Huzzah to the Fall! It's that magical time of year again when we can (finally) stop merely talking football, and start basking in the sweaty glow of the gridiron once again. Lots of question marks surrounding our sturdy Golden Bears going into this season, but in Week One we'll be facing a team with similar questions.
A quick introduction is in order I suppose. The name's ManBearCal, devoted CaliforniaGoldenBlogs reader turned potentially shortly-employed writer. I'm 50% Man, 50% Bear, and 100% Cal. I'm a former athlete, turned athletic supporter....wait, what? I got to Cal during the final death throes of the Tom Holmoe era and was there for the first couple years of Coach Tedford's effort to draw Cal football into respectability. A tall task as many of you remember. Two favorite memories of mine are obviously the 2003 USC game, and carrying the goalposts down Bancroft post-2002 Big Game win. I'm a pretty active follower of Cal Football, recruiting and Cal Rugby. That should pretty much cover it, right? Moving right along...
In this post we'll get to know Fresno State's primary offensive personnel and try to get a sense of what we can expect to see from the Bulldogs this Saturday as we kick off the 2011 campaign.
Last Season: 8-5
Passing: 220 yards/game (61st)
Rushing: 150.6 yards/game (65th)
Points: 29.0/game (48th)
RETURNING STARTERS: 4
STARTER- Derek Carr, RS Sophomore- 6'3", 205 lbs
Yeah, there's another one. David's younger brother Derek arrived to Fresno with high acclaim, but saw only limited mop-up duty in 2009 (10-14 for 112 yards) and took a redshirt last year behind now-departed starter Ryan Colburn (2817 yards passing in 2010). With Colburn moving on, the keys to the offense have been handed to Carr, and Bulldog fans are excited to see where he can lead them.
At 6'3", 205lbs, he has good size and reportedly a plus arm. He throws the ball with good velocity and displays a lot of confidence in trying to make every throw. He also has the feet to go along with his aforementioned upper limbs, reportedly clocking in at a 4.6 40. If he can create/extend plays with his feet, he would add a dimension to Fresno State's offense that Colburn did not. The physical tools would seem to all be there, and Carr has reportedly demonstrated strong leadership in both Spring and Fall camp.
Lots of upside, yes? Well... here's the thing. Everyone was excited about Crystal Pepsi until they tasted it. All of Carr's previous real game experience has come long after the outcome was decided, all in lopsided wins. And that game experience also came in 2009...not last season. This will be his first year as a starter. Is he ready to lead them? Will he make good decisions when faced with varying defensive formations and looks? Will he have adequate protection? And would Bulldog fans really be crowning him Raisin Jesus if he didn't have the same last name as his brother? Frankly, I don't care about the younger Carr's ultimate legacy in Fresno. I just care about him getting throttled at the Stick on Saturday.
Upside: EVERYTHING! OMG RAISIN JESUS FOR HEISMAN!
What to expect:
I'd expect a combination of play-action and roll outs to buy time and help save young Derek's life, if the Cal front seven is wreaking the havoc I expect them to. I don't anticipate Carr having much time in the pocket, so some safe, short stuff in the passing game may help establish some rhythm and confidence. It's possible our youth/inexperience at OLB may make us susceptible to missed assignments and some big plays if he effectively can escape pressure too. Depending on whether the FSU running game finds any room (they shouldn't), some max-protect sets and power I formations to keep more blockers in would be a smart play if you ask me. Either way, it'll be a bumpy ride for Carr as our Pendergastic defense looks to make him as uncomfortable as possible on Saturday.
STARTER- Robbie Rouse, Junior- 5'7", 190 lbs
One of four returning starters on offense, Robbie "Mighty Mouse" Rouse had a very good 2010 season, rushing for 1129 yards (5.5 ypc) and 8 touchdowns. His nickname may also be the wittiest thing ever. See, he's small, strong, and his last name rhymes with "Mouse". Nothing, huh? Right, moving on. This guy is the most proven commodity in the Bulldog offense. He's a small, shifty back with big-play ability. He ripped off four straight 100-yard games last year, and had back to back 200+ yard efforts too. On the flipside, there were five games where he got 14 or fewer totes. Rouse's diminutive stature also makes him more prone to getting dinged up too. He missed two games last year, and has yet to stay healthy for a whole season. That said, Fresno State is pretty deep at RB entering the 2011 season...mostly guys in Rouse's mold (small, shifty, etc). UCLA Jr Transfer Milton Knox (5'9", 205 lbs) should see some time and will bring a bit more size to the backfield. He'll also bring a bit more Westwood douchiness, too.
Upside: Experience, Speed, Depth
Downside: Size, Durability
What to expect:
Big runs require space. Will it be there? I doubt it. Fresno State had most of their success running the ball against small D-Lines. Small, we are not. With a lot of size and depth, I expect the Cal front seven to have little problem clogging the running lanes for Rouse and Co. If they find space and are able to reach the next level, we'll need to see the safeties make some Conte-esque tackles. If FSU can run the ball with any effectiveness, we're not having a good day. Most likely outcome? Kendrick Payne sees chunks of Robbie Rouse in his Sunday morning deuce.
Jalen Saunders, Sophomore- 5'9", 160 lbs
Devon Wylie, Senior- 5'9", 185 lbs
Rashad Evans, Junior- 5'9", 180 lbs
Red Smurfs over here. The Bulldogs lost their most productive WR, Jamel Hamler (812 yards receiving in 2010) to graduation, but return a deep, explosive, and pint-sized group. In case I didn't make it clear, they're a small bunch. But us Cal fans have seen how effective a smaller, fast WR corps can be when given the opportunity to stretch the field. This is not a group that you want to let get behind you. That said, they can be manhandled a bit if you can slow them down off the line of scrimmage. Saunders and Wylie have top-level speed, but Wylie has been injury prone for much of his career. Rashad Evans is a guy that Cal offered way back when.
Upside: Speed, Explosiveness
What to expect:
The Fresno offense of last year did not stretch the field much, but with the speed out wide that this group possesses, they may go for more home run plays this year and specifically in week 1. With the Cal defense likely dialing up a lot of blitzes in an attempt to rattle Carr, the secondary will be called upon to keep these Red Smurfs in front of them and prevent the big play...something that this group of FSU WR's has the ability to break. Are we up to the task? I think so. Steve Williams is no tortoise himself, and Marc Anthony has size and experience.
Obviously, the real question here is how much time will Carr have to get the ball out to his WR's? Here's hoping that Fresno State has their hands full enough with the Cal front seven that their outside speed is not afforded the time to get loose.
STARTER: Ryan Skidmore, Senior- 6'5", 245 lbs
When Tapa Taumopeau, the most experienced returning TE and expected starter, went down for the season in camp, the Bulldogs took a hit. That said, the Fresno Sate offense rarely utilizes the TE in the passing game and instead utilizes the position as more of a blocker. Enter Skidmore, who has had a very quiet career and actually shines more as a pass-catcher than as a blocker. Will he be utilized as such this year? Reports of a quickly developing rapport between Carr and Skidmore would indicate it's a possibility. If Skidmore is to be a pass-catching TE, sophomore Ryan Boschma may be the blocker Fresno needs at the position. Not much experience here.
Downside: Depth, Experience
What to expect:
With Mychael Kendricks moving inside, we're going to be trotting out some youth at OLB in Week 1. I don't anticipate the Bulldogs utilizing the TE in the passing game much, but it will be interesting to see the coverage skills of Wilkerson, Camporeale, Davis, McCain and possibly Whiteside tested. Or more likely, not tested. Double TE sets to save Raisin Jesus from the Golden Horde!
LT-Bryce Harris, Senior- 6'6", 300 lbs
LG- Matt Hunt, Junior- 6'2", 315 lbs
C- Richard Helepiko, Junior- 6'2", 300 lbs
RG- Leslie Cooper, Senior- 6'4", 320 lbs
RT- Austin Wentworth, Sophomore- 6'5", 305 lbs
They grow them big out in the Valley. This is a bulky group that should be playing for redemption after a 2010 season that saw them yield 36 sacks. Harris is the leader of the group and has started 26 games. The remaining starters have a combined 11 starts between them. In a theme that will be familiar to Cal fans, the Fresno State OL will be the key to the offense. Can they protect future star QB Derek Carr? Can they open holes for Robbie Rouse and the speedy RB group? Will Carr have the time and protection to find his speedy WR corps downfield? A lot of questions with this group. Replacing 2010 three starters will be a tall task. That said, Fresno State typically seems to produce good O-Lines. We'll see if these guys fit the mold.
Upside: Size, Run-Blocking
Downside: Experience, Agility, Pass-Blocking
What to expect:
Cliches abound, as the battles won in the trenches will see who carries the day. Despite a lack of experience, this group of OL is big. Whether they are able to pick up blitzes will determine how effective both the Fresno running game and passing game will be. I see them having trouble with speed rushers around the corner, which could spell nice days from the Cal OLB group. It will be interesting to see what kind of push they can generate against our beef up front
Look, this Bulldog team has a lot of question marks, so making any sort of accurate prediction a bit of a crapshoot. We don't really know what to expect until the game is played. So, feel free to consider this yet another long-winded but thin analysis of the personnel we'll be seeing a lot of on Saturday...with a hefty dose of homerism sprinkled in of course. I see a Fresno State offense with an inexperienced but talented QB (allegedly), small and speedy at RB and WR, Cal-esque TE utilization, and a big but green O-Line. Very little evidence here of a team that will give us trouble, but that doesn't mean anything as of now. Coach Pendergast and the defensive staff have had a lot of time to gameplan for this offense, and our defense has had a longer than usual offseason to think about those blowout losses we suffered last year. In my opinion, if we come out flat we're gonna be in trouble. But i don't think that will happen. Carr is going to struggle and I don't think the Fresno State O-Line is going to be able to open many holes for Rouse and Co. Bears win, 30-13.
What say you, devoted and educated readership?
Scout.com: 2011 Fresno State Preview – Offense