Week 3: UW vs. Fresno State

Fresno State pays a visit to Seattle when they face the Washington Huskies on Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff in Husky Stadium. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Network. Both teams are 1-1 and Fresno State will enter the game as a slight favorite.

LAST WEEK: Washington stayed tough with #15 Oklahoma before succumbing to the Sooners in the second half. The Huskies showed a solid running game with Louis Rankin going over the century mark again and Kenny James breaking a 54-yard TD run on the first play, but the defensive secondary struggled, the special teams had a punt blocked, and the offense had a crippling turnover on the Sooner four yard line at a time when the Huskies could've drawn to within three points. The Husky offensive line is surprising a lot of people. Despite having zero depth (all five starters have played every snap in the first two games), they are opening holes. They have some trouble with blitzes but part of that is due to the lack of a blocking tight end and the ability for the backs to pick up the linebackers that are running around and through the gaps. Isaiah Stanback did not look like a senior against a fast but mediocre defense. He was confused as to how to attack it. Washington really needs a tight end in their attack, and really need their secondary to show up against the Bulldogs, who are attempting to break in a new, albeit talented, quarterback. Sean Douglas was unbelievable last week, and will be an all-American this year. Incredibly he had two punts of over 80 yards last week. LAST WEEK: Two Oregon field-goal tries ended up in fourteen points instead of six, dooming Fresno State to a 31-24 heartbreak loss to the 20th-ranked Ducks in sold-out Bulldog Stadium. Oregon kicker Paul Martinez stumbled into the end zone on a 4-yard fake with less than five minutes remaining in the game – this after the Ducks scored an earlier touchdown one play after Fresno State blocked another Martinez try (and botched the recovery attempt, giving the ball back to Oregon). In a game where both teams were almost equal in yards, first downs, and big plays, those two plays proved to be the biggest. Junior tailback Dwayne Wright had 159 yards rushing and one TD to lead the Bulldog attack, while sophomore QB Tom Brandstater suffered his first loss as the Fresno State starter, completing 16 of 33 for 150 yards with one score and two interceptions. The Oregon loss was tough – especially how it came about - but it is over and done with. Washington is up next, and the Huskies looked competitive in Norman against Oklahoma. It's time for Fresno State pick their heads up quick and forget about the Ducks, go on up to Seattle, and take care of business just like they did two years ago when they put a 35-16 hurting on the purple guys.
KEY INJURIES: TE Michael Gottlieb, TE Rob Lewis, OT Jordan White-Frisbee (all out). KEY INJURIES: DE Tyler Clutts (Out), LB Marcus Riley (questionable), LB Quaadir Brown (out), PR Clifton Smith (Questionable), CB Marcus McCauley (likely)
WHEN WASHINGTON IS ON OFFENSE: Louis Rankin is the top ground gainer in the Pac-10 after two games, and ranks #8 nationally. He has improved tremendously in how he attacks holes and his speed allows him to get outside quicker than defenders think. Kenny James has been solid between the tackles and made Oklahoma pay dearly for poor tackling. QB Isaiah Stanback faced a "spy" all game against Oklahoma and he never did quite figure out when a good time to tuck and run would be, only picking up 18 yards on 12 carries. He looked baffled and confused, and since he could not hit any outlet receivers, the Sooners just cranked up the blitz on the outside of the Husky OL all throughout the second half. The result was Stanback running for his life and not able to get any kind of consistency going. The offensive line has been solid inside but last game freshman tackle Ben Ossai struggled with the Sooners speed on the end. Ossai is going to be a good one, but being asked to start as a freshman at WT is asking too much. And this team needs a tight end in the worst way. Gottlieb was the only real blocker of the bunch and he's not available against the Bulldogs. WHEN FRESNO STATE IS ON OFFENSE: 6-5 Tom Brandstater is just the fourth starting QB in the last ten seasons for the Bulldogs, following Billy Volek, David Carr and Paul Pinegar. Fresno has been leaning heavily on the ground game early while Brandstater breaks in, with junior tailback Dwayne Wright returning with a bang after missing most of 2004 and all of 2005 with a knee injury. It's early, but Wright's 156-yard per-game average ranks third in the NCAA. With Adrian Peterson racking up 165 yards against the Huskies, it would seem logical to keep on putting it in Wright's hands. But Washington's pass defense ranks a dreadful 111th in the NCAA – and that might mean coach Hill starts widening the playbook this week for Brandstater, who is agile despite his 6-5 frame. Expect bigger contributions from receivers Paul Williams (pre-season all-WAC) and Joe Fernandez (who doubles as the leading return man), and perhaps a bit more trickery from the "master", Pat Hill. With four returning starters, Fresno's offensive front is probably as good as Oklahoma's, and should be able to move the ball against the Huskies.
WHEN FRESNO STATE HAS THE BALL: The defensive front had a marvelous first quarter, as ends Greyson Gunheim and Daneil Te'o Nesheim are proving difficult to block on the edges. Wilson Afoa is getting double-teamed and Donny Mateaki has not had his name called a great deal so far, but they are stuffing the run well enough to allow Scott White to make a lot of tackles. Chris Stevens is also proving to be a great speed pass rusher around the weak end. Along with White, Dan Howell and Tahj Bomar run to the ball well. E.J. Savannah has made his presence felt at outside linebacker and looks like a future star on this defense. Those front seven have not been spectacular but have been solid enough, very tough against the rush. However the secondary has been porous and tentative. Dashon Goldson still looks hobbled and a step slow, new safety Jason Wells is still obviously learning and he and fellow safety C.J. Wallace have yet to look comfortable together. Roy Lewis has been decent on one corner but expect Fresno State to pick on the other side of the field where Matt Fountaine is. WHEN WASHINGTON HAS THE BALL: It certainly looks like the defensive recipe is easy against Washington – keep Isaiah Stanback bottled up and make him beat you with his arm and his head. The main job of pressuring him will mostly go to end Marlon Brisco, a two-year lettermen. Fresno State faced an athletic QB last week in Oregon's Dennis Dixon, who threw for 240 yards and ran for 32 more, and will get more of the same this week. The Huskies ran it surprisingly well between the tackles against the Sooners, so twin 330-pound interior linemen Jason Shirley and Louis Leonard might have their work cut out for them in stopping Washington's slashing backs. In all, seven seniors could start for the Bulldogs on defense – three of them in the defensive backfield, who as a unit are still seeking their first interception of the season. Safeties Josh Sherley and Vincent Mays are three-year lettermen – Sherley is second on the team in tackles, behind 240-pound senior linebacker Dwayne Andrews, who was a consensus pre-season all-WAC selection.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Michael Braunstein has been solid handling both placekicking and kickoffs. He has been a real pleasant surprise, and Sean Douglas is quite simply the best punter in the nation. He'll be playing on Sundays next year. Carl Bonnell is a great holder, as some of Danny Morovick's snaps have been high and off target. Marlon Wood has yet to show what he can really do on returns, but should get a chance on Saturday in the swirling winds of Husky Stadium. SPECIAL TEAMS: Normally a Fresno State forte, it is what beat them a week ago, falling to a Oregon fake and botching the recovery after blocking a kick of their own. Junior place-kicker Clint Stitser has made his only FG attempt in his first season as the starter, from 32 yards in the opener against Nevada. True freshman Robert Malone has averaged 38 yards per punt – two of them inside the opponent's 20. Look for the Bulldogs to come after Sean Douglas as OU did.
WASHINGTON OUTLOOK: There is no shame in losing to #15 on the road, and to have played them tough for a half should give the Huskies reason for optimism. But this week's game will tell us much more about this Husky team. The way that Stanback hung his head and sat on the bench alone after his fumble on the four was disheartening. Leaders don't - check that - CANNOT do that. The way the team folded in reaction to that sequence was all too familiar. But the team did fight after that, and did compete well. They tackled much better in week two against perhaps the best back in college football. Now they have to play that well for four quarters and beat a beatable Fresno State team that has a beast at running back in Wright. If Pat Hill is smart he will load the box with 8-9 guys (with one as a QB spy) on defense and make Stanback beat them. He'll have to hit open receivers and make correct reads. Stanback admittedly never did figure out what Oklahoma was doing to him on defense last week. Hopefully he can put it together on Saturday because the Bulldogs will obviously gear up to stop the run. FRESNO STATE OUTLOOK: It is strange for a non-BCS program like Fresno State to lose at home to a BCS team, then turn around and be favored on the road against another from the same conference – but the line opened with the Bulldogs giving four points. Washington had a tough go with WAC doormat San Jose State a couple of weeks ago, so it's logical for the (Bull)dogs to be favored this week. Pat Hill's pack have consistently shown they have what it takes to hang with a top 20 team for four quarters, but can this year's team shake the mental letdowns that have plague in the past? We'll see on Saturday. There is not a better opponent for Fresno State than Washington this week. The Huskies are clearly not the best team in the Pac-10, nor are they the worst – that distinction belongs to Stanford. A ‘Dog win over the ‘Dawgs in Husky Stadium would erase last week's heartbreak, and bode well for the rest of the season. Don't expect Fresno State to suffer a letdown this week. If both teams come out of the tunnel suitably amped for each other it should be a terrific game.
WASHINGTON WILL LOSE IF: they began to question themselves and their abilities. San Jose State torched the Husky secondary with a back-up quarterback while Oklahoma found success with a converted wide receiver throwing the ball. It has to be disheartening to a unit that felt they had made substantial improvements over a year ago back there. On offense, the offensive line has been better than most thought, but unfortunately this team still needs a big game out of the quarterback position in order to win. They just don't have any game breakers in the receiving ranks yet. Isaiah Stanback would probably be a good fit on the Husky teams of a decade ago where there were playmakers throughout the lineup, but on this squad, he needs to be so much more, and the pressure to do so may get to him. FRESNO STATE WILL LOSE IF: There is any hangover from the Oregon loss. In years past, Washington was a marquee "big boy", but the Huskies have been wearing a "little guy" uniform the past three plus seasons. Head Coach Tyrone Willingham might have his program slowly turning back in the right direction, but Fresno State has to be considered the bully in this game. Frankly, one can't imagine the ‘Dogs "overlooking" Washington – especially after last week - but stranger things have happened. The Huskies looked like a team that lacked bounce-back when the going got tough last week, but at home may be pointing at this one as the true "turn-around" game. The Huskies started quick against Oklahoma, and are capable of doing it again if Fresno doesn't come out to play.
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Dave Samek is the publisher of Dawgman.com and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Washington Magazine and has covered UW football since 1996. Columnist Rick Samek, with credit to Fresno State "The Bark Board" editor Mario Gomez, contributed to the Fresno State capsule of this preview.

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