1. Stopping their screen passes
The Aggies struggled against the screen pass last week against Montana State. The Bobcats switched to the short screen passes to wide receivers and running backs after the A&M defensive line began to put a lot of pressure on them offensively. Fresno State has utilized the screen pass for the past five years and it should be expected with the speedy wide receivers that the Bulldogs will bring with them to College Station this week. It also plays into the hands of a team with an inexperienced starting quarterback who is prone to making poor decisions. Running the screens allow him to make short throws and let his speedy, athletic wide receivers try to make the play. The A&M secondary will need to improve their tackling from a week ago, but all reports from practice sound positive.
2. Battle of something to prove
The A&M secondary was supposed to be much better in 2007, but they stumbled a bit against Montana State. Meanwhile, Fresno State junior quarterback Tom Brandstater has a lot of talent but is known for making poor decisions with the ball. Both of these units will be going into Saturday's game with something to prove. If the Aggies can bounce back from a disappointing start against Montana State, an error prone quarterback could be just the medicine they need to move on. On the other hand, if the secondary doesn't look better than they did against Montana State, Brandstater could have a big day.
3. Jorvorskie Lane
The Aggies only handed the rock to Lane for 10 carries (40 yards) against Montana State—mainly because they only had 58 plays on offense and Franchione was looking to get as many reps in for the second team as possible. But that's going to change this week. Fresno State is playing without 6-foot-5, 330 pound defensive tackle Jason Shirley, who is still serving a suspension for violating team rules. The starting defensive tackles will not be much bigger than Jorvorskie Lane and with an offensive line who also has something to prove this week. Expect big things from the J-Train.
4. Force FSU DB's to think about the deep ball
Even if the passes aren't completed, the Aggies need to make the speedy Fresno State secondary think about the deep ball. The Bulldogs defense will rely on the defensive backs to make tackles against the run, but if they're worried about covering their man downfield, it will open up a lot more for Goodson on the ground as well. They're fast and will make it hard for Goodson to get much on the outside otherwise. I expect to see a little more of a passing game this week, but still don't think we'll see the entire offense unless it's absolutely necessary, especially if the Aggies have a sizable lead.
5. The special teams battle
Both teams have lots of talent returning the ball. The Aggies have Kerry Franks on kickoff returns, who averaged nearly 45 yards per return in week one, good enough for No. 4 in the nation. A&M's Matt Szymanski will need to be just as effective as he was last week on kickoffs to keep Fresno State's Devon Wylie from busting a big play. He's only 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, but he runs a 4.4 and is capable of making a big return. Justin Brantly will be called upon to boom some high punts as well. If there's a key punt late in the game, you've got to kick it away from Cifton Smith who has three career punts returned for touchdowns. I think the Aggies kicking game will neutralize both of these returners for the Bulldogs, but if there's a strong wind that forces Szymanski to kick it short, the Aggies will have to be careful. This is the kind of play that could keep an outmatched Bulldog team in the game, making life much more difficult for Franchione and the Aggies.
Bulldogs to Watch
Junior tight end Bear Pascoe (6-5, 260) – He's a former high school quarterback who was recruited as a quarterback to Fresno State and moved to tight end with the arrival of a new offensive coordinator. He's an athletic big man who still reportedly has the best arm on the team and could be a difference maker for the Bulldogs.
Freshman running back Ryan Mathews (5-11, 205) – Ran for 3,300+ yards and 44 touchdowns as a high school Sr. He led the team with 77 yards against Sacramento State. Only runs a 4.6 40-yard dash but is apparently pretty tough to bring down and hits the holes hard.
Junior quarterback Tom Brandstater (6-5, 220) – He is an athlete who is capable of making big plays. The book on Brandstater is that he doesn't always make the smartest decisions though and tends to make mistakes. If he makes those mistakes this week, it could make this game much uglier for the Bulldogs.
Senior linebacker Markus Riley (6-0, 220) – He was compared to Derrick Brooks before suffering a knee injury against USC in 2005 but is supposed to be back at 100 percent heading into 2007. He missed most of last year but was a key on defense against Sacramento State, racking up 11 tackles.
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