Fresno State preview

After their win in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, Fresno State has been like that little brother who beats you in HORSE one time and never lets you forget about it. The Trojans have grown up, given birth to All-Americans and brought home a few National Championships, but little brother Fresno State just keeps pointing at that one game.

Sure, it was a significant win for the Bulldogs, a win that most Fresno State fans probably put on their work resumes, but it's been 13 years, and the Trojans are ready to take back their spot as the alpha dog in the family. The only problem facing the Trojans this Saturday though, is that their little brother has grown up as well. Granted, they haven't exactly filled out as well as USC, but they should provide another stiff test for the Trojans. This season, Fresno State's offense ranks fifth in the nation in scoring and are allowing just over 16 points per game on defense, but, through no fault of their own, the Bulldogs have gone up against some of the shakiest competition in the nation, while dropping their lone game against a ranked team. Against the Trojans, Fresno State better not be caught daydreaming about 1992, because the Coliseum will be rocking and, for the first time this season, it'll be the Trojans who will have a little bit of a revenge factor working in their favor.

Bulldogs on Offense:

Quarterback – #13 Paul Pinegar

Paul Pinegar isn't one of the flashiest quarterbacks in the country, but that doesn't mean that he isn't one of the best. The senior leader for the Bulldogs is a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien award, ranks fourth among active quarterbacks in touchdown passes and sixth in passing yards. He is 32-9 as a starter and his name is at the bottom of the list of reasons that the Bulldogs suffered their lone defeat of the season against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. In that game, Pinegar was 33-43, and threw for 418 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 40 yards on the ground. This season, he has been the picture of consistency. He ranks tenth in the country in passing efficiency, mostly due to the fact that his quarterback rating has dipped below 130 on just one occasion this season: a 128 blip, due to two interceptions against Hawaii. Pinegar is not a quarterback who will get his team beat. He has thrown just five interceptions this year and is very aware while in the pocket. He will throw the ball away when under pressure, rather than force it into coverage and he has above average ability to tuck it down and run. He also likes to dump the ball out to his running backs and let them work for yards. Pinegar's handling of the Bulldog offense is similar to Matt Leinart's guiding of the Trojans. His familiarity with the system allows him to audible when necessary and gives him a sense of calm that is lacking in many other quarterbacks. Pinegar has completed at least 50% of his passes and has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season. On the year, he has completed 63% of his passes (156 for 242) for 2,042 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Running Backs – #34 Bryson Sumlin, #22 Wendell Mathis

For the second straight week, the Trojans will go against a very good dual running back threat. For the Bulldogs, it will be Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin heading up the ground game. Mathis, a UCLA transfer, has received the bulk of the carries this season, running the ball 160 times for 932 yards and 13 touchdowns. Mathis is the smaller and more explosive of the two. He is a shifty runner who quickly gets through holes in the line and can seemingly create his own cutback lanes. Mathis is averaging close to six yards per attempt and has gone over 100 yards five times this season, including a 229 yard outing against Hawaii. He shouldn't have a good day though if he just tries to use speed and elusiveness against the Trojan defense. The runners that have had success against USC have been the ones that use their blockers extremely well and are patient. Washington State's Jerome Harrison has had, by far, the best outing against the Trojans and it wasn't because he outran anybody on the defense. It was because he let his blockers pick everyone up before he made any moves at all. This is why Bryson Sumlin could end up having more of an impact on Saturday than Mathis. Sumlin is like LenDale White in that he will take it between the tackles, but never seems satisfied with just getting to the linebackers. Sumlin has been somewhat effective this season, averaging over four yards per carry on 107 tries, totaling 476 yards and four touchdowns, but it is a far cry from his 2004 season, in which he went over 1,000 yards with 13 touchdowns. Sumlin has carried the ball more than 20 times just once this season, and his ten carries against Boise State were the most in three games. This due must have success on Saturday for Fresno State to even think about having a chance of competing against the Trojans. The combination of Mathis and Sumlin doesn't hold a candle to what the Bears ran at the Trojans last weekend, but the Bulldog running game could look infinitely better, due to the fact that Paul Pinegar will present a much more competent presence at the quarterback position.

Wide Receivers – #1 Paul Williams, #5 Adam Jennings, #6 Jermaine Jamison, #84 Joe Fernandez, #18 Jaron Fairman

The wide receiver position is really a group effort for the Bulldogs, with contributions coming from all five of these players. Paul Williams is the leader of the group and is everything you'd want in a receiver. Unfortunately for the Trojans, he has the height and athletic ability to win just about every jump-ball thrown his way, to go along with exceptional speed for a guy his size. On the season, Williams has 25 receptions for a team-high 478 yards and five touchdowns. For those of you that didn't see it, his 98-yard touchdown reception against Boise State last week was a perfect display of all of his talents: speed, strength and athleticism. Jermaine Jamison has more catches this season than Williams (26), but he averages almost six yards fewer per grab, piling up 360 yards and two touchdowns. Jamison isn't going to take over any games, but he is a solid contributor to the offense. He has caught a pass in each game this season, although he is yet to go over 80 yards in any game. Joe Fernandez is a guy who uses his good speed and smarts to find the open spaces in the defense. After playing as the number one receiver last season, he has taken on more of a support role this season with the emergence of Williams and Jamison. He has 20 grabs, 243 yards and two touchdowns this season. Adam Jennings is one of those guys you like to set up on screen plays and end arounds. He's very good with the ball in his hands, but can play a normal receiver position as well and is a guy who could line up in the slot and work the middle of the field in front of the safeties. He has 16 receptions for 216 yards and three touchdowns this season. With the sheer number of wide receivers the Bulldogs throw out on the field, it can be easy to lose track of guys like Jennings and Jaron Fairman, who has 17 grabs, also for 216 and two touchdowns. The Trojans have gone up against better passing attacks this season, but the balance the Bulldogs have with the passing and running games make them dangerous. It will also be interesting to watch Paul Williams against whichever Trojan cornerback draws his assignment, and to see if Fresno State attacks the height match-up, which we've seen exploited by teams all season long.

Tight End – #19 Devyn McDonald

Devyn McDonald has a handful of grabs this season, but hasn't done much since the season opener, where he caught four passes for 67 yards. Over the next eight games he's basically doubled those stats, bringing his numbers up to nine catches for 117 yards and one touchdown. McDonald isn't going to be a receiving threat against the Trojans, but his blocking ability will be on display.

Offensive Line – LT #50 Dartangon Shack, LG #62 Cole Popovich, C #59 Ryan Young, RG #77 Ryan Wendell, RT #79 Chris Denman

This is a very scrappy, dangerous offensive line. Kyle Young is a huge presence at the center of the line, standing 6'5" and is the only lineman over 300 pounds. The rest of the line seems small by today's standards, but they are aggressive enough to make up for it. They enjoy blocking downhill and ride out their blocks through the whistle. The Trojan defensive line can stand them up though, and this battle, as always, will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

Bulldogs on Defense:

Defensive Line – #71 Garret McIntyre, #97 Jason Shirley, #98 Louis Leonard, #11 Tyler Clutts

Garret McIntyre is a great player and one that could demand a double team from the Trojan offensive line. Sam Baker and Winston Justice are great tackles, but McIntyre is a guy that can ruin even the best tackle's day if he's forced to pick him up one-on-one for sixty minutes. His motor is always running and he has a great first step off the line. He has just 16 tackles on the season, but half of those have come behind the line of scrimmage and six are sacks. Because of his first step up the field, McIntyre is susceptible to running plays straight at him. Tyler Clutts lines up on the opposite side of the line and is a former linebacker who grew into a defensive end. Because of his linebacker's instinct, he is better than McIntyre at defending the run, but is still almost as good at getting after the quarterback. He leads the line with 36 tackles, is tied with McIntyre for the team lead with eight tackles for loss and ranks just behind McIntyre with five sacks. Jason Shirley and Louis Leonard are your typical big-bodied defensive tackles. They have ten and 11 tackles respectively, on the season and a handful of tackles in the backfield. The defensive line has 27 sacks this season, which ranks first in the WAC and 14th nationally, and is allowing 3.5 yards per rush and just over 116 yards per game. They've given up fewer yards and touchdowns on the ground than the Trojans this season, but it will take a special performance to keep the Trojan running game under 116 yards on Saturday.

Linebackers – #31 Marcus Riley, #51 Dwayne Andrews, #10 Alan Goodwin

Marcus Riley leads the team with 51 tackles and has added two sacks. He doesn't do anything spectacularly, but has been a constant playmaker for the Bulldogs' defense this season. Middle linebacker Dwayne Andrews is third on the team with 47 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. He is a solid presence in the middle of the field for the Bulldogs and his size, strength and instincts help him stay around the ball at all times. Alan Goodwin is probably the fastest of the three linebackers. He has 38 tackles and an interception on the season. The Cal linebackers were worn down by the Trojan runners last weekend as LenDale White put together longer and stronger runs as the game went on. These Fresno State linebackers have yet to go against a front as physical or a running game as dominant as the ones the Trojans will provide, so it will be interesting to see if they are at all able to stay with either the speed of Reggie Bush or the strength of LenDale White for several possessions, let alone four quarters.

Cornerbacks – #17 Marcus McCauley, #24 Richard Marshall

On Saturday, Richard Marshall may end up being the biggest playmaker on either defense. He ranks second on the team in tackles, with 48, and leads the team with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He's also added six pass deflections and a forced fumble. Marshall has three interception returns for touchdowns in his career and has developed into a solid cover corner. Marcus McCauley is another good corner, with 25 tackles and a team-high seven pass break ups. He stands over six feet tall and is a great leaper, hopefully, for the Bulldogs, negating any jump balls that the Trojans may throw Dwayne Jarrett's way. The Trojan receivers have been so successful this season because they are allowed to exploit the cornerbacks' weaknesses. Against good cover guys, Matt Leinart has been hitting them with quick throws, allowing Jarrett and Steve Smith to beat them with a move or stiff-arm and get up the field for extra yardage. Against these Fresno State corners, I expect to see a lot of that early, forcing them to play tight. And, if that happens, look for the Trojan wideouts to start beating their men on a few simple go routes.

Safeties – #15 Josh Sherley, #36 Tyrone Culver

The Bulldogs offer a strong tandem of safeties in hard-hitting Josh Sherley and playmaker Tryone Culver. Sherley has 34 tackles this season while Culver has 24, but Culver has also added one sack, two interceptions, five pass break ups and has forced and recovered a fumble. If Culver is forced to play near the line of scrimmage to help with the run, look for the Trojans to attack Sherley through the air. These are good safeties, but not close to what Matt Leinart and the offense go up against every day in practice. Of course, that could be said about most positions on any team.

Bulldogs on Special Teams:

Kicker – #35 Kyle Zimmerman

Clint Sister was leading the WAC in scoring, at 9.8 points per game, until a hip injury forced him from the lineup three games ago and will keep him out for the rest of the season. Sophomore walk-on Kyle Zimmerman had been handling the placekicking duties in his absence and will continue to do so against the Trojans. Zimmerman has missed one of 15 extra point attempts and one of four field goal attempts. He has yet to be called upon to attempt a kick of more than 30 yards and head coach Pat Hill doesn't seem all that confident in his ability beyond 40. Zimmerman does not have a strong leg on kickoffs and in 20 tries, has yet to force a touchback.

Punter – #37 Mike Lingua

Mike Lingua is averaging just over 36 yards on his 26 punts, putting 12 inside the 20, forcing eight fair catches and not allowing any to hit the end zone. The Bulldogs have allowed just 24 total punt return yards this season, best in the nation, and, save for the touchdown return against Washington, Reggie Bush has been bottled up pretty well on punt returns.

Kick and Punt Returner – #5 Adam Jennings, #2 Clifton Smith

Adam Jennings has been phenomenal this season in the return game. He is the only player in the nation who is ranked in the top ten in both kickoff and punt returns. Jennings averages 30.7 yards per kickoff return, good for third in the nation, and 15.3 yards per punt return, good for ninth. The ironic twist to all this is that the Bulldogs have four punt returns for touchdowns, and Jennings has been responsible for none of them. His longest kickoff return went for 64 yards and his punt return long is 59. Clifton Smith, who has filled in on occasion on punt returns, is averaging a ridiculous 63 yards per return on his three attempts. Of those three returns, two have gone for touchdowns. The Trojans haven't exactly been spectacular this season when it comes to kick and punt coverage. They've been better recently, but the Fresno State special teams have been truly outstanding this season. No matter what Jennings averages on his returns, it will be a successful day if the Trojans can keep him and the rest of the returners out of the end zone.


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