2003 Silicon Valley Bowl: Expectations

UCLA is in San Jose to take on a fired-up Fresno State squad bent on upsetting the Bruins in the 2003 Silicon Valley Football Classic

Some pundits rank the Silicon Valley Classic match-up between the UCLA Bruins and the Fresno State Bulldogs of the Western Athletic Conference as one of the worst bowl games of the year.

So what. I'm looking forward to watching national defensive player of the year Dave Ball sack the QB, All-Pac10 1st Team LB Brandon Chillar tackle the tailback/receiver, and Drew Olson assume the mantle of undisputed #1 QB, which hopefully will lead to a steadier, more aware performance from him.

Once again, Karl Dorrell has a chance to salvage a disappointing season with a strong performance…but this time the season is ‘recruiting.' There are still a half-dozen high-impact recruits still considering the Bruins, and a great game on the offensive side of the ball might convey to them that the Bruins have turned the corner from a playcalling/execution standpoint. If so, the bombshells along the way to the NLI signing day could be worth sticking around for. (obligatory plug for site)

So the Bruins have loads to play for: personal pride, the sheer enjoyment of playing the game, the Blue and Gold, momentum, ending the season/career on a winning note, one's teammates and coaches, and bragging rights (according to the media guide, there are 21 Bruins from Northern California, not that Fresno is Northern California, mind you).

All eyes will be on the seniors who are playing their last game for the Bruins, such as the stalwart defensive line of Rodney Leisle, Mat Ball, Ryan Boschetti, Asi Faoa, David Tautofi, and Dave Ball. Additionally, linebackers Brandon Chillar, Nick Carey, and Dennis Link, and defensive backs Keith Short and Kevin Brant will be donning gear for UCLA for the last time.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bruins playing their final games as seniors are OL Tyson Clayton and Shane Lehmann, WRs Garrett Lepisto and Ryan Smith, RB Akil Harris, and TE Blane Kezirian. Unfortunately, Ryan Smith's ankle problems might keep him out of the game.

Meanwhile, there is the possibility that this will be the last time that Bruin fans see Matt Ware in blue and gold, as he is contemplating an early move to the NFL given the demand for big, tall CBs who can run with the TOs of that world.

Sadly, Bruin fans won't see Tyler Ebell (shoulder) or Ben Emanuel (groin/team rule violation) because they've already been declared out for the SVC. And other Bruins like Manuel White, Keith Carter and Mike McCloskey are also done for the year. But RB Jason Harrison might make a return after last season's knee injury.

So what of Fresno State?

The Bulldogs finished the regular season 8-5. The absolute highlight of the year was a 16-14 victory over Oregon State in Game Two, a game where the Bulldogs INT'd Derek Anderson five times to offset allowing over 400 yards of O to OSU.

But there were lowlights, too. FSU was down 38-0 at half vs. Oklahoma. Hawaii put up 55 on FSU. Colorado State ran off 24 straight points after going down 0-3 to pull away, 34-10. Overall, the combined regular season records of the eight teams FSU beat was 33-63, with SMU (0-12) misleading the pack.

Offensively, the Bulldogs are below average, ranking 75th in the nation in total offense at 357.5 ypg and 80th in scoring offense at 23.5 ppg.

The Bulldogs use the H-back extensively, so their sets are essentially double TE/double WRs/ace back, with the 6-1, 210 lb Dwayne Wright (177 for 980 net, 75.4 ypg) as the featured back. Bryson Sumlin also averages about 45 a game, giving the Bulldogs a one-two punch. The ‘Dawgs do average 161 ypg on the ground, so even though FSU is small on the right side of the OL (RG Sean Finnerty is 6-3, 285 and RT Chris Denman is 6-6, 260), they're getting the job done collectively, perhaps because of OL like LT Dartangon Shack (6-2, 300), LG Kawika Edwards (6-4, 300) and C Kyle Young (6-5, 320).

The OL was inexperienced before the season started, as none of the starters had previously earned a varsity letter. Four of the OL are from the same class (two true SOs and two RS FR), with Edwards (RS JR) the only upperclassman. On the year, the OL (and backs in blitz pick-up) only allowed 25 sacks, for 126 yards in losses, not bad numbers.

QB is an interesting situation for FSU. SO Paul Pinegar (6-4, 220) tore a pectoral muscle during the summer, so Jeff Grady (brother of Tommie Grady of Edison HS and Oklahoma) played the first five games (3-2), before turning the reins over to Pinegar midway through the CSU game and never getting them back.

Pinegar finished the regular season 162 of 268 (60.4%) for 1,640 yds, with 10 TDs and 8 INTs. Over seven and a half games, that's about 220 ypg.

Probably the most amazing thing about Pinegar's season was that he was around for it at all: he survived a car crash when a car he was in went over an embankment on Freeway 41, north of Fresno.

The summary is that on July 7th, Pinegar and Bryce McGill, starting LBer for the Fresno State Bulldogs, were partying at Chukchansi Gold Casino in Coarsegold, about 30 miles north of Fresno. McGill got drunk (.13), so naturally he took the wheel for the late night drive home. By one witness's account, the SUV was speeding down the mountain and passing cars wildly before plunging over an embankment about 3 am and ending up on its side. Motorists along the winding mountain road had to pull the two seemingly unhurt players from the vehicle. McGill was arrested (later reduced to a misdemeanor), and Pinegar was not. Neither player was suspended from the team.

Pinegar is not without weapons to throw to: ten players caught ten or more passes this year for the Bulldogs. The leading target is Bernard Berrian (6-2, 190), with 61 grabs for (only) 667 yards. Berrian is the Bulldog's MVP for 2003, and is a two-time All-WAC 1st teamer at WR and as a return specialist. Expect Pinegar to spread it around in a largely horizontal passing attack.

On the defensive side, the Bulldogs run a 4-3 scheme, but they run it so-so, ranking 77th in the nation in total D (398 ypg). Run defense is the Bulldogs biggest problem, allowing 183 ypg on the ground, but only 214 through the air.

Looking over the Bulldog's depth chart, the DL are relatively undersized except for 305 lb NT Donyell Booker: the DEs are 250 (Brian Morris) and 240 (Claude Sanders), and DT Garrett McIntyre is only 250.

However, Morris does have 10 sacks, McIntyre has 7 and Sanders has 5, so they find a way to get penetration. On the year, the Bulldogs have 90 tackles for loss (348 yards) and 30 sacks total. Keep in mind that the Bruins only recorded 29 sacks on the year, even though Dave Ball had 16.5 by himself…while allowing 49.

The LBs are led by the aforementioned Mr. McGill (5-11, 225), who was voted All-WAC 1st team for his on-field efforts (77 tackles) this year at OLB. The ‘Dawgs rotate liberally at LB, with about four other guys having over 20 tackles on the year.

The other 1st team WACer for FSU is SS James Sanders (5-11, 205), a big play guy with 84 tackles, 2 picks, 2 sacks and 2 blocked kicks. The third leading tackler overall is CB Awan Diles (5-9, 180), which means that he's either very aggressive on run support or that he's a little soft in coverage and teams go after him.

Pat Hill's Bulldogs incessantly bark that UCLA is always ducking them, despite the Bruins playing FSU three times in the 90's. It's not hard to imagine how jacked up the ‘Dawgs will be for this intra-state battle…even though this is their fourth straight appearance in the Central Valley, errrrr, Silicon Valley Classic (they're 1-2 so far).

The weather might affect this game, because UCLA isn't accustomed to playing in wet conditions, but that's what the weather forecast calls for: showers in morning, with a high of 56 and a low of 39. San Jose Stadium is a grass surface. As of last count, 18,000 of the 26,000 seats have been sold, and FSU has sold out its initial allotment of 6,000 tickets.

Offense:

I'd love to see UCLA pass the ball on 1st and 2nd down from running sets, setting up at worst some 3rd and shorts where UCLA's vastly larger OL can lean into FSU's small DL with their zone blocking scheme and move the wall of flesh forward enough to move the chains.

With Matt Moore gone, and Drew Olson firmly in control of his own destiny and legacy at UCLA, the Bruins were conducting informal 7-on-7 passing drills shortly after the Southern Cal game and long before bowl practices started. I'd love to see the Bruins display how polished the passing game has gotten while the game is still up for grabs and the Bulldogs can't just pin their ears back.

Given the dearth of RBs available to tote pig this game (only Maurice Drew and Akil Harris, unless JD Groves is pressed into duty, a year of Derrick Williams' eligibility is burned, or Jason Harrison is called upon to play more than he may be ready), the Bruins may have no choice but to throw the ball early and often. And once the passing game is established, hopefully the Bruins will spread the field and run the ball from passing formations.

If UCLA does come out throwing, then I'd love to see Dorrell send five out on patterns, and dump the ball off to the backs as much as possible to put pressure on FSU's LBs. If there are 19 different routes for the running backs, as rumored, then using them would be splendid. My favorites are the ol' reliable angle pattern, the flare to the flat, and the swing pass whenever it is available. Play catch with Marcedes Lewis (my sleeper pick for player of the game; my public pick is Craig Bragg, hometown boy).

The more UCLA is able to throw early without resorting to ‘max protection' (which is becoming a kiss of death even wetter than ‘prevent defense'), the more likely they are to avoid giving up sacks, and the better are UCLA's chances of winning this game. The only way FSU can beat UCLA is if they sack the DO with impunity and force Dorrell into turtle mode. Of course, UCLA can beat itself by running fruitlessly up the middle time after time, but that's a different story…

If UCLA can throw the ball more than five times in a row while the game is afoot and be successful, then FSU's confidence in their scouting of UCLA will be shaken, and the running game with MoD will shortly thereafter begin to percolate. I'd love to see MoD be allowed to run to daylight, starting into the middle, sucking the D in, jump stop, and then angling out at a 45 degree angle left or right, just to see if any defender in the box could actually catch him before he gains 5 to 10 yards. Maybe I've just been watching too much NFL football…

By all accounts, UCLA should be able to move the ball with success: 400 to 500 yards of total offense. Most bowl games see more offensive fireworks because the lay-off allows battle-tested players to get healthy. Craig Bragg and Marcedes Lewis are fresh and rejuvenated, and head into 2004 with visions of big numbers dancing in their heads…

I fear, of course, that UCLA's attack will stick with the same game plan it has employed all year: try to establish the run by plunging the undersized tailbacks into the heart of the D, which knows exactly what is coming and when, resulting in many 2nd/3rd and long situations, which sets the QB up for miracle worker status just to convert one 3rd down play, much less sustain a drive, probably getting sacked a lot in the process, especially via a blitz from the right CB.

I expect UCLA to look the best offensively it has looked all year. The DO is the man, MoD is the man, and UCLA has a serious size advantage up-front. If not now, when?

Defense:

I expect UCLA to win this battle decisively. The Bruins' D is ranked 20th in the nation (320 ypg), and while the Bruins have allowed 35 TDs, only 25 have been on the D.

While the back seven got a little scorched v. Southern Cal and OU, the reality is that this D's pass defense remains one of the best around. They don't give up the long ball, they close hard, they tackle well, they have short memories, and they don't drop many pick opportunities. If they're not put on the field all day long, I feel confident that the Bulldog's passing game won't ruin the Bruins.

The Bruin D has been stingy against the run all year, thanks to the DL's ability to implode the OL and squeeze out all the space between the tackles, forcing the RB to bounce…into the waiting arms of LBs Chillar and Spencer Havner. I'm betting this dynamic continues for one more game.

Match-ups of interest are:

Dave Ball vs. Dartangon Shack: Dave gets to go up against a guy who's name is eerily similar to the coolest Musketeer (IMO) in his final college game. It's A Wonderful Life, Dave. You know it, and I know it…

Rodney Leisle/Ryan Boschetti vs. Sean Finnerty: Finnerty is an undersized OG, and the power of Hot Rod and The Boss might be more than he can handle. If the TE is set left, then Finnerty will get help from C Kyle Young on The Boss. If the TE lines up to the right, he's got Hot Rod all alone…

Matt Ware vs. Bernard Berrian: Probably the last thing Gary DeLoach wants to do is deviate from SOP and have Ware chase Berrian wherever he lines up…because what do you do when he's sent in motion to the other side? Again, so what. Please, please, please….don't wait for the second half to make the "Reggie Williams adjustment." From a fan's standpoint, this is a match-up I want to see. Okay, fine…I'll settle for a corner blitz or two instead. Yummy.

Special Teams:

"Whoever wins the punting game wins this game!" Great pre-game speech, huh? Don't laugh…I heard it, unfortunately. Didn't work for me AT ALL back then…but it makes sense now after watching the 2003 Bruins.

Craig Bragg v. Bernard Berrian: the guy who makes more plays could decide this game for his team. Check that, if a flag doesn't fire out of some zebra's hindquarters while CBra is making more spectacular punt returns than Berrian, then the Bruins' hopes are good.

Overall:

I'd love to see the media realize that not every HC provides an Academy Award-winning "gamut of emotions" performance each time they're on the sidelines (e.g., Jeff Tedford). That said, I'd love to see Dorrell take total control of this game with respect to playcalling on O. Show us what ya got…and have a little fun while you're at it, big guy.

Once UCLA and Dorrell get the juices flowing, UCLA's natural edge in talent surfaces and the Bruins blow out the Bulldogs, and all is right with the universe. 42-14.

My fear is that UCLA will get in its own way and make this much closer than it should be before prevailing 17-10.

All things considered, I expect the Bruins to win going away, 34-17.


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