Fresno State (9-5 in 2003) at Washington|
Sunday, September 5 - 2:35 PM (PDT) – FOX National TV
Series All-time: Washington leads, 1-0-0
Last Meeting: Sept. 29, 1979 - Washington 49, Fresno State 14
Line: Washington by 4
We might as well dispense with the "firsts" first. It will be the first-ever Sunday game for the University of Washington (though it won't be a Husky Stadium first, since the Seahawks called the jewel of Montlake home for two seasons). It will be the first-ever game for new Athletic Director Todd Turner and new school president Mark Emmert.
It will be the first-ever start for Casey Paus at the Husky helm.
And in the Fresno State Bulldogs, making their second-ever visit to Seattle, it will be a daunting first challenge.
Fresno State beat a pair of PAC-10 schools a year ago on the way to a 9-5 season. The Bulldogs have gone 4-3 against the PAC-10 over the past four years (and 17-15 overall since 1980), and have played in four straight Silicon Valley bowls, winning the last two – including a 17-9 win over UCLA last December. Head coach Pat Hill has gone 29-13 over the past three seasons, and his ‘Dogs are pegged a solid second (behind Boise State) in the pre-season WAC media poll. "Potentially, we have the depth and chemistry to be outstanding," says Hill of a squad that could be his best yet.
Fresno has gained a rep as a top mid-major that likes to schedule some heavy hitters – and stay with them. "Playing at Washington and at Kansas State (next Saturday) will be great challenges for us," Coach Hill feels, "and a great opportunity for exposure."
"We have played in hostile environments before. Our players won't be intimidated."
"Everywhere I look I see a quality football team," Husky coach Keith Gilbertson said of his opponent at his Monday press conference. "They beat UCLA in a bowl game. They pretty handily beat Nevada – and we struggled with (both of) them obviously."
"We know they're really good," says Gilbertson. "They're veteran, they're well-coached and they're talented. Pat's come in and just taken off with that program."
"We know it's going to be a tough test."
Hill has had only one losing season in Fresno, and is a stellar 39-16 in WAC play since his hiring in 1997. He's a gambler, too – recall the 2000 edition of the Silicon Valley Bowl, where his ‘Dogs trailed Air Force 34-7 only to pull to within 37-34 and within easy range for the tying field-goal in the final minute. Instead, Hill called for a fake to go for the win outright. Though it failed, the call left a great impression on the viewing public.
With such a twisty, testy season opener – an expectant and confident mid-major visiting a home-standing big-time program looking to answer some questions – a similar impression will be a welcome boost for those who bleed purple.
At the very least, it will make for a most interesting Sunday bask.
|FRESNO STATE OFFENSE|
2003 STATS: 23.0 points, 352.6 yards (160.4 rush, 192.2 pass) RUSHING: Dwayne Wright 190-1038-3 TD (5.5), long 66 Bryson Sumlin 123-509-9 TD (4.1), long 45 PASSING: Paul Pinegar 174-294-9 (.592), 1773 yards, 11 TD RECEIVING: Jermaine Jamison 23-210-0 TD (9.1), long 28 Joe Fernandes 22-165-0 TD (7.5), long 22 Stephen Spach 13-127-0 TD (9.8), long 31
Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti's offense is about as "West Coast" as you can get. And it returns eight starters – with only two of them seniors. Nothing like youth AND experience to enhance the future.
Similar to Washington, Fresno State's two backup quarterbacks have never taken a college game snap. However, if third-year starter Paul Pinegar can stay healthy, it's a worry that Coach Hill won't have to address for possibly two more seasons.
Pinegar tore a muscle a year ago and missed five games, but came back to throw for 1,773 yards over the final nine. As a freshman, the 6-4 junior threw for a Bulldog frosh record 2,920 yards, breaking Trent Dilfer's mark. He's a tested leader, and will be a handful for the new-look Husky defensive front.
Pinegar loses his top two receivers from a year ago, but has two solid returnees in juniors Adam Jennings and Jermaine Jamison. Neither found the end zone a year ago, but combined for five touchdowns in 2002. Look for Jennings, with his 4.3 40 speed, to do some running with the ball - he averaged nine yards over 18 carries (including a 13-yard scoring scamper against San Jose State) last season. Senior TE Stephen Spach is one of the WAC's better ones, with four career scores.
In juniors Dwayne Wright (a former WSU commit) and Bryson Sumlin, Fresno State boasts a returning tailback tandem that totaled 1,558 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. Wright became the 13th Bulldog in history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, though the sturdy Sumlin could get the start. Either way, both figure to see plenty of time. UCLA transfer Wendell Mathis might also see a series or two.
Prior to Matt Stevenson's shoulder injury, Fresno was looking at a full complement of returning starters up front. Still, with sophomores Kyle Young and Chris Denman coming off freshman seasons as starters, plus the return of three-year stalwart Logan Mankins from a lost 2003 season recovering from knee surgery, the offensive line figures to be a strong point after allowing 26 sacks a year ago. And what of starting guard Dartangon Shack? You remember how Jorge Cordova of Nevada came into Seattle and ripped apart the Husky line a year ago – Shack completely shut him out from the tackle spot in Fresno's win over the Wolfpack. Former Husky lineman Robin Kezirian is now eligible after sitting out his required transfer year during 2003.
GAME OUTLOOK: Other than some thinness in the receiver corps and a couple of line dings, Fresno should be able to put in all of their package, and will be a challenge for a Washington defensive line looking to shed the "question mark" label. Other than Jennings, the Bulldogs don't really have a deep threat "on paper" – ball control could be their mantra.
|FRESNO STATE DEFENSE|
2003 STATS: 22.6 points, 381.2 yards (174.8 rush, 206.4 pass) TACKLES/TFL: James Sanders 93/8.5 Awan Diles 63/2.0 Brian Morris 46/15.5 PASSES DEF/INT: Richard Marshall 9/3 Manuel Sanchez 6/4 James Sanders 6/2 SACKS: Brian Morris 11.0 Garrett McIntyre 8.0 Claude Sanders 5.0
Nine starters return to defensive coordinator Dan Brown's unit, including 31 of the team's 32 sacks and 14 of the team's 16 interceptions. Both the defensive line and the entire secondary rotation return fully intact.
Senior ends Brian Morris and Claude Sanders combined for 90 tackles, 22 TFL and 16 sacks last year, while tackle Garrett McIntyre registered eight sacks after moving inside from the edge. Though somewhat undersized, McIntyre still made second-team all-WAC along with Morris. Junior nose tackle Donyell Booker was a first-team JuCo All-American in 2002.
Fresno State must replace two three-year starters at linebacker. Sophomore OLB Manuel Sanchez led the team in interceptions with four a year ago, though this will be his first year as a starter. Senior Todd Garcia has earned his stripes, coming up through the ranks first as a walk-on, then as a spot-starter. Sophmore MLB Dwayne Andrews made four injury-cover starts a year ago, so he isn't exactly green.
The secondary could be the deepest on the entire West coast. Junior free safety James Sanders is a definite NFL prospect, already tallying 175 tackles over his two seasons. Sanders was the only sophomore named to the WAC All-conference first team. Corners Richard Marshall, Raymond Washington and Awan Diles combined for seven picks in 2003 - and all return to the fold, as does senior and special-teams whiz Therrian Fontenot.
GAME OUTLOOK: Fresno State was second in the WAC in points allowed a year ago, and a full complement of returning starters up front will be a challenge to the Husky offensive line. On paper, the secondary would seem to have a big advantage over Washington (who will need to find a second receiver to complement Frederick's talents). But it gets interesting in that the Bulldogs may have to scrap last year's Washington game film in light of their QB situation and an apparent willingness to change
|FRESNO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS|
PLACEKICKING: Brett Visintainer 21-28 FG (long 47), 35-35 XP PUNTING: Mike Lingua 84-38.3 (long 68), .333 inside the 20 KICK RETURNS: Adam Jennings 10-21.9 (long 35), 0 TD PUNT RETURNS: Adam Jennings 5-10.8 (long 20), 0 TD
In Pat Hill's seven-year run in Fresno, the Bulldogs have racked up 16 special-teams touchdowns, including seven kickoff returns and six blocked-kick returns. There is no reason to expect a drop-off this season. Prior to last season, neither place-kicker Brett Visintainer or punter Mike Lingua had ever participated in a game snap – in fact, Lingua has only been punting footballs for two years after being a soccer goalie throughout his high-school career. True to his soccer background, Lingua is noted for some extreme hang-time with his punts, and put a remarkable 33-percent of his efforts inside the opposing 20.
Visintainer was the Bulldogs' kickoff specialist for two seasons until emerging last year, nailing two game-winning efforts – a 47-yarder against Oregon State with 30 seconds left and a 39-yarder as time expired versus Rice. Overall, the senior hit on 14 of his last 17 efforts and comes into 2004 as one of the WAC's top returning legs. Long snapper Duncan Reid didn't blow a single snap a year ago.
Fresno State lost a top return man in Bernard Berrian (now a Chicago Bear rookie), but Bulldog-of-all-trades Adam Jennings did return a punt 59 yards for a score against Colorado State as a freshman, so the return game still seems to be in good hands.
GAME OUTLOOK: Fresno blocked nine kicks during the 2003 season, and only suffered one block of their own. In a game that figures to be close, this is a unit more than capable of turning the game around.
KIBBLES AND BITS
The Bulldogs will return to Seattle to play the Huskies in 2006 ... Fresno State opens its' season on the road for the fifth consecutive year. The last time they won a road opener was 2001, a 24-22 win at Colorado - a game was also played on a Sunday. The Bulldogs followed that up with another Sunday win one week later - the famous 44-24 crushing of Oregon State ... Since 2001, Fresno State has 28 wins, good for seventh-best in the country ... The Huskies' 11-1 1984 squad - which hammered Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl - will be the "Husky Legend" featured at the end of the third quarter ... Not a single Fresno player hails from the state of Washington. In fact, there are only seven non-Californians on the roster. One receiver of note is Avenal high school's Paul Williams. Paul is the younger brother of the late (and former UW safety) Curtis Williams ...
Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@COMCAST.NET . . .