two:

One is depth. They can absorb some hits on the d-line and at inside linebacker and the outside receiver spots. But if they get dinged at the inside receiver positions, tight end, the o-line, the outside linebacker spots, anywhere in the secondary and especially at quarterback they're in trouble .

Two is the right tackle spot. They'll be starting a third-year sophomore who hasn't played much at all. They can help him, obviously, but that's a pressure point. He's athletic enough to play out there, but he has to trust his technique and they don't know how he will react to game situations, especially if gets beat a couple of times. They have options out there, but no real good ones. If your guys can get after Carr with just your down four and not have to expose the secondary, you're much better off in this game.

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