Fresno State Q and A

Josh Webb of BulldogPlaybook.com answers questions about the Bulldogs

1. How will Fresno State look to rebound after last week’s loss? Where did they go right? Where did they go wrong?
The first thing that Fresno State will look to do is leave last week behind them. Head coach Tim DeRuyter believes in a philosophy of going 1-0 every week. The only way you accomplish that is by having a short-term memory about things like last Saturday. DeRuyter is likely to remind the team that all of their goals are still in front of them, but the path to reaching those goals begins on Saturday.

Fresno State, surprisingly enough, was able to run the ball extremely effectively against the vaunted front-seven of USC. Junior RB Marteze Waller has officially earned the starting gig after his performance in Los Angeles. Waller put up 97 yards on the ground, added another 25, and also scored the only two Fresno State touchdowns of the game. His 6.1 yards per carry in Saturday’s game were probably 4.1 yards better than most people thought he would average. Look for Fresno State to find ways to incorporate Waller more into their offense. It’s doubtful that they will rely solely on the counter off-tackle they featured so prominently at the Coliseum.

As for where they went wrong, one needs only to look at the turnover column to figure out what went drastically wrong for Fresno. Transfer-quarterback Brandon Connette had three interceptions in his debut as a Bulldog. Junior QB Brian Burrell also got in on the turnover action when his hands bounced of Josh Harper and into the waiting arms of Trojan LB Anthony Sarao. If the Bulldogs plan to have any hope of upsetting the Utes in Salt Lake City, they’ll definitely need to take better care of the football.

2. What will Fresno State look to accomplish on defense? How do you see them attempting to slow down Utah’s multiple weapons?
The trick on defense for the Bulldogs will be to limit the damage done by Devontae Booker, Dres Anderson, and Kaelin Clay. Seems simple enough, right? USC had a ton of weapons that the Bulldogs were unable to slow down. The trick to doing this with Utah might be to break down the positions that caused the most problems for the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Fresno State’s defense gave up an astonishing 123 yards on four receptions to Juju Smith at the X position. Dres Anderson certainly has the capability of torching Fresno State at that same position and they’re going to need to do a better job of forcing Anderson to compete for his catches. Smith pretty much had free reign of the edge and he used it well. Anderson has the kind of speed that can hurt a team if he’s able to get out on the edge.

USC RB Buck Allen also put up 133 yards on just over 20 carries. Booker put up half that on half the carries. Simple math should tell you that he can do just as much damage as Allen and the Bulldogs will have to be better about making tackles when they have the chance. There were too many occasions on Saturday when USC running backs were able to pick up significant yardage after making a quick cut. The defensive line will also have to generate more pressure up front and allow their linebackers time to help stuff the run. The Bulldogs cannot allow Booker or Bubba Poole to get out in space like Allen.

Special teams have been a problem for the Bulldogs under DeRuyter, but they did a fairly good job at the Coliseum. They’re going to need to continue that trend because Kaelin Clay is one of the most dangerous returners in the Pac-12. He was awarded with a Pac-12 Player of the Week for his special teams play and that’s not an accident. The Bulldogs need to ensure he doesn’t have any 100-yard returns like he did against Idaho State.

3. Who on the Fresno State team will Utah need to keep an eye on? Similarly, who on the Utah team will Fresno State need to monitor?
It’s no secret that the trick to stopping Fresno State is to completely shut down their run game. This year’s Bulldog squad is built for running the football. Most people think of Fresno State as a passing team, but that’s not really accurate. Derek Carr enabled them to be a passing team, but the philosophy of this coaching staff is centered on the run. The added dimension of a mobile quarterback is just another facet of their rushing attack.

Utah can probably watch enough of Connette’s film to understand that he’s a risk/reward type of quarterback. Their defense will also probably notice that Burrell is fantastic about taking care of the football and putting his team in a position to succeed. He doesn’t take as many chances as Connette, but his numbers proved to be better in every significant category on Saturday, especially the interception column.

Disrupting Burrell’s confidence and slowing down Waller will be key for the Utes on defense. Travis Wilson will need to pay attention to S Derron Smith in the backfield, but this is something that Wilson acknowledged in our interview. Knowing that Derron is there and preventing him from doing anything back there are two entirely different stories, however. Despite the score, Derron Smith and ILB Kyrie Wilson still found a way to show that this defense will fight to the very last second.

Aside from the players already mentioned, it would also be wise of LT Alex Fifita to have another game similar (but better) to the one against Leonard Williams. Leonard Williams still had a pretty impressive day, but you’re not going to stop a guy like that, you just have to hope to contain him. Nate Orchard might not have Williams’ accolades, but that doesn’t make him any less deadly. Fifita will need to do slightly better if the Bulldogs hope to guy either quarterback time to do their job.

4. What are the keys to a Utah victory?
Stop the run and force the quarterbacks into making mistakes. Connette has a proven history of turning the ball over and Utah can play this to their advantage. Burrell might be tougher to shake, however. If they can get to Burrell/Connette, shut down WR Josh Harper, and stop Marteze Waller, the Utes could win this one going away just like USC. Of course, Travis Wilson will have to take care of the football and clinically dissect DC Nick Toth’s defense to reach the 50’s like USC and Fresno State has historically done very well during the regular season following a loss.

The Utes gave up 179 yards on the ground last week. Fresno State has the talent at the receiver position to keep their defensive backs honest. The Utes will need to limit those attempts and continue to play mistake-free football. The Utes played penalty free against Idaho State and only had one turnover. Preventing Fresno State from forcing a turnover and working with a shorter field will be critical to the Utes’ success. This Bulldogs are no strangers to forcing turnovers. Forcing turnovers has been a trend under DeRuyter and the Utes will need to limit them if they hope to move on to Michigan undefeated.

5. What are the keys to a Fresno State victory?
It would help to not give up over 700 yards of total offense. If you start with that goal and slowly whittle things down into manageable objectives, the game becomes a bit easier. Utah has the offense to put up those numbers – they put up 589 against Idaho State and ran nearly 80 plays doing it. The Bulldogs need to limit Utah’s opportunities on offense. USC had far too many third down conversions in their loss. You can expect a repeat of that loss if the Bulldogs allow the Utes to complete 11-of-18 on third downs and 3-of-5 on fourth down.

Another simple goal to aid in Fresno’s bid for the upset – don’t turn the ball over. Fresno State had four turnovers against USC and USC was only able to cash one of those in for a TD. Imagine how bad the score could have been had the Trojans been able to add three more touchdowns off their turnovers. You cannot beat a team like Utah, in Utah, turning the ball over four times. Control the ball, control the game. That’s the key to Fresno winning and it always has been.

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