Q&A: Previewing Cal vs. Fresno St. with Bulldog Bounce

Let's be honest Cal fans, what do we really know about Fresno St.?  They're willing to play 'anybody, anytime, anywhere,' their coach has an awesome mustache, they almost beat USC that one time, and evidently every Cal fan that visited the valley in 2000 was completely scarred by the experience. (Though, in fairness, that was during the Holmoecaust, so scarring was just a normal part of the day-by-day experience!)

But it terms of actual players, scheme, strengths and weaknesses?  I'm drawing a blank.  Which is why we've turned to the experts at Bulldogbounce.com to solve our ignorance!  Many thanks to FSDogs1 for answering our questions - and keep your eyes peeled over on their website for our answers to their questions!


Are Fresno State fans excited or concerned about the number of tickets sold at Candlestick?  Cal fans are concerned that Cal hasn't sold that much.

Excited. The Red Wave knows it's crowd will be strong. With 13,400 sold through the Bulldog Ticket Office, Fresno State will likely have at least 20,000 fans at the game. The 'Dogs brought well over 20,000 to the Rose Bowl in 2008 and to The Coliseum in 2005 with about half as many tickets sold through the university. If that's any indication, Fresno State might even reach the 25,000 mark for this one, though the hefty prices could scare some away. The talk of Cal not selling as many seats as Fresno State is a popular topic around the city, and Fresno State officials definitely want Candlestick to be as full as possible for the overall success of the game.

How did Derek Carr perform during fall camp?  How confident are you in the new starting quarterback?

The Derek Carr era has been long awaited in Fresno. Our blog in particular wrote the past two years that he outplayed last year's starter, Ryan Colburn, in camp. Even as a true freshman, and with coaches denying it, those able to analyze practice closely could see very clearly that Carr was the most talented QB on the team. Now, with two years under his belt (including the redshirt season last year) he's got a ton of command on the field and within the huddle, and has become both an on-field leader and a Christian example for many teammates. Even the most veteran players look up to him. It's an obvious sign of a good quarterback when you have big-time wide receiver recruits flocking to the school wanting to play with a then-freshman QB (a la Josh Harper and Davon Dunn (now a CB) who both decommitted from Cal to sign with Fresno State). Carr has never started a college game, but he seems like the surest bet of any new QB in Pat Hill's tenure. As an 8- or 9-year old in 2001, he called in to local radio station KMJ practically in tears that older brother David Carr didn't win the Heisman. Pure heart, truly Bulldog Born, Bulldog Bred. He grew up dissecting film with his brother and throwing passes to Andre Johnson at Houston Texans practice. Invaluable experience.

Check out our position analysis at BulldogBounce.blogspot.com for a detailed look at what Derek Carr brings to the offense.

The Fresno State O-line has already had to replace four starters . . .

The perception that the O-line has had to replace four starters is only loosely true. There are depth issues on the line, but all five starters have significant experience. Injuries last year to Andrew Jackson (Falcons) and center Joey Bernardi led to several starts for right guard Leslie Cooper and center Richard Helepiko. Right tackle Austin Wentworth also had numerous starts last season and is a talented, versatile lineman who can also slide over to guard. Left guard Matt Hunt, who was also recruited by USC, might be the most talented of the bunch and have the biggest mean streak style of blocking. And left tackle Bryce Harris enters his third year as a starter, and will now be protecting the QB's blind side (previous QB Colburn was a lefty). All of the backups though, have little to no game experience. That said, the question with this starting unit is not run blocking, it's pass protecting. They excelled at run blocking throughout fall camp and spent much of their time facing uber aggressive defensive schemes in pass protection to prepare for the tough defenses Cal and Nebraska will present.

. . . On top of that, will the loss of starting fullback Kulitapa Taumoepeau be a big issue for the running game?

Tapa Taumoepeau is actually a tight end who also lines up at H-back at times. He's by far the most experienced and proven tight end on the team, which makes it a big loss. But the new starter, Ryan Skidmore, is easily the biggest receiving threat at the position and can stretch the defense vertically. The 'Dogs will use a mix of tight ends, including walk-ons Ryan Boschma and Riley Barnes, as well as converted offensive lineman Marcel Jensen (6-6, 260) to get the best combination of blockers and receiving threats on the field. Overall, the team looks to its tight ends as block-first, catch-second. But Pat Hill has voiced his desire to develop these guys within the passing game. Fullback Austin Raphael might be just as big in the passing game.

Which player on the Fresno State defense should Cal fans be afraid of?

(ed. note: Phillip Thomas broke his leg not long after FSDogs1 submitted his responses.  CGB wishes him a speedy recovery.  Injuries suck.)

The most talented player on the defense is junior safety Phillip Thomas, a legit NFL prospect who defensive coordinator Randy Stewart (the former Cal DBs coach) said is as talented as any defensive back he's ever coached. That's saying something with all the talented guys he had at Cal plus all the NFL guys he had at Fresno State -- CB Richard Marshall (Panthers/Cardinals), S James Sanders (Patriots/Falcons), S Tyrone Culver (Packers/Dolphins), CB Marcus McCauley (Vikings/Saints), CB A.J. Jefferson (Cardinals). Thomas has the speed and athleticism to cover man-to-man, and loves to deliver big hits coming up in run support (even when it's against his own team in fall camp). At 6-1, 205, No. 16 stands out on the field.

The offense is so loaded with playmakers, it's hard to narrow down to just one guy. With that in mind, I think the only one person it can be narrowed down to is Derek Carr. Carr is still unproven as a starting QB, and entering his first-ever start, but if he performs and lives up to his talent, the Fresno State offense has the potential to be deadly. He's got three experienced weapons at running back in junior Robbie Rouse (1,100-plus yards last year despite missing two games), junior Milton Knox (a UCLA transfer and former Parade All-American) and A.J. Ellis (who torched Utah State for 168 yards last season before an injury derailed him). Then there's the receivers, with 7-8 guys who will rotate for significant reps. The top three returnees are all under 6-foot, but all rank among the fastest receivers in school history (at a school that's produced Henry Ellard, Bernard Berrian, Stephone Paige, etc.). Devon Wylie has the potential to be a 1,000-yard receiver but has been hampered by injuries each of his years so far. Clocked at 4.27 in the 40-yard dash, he holds the all-time school record. YouTube him. Sophomore Jalen Saunders is right behind Wylie in a footrace, and was the team's top deep threat as a true freshman last season, and second on the team in yards. Junior Rashad Evans is the most proven of the group. Any defense would have a chore on its hands figuring out how to cover all three of these guys at once. And this year they add R-Fr Josh Harper to the mix (the former Cal commit) who has been dazzling throughout fall camp, virtually taking over the first fall scrimmage along with Carr. Harper gives the team a size presence at 6-1, along with 6-0 A.J. Johnson.

Amongst the three units of your defense (linemen, linebackers and secondary), which do you believe will be the strongest and which do you think has the biggest question marks?

Each defensive unit has one big-name stud. We already talked about S Phillip Thomas in the secondary, a unit that also boasts the WAC's best CB in Jermaine Thomas (who's still battling back from an injury last season and hoping to be full speed on Saturday). The linebacking corps is led by junior Travis Brown, son of late Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dan Brown, who has started since his freshman season and is a playmaker much like Mychal Kendricks. The defensive line is led by senior Logan Harrell, who burst onto the national scene last year with 10.5 sacks from the defensive tackle spot and will also rotate over to defensive end at times this year. In choosing the strongest unit, the linebackers are probably the surest bet with Brown and four-year starter Kyle Knox, plus the long-awaited addition of sophomore Jeremiah Toma in the middle.

The biggest question marks are defensive end and cornerback. Not because there's a lack of talent, but at cornerback the question of how soon Jermaine Thomas returns to full strength will determine whether this secondary is good or great. At defensive end, the loss of WAC Player of the Year Chris Carter (Steelers), who was one of the nation's sack leaders, leaves a bit of uneasiness. Sophomore Nat Harrison steps in with big shoes to fill.

Who would you like to punch in the face?

Punch? No one. But as Pat Hill likes to say, "Shutup & Hit Somebody!"

Predict a final score!

We at the Bulldog Bounce never predict game scores, but this is absolutely one of the most intriguing match-ups in college football this week. Two in-state programs who have only played twice ever (with Fresno State winning both times of course), both breaking in new QBs, Cal with former Fresno State QB and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford as its head coach, a "neutral" site game that will have a bowl-type atmosphere at Candlestick Park, both teams with questions on the offensive line and of course the ol' UC looking down at the CSU chip on the shoulder. Can't wait.

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