1. Fresno State is currently on a 5-game winning streak. Can you talk a little bit about what's been clicking both offensively and defensively?
The team is getting it! The first 6-7 games of the season, the players were getting acclimated to the new offensive and defensive schemes. For the previous 15 seasons under Pat Hill, Fresno State was a pro-style offense and played a 4-3 defense. New head coach Tim DeRuyter implemented a no-huddle spread offense and 3-4 defense.
The Bulldogs have had no problem playing well at home. However, early road struggles bit them in their three losses at Oregon, at Tulsa and at Boise State, which came in the first seven games of 2012. In the last five games, the 'Dogs overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat New Mexico on the road and was the only team to defeat Nevada by double digits this season and did it on the road as well.
2. SMU actually offered Derek Carr coming out of high school, and he's turned out to be a pretty good QB. What are his strengths and how has he helped lead Fresno State to a 9-3 record?
Derek Carr is the ultimate pro-style quarterback. But he has transitioned well in the spread offense. I still believe he is best under center. He has an uncanny ability to read defenses and attack an opposing team's weakness.
In Dave Schramm's offense he is in the shotgun 99.9% of the time. And the offense basically is a one-read attack. Nonetheless, Carr runs it "to a T."
Carr can make all the throws that allow him to make plays when his initial read is covered.
3. How has new head Tim DeRuyter impacted the program considering this is the Fresno State's first conference title in 13 years?
"Fast, Physical, Fanatical" has replaced "Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime" in Fresno. Coach DeRuyter brought new energy to a stagnate program. The talent pool wasn't lacking as DeRuyter inherited arguably the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive player in the league his first season at Fresno State.
4. Fresno State's offense gets a lot of attention, but the defense is pretty good too. Can you talk about the year this unit has had and how you think they match up against SMU?
As stated above, the defense plays fast, physical, and fanatical. They attack the ball as a unit, which is largely responsible for the 33 turnovers caused, which is over three times as many as the 2011 Fresno State defense. But the defense centers around 2012 All-American safety Phillip Thomas. In Nick Toth's 3-4 defense -- that is patterned after the Dick Lebeau's Steelers unit -- Thomas is "Troy Polamalu" like.
The unit is a top 20 rated defense in the country, a rarity for Fresno State. The 'Dogs never ranked that high under Pat Hill.
All-MWC nose tackle Tyler Davison has played spectacular after being a part-time starter a year ago. Andy Jennings, who played sparingly his first three years, became a dynamic force on the edge at defensive end after moving from defensive tackle. The starting linebackers consist of converted outside backers playing inside and converted 4-3 defensive ends playing outside. And while Thomas gets all the attention in the secondary, free safety Derron Smith has six interceptions second to Thomas' nation-leading eight.
SMU runs an offense this defense can have success against. The Mustangs will pass the ball, which will allow the 'Dogs to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers. Fresno State is best when its defense scores points, and SMU will put the ball in the air enough for either Thomas or Smith to add to their interception total.
5. If you were to pick one offensive player and one defensive player to have a big game against SMU, who would they be?
Derek Carr has played very well during the five-game winning streak; he likely continues the success in the Hawaii Bowl.
Phillip Thomas is looking for his fourth pick-six this season and the fifth in his career, which would tie NCAA records for both season and career totals. The Jim Thorpe Award runner-up will be out to prove he was slighted.
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