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2008 Fresno State Preview - Offense
Fresno State TE Bear Pascoe
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Offense
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What you need to know:
Jim McElwain turned around a stagnant offense in a hurry,
and then he left to become the offensive coordinator at
Alabama. In steps Doug Nussmeier, and he's not going to mess
with what worked. If healthy, something the offense couldn't
do last year, this should be one of the most complete
attacks in the country with a big, athletic line that can
hold its own against anyone, a great running game led by the
tandem of Ryan Mathews and Lonyae Miller, an All-America
caliber tight end in Bear Pascoe, and a receiving corps that
looks out of central casting for an NFL team. There's too
much speed at receiver for most WAC secondaries, too much
power on the line, and too many weapons to not be even
better. QB Tom Branstater has all the tools, and he got far
better as last season went on, and now he has to grow into
the star he was supposed to become a few years ago.
Passing: Tom Brandstater
211-337, 2,654 yds, 15 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Ryan Mathews
145 carries, 866 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: Marlon Moore
48 catches, 694 yds, 5 TD
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Ryan Mathews
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior C
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Jason Crawley
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OG Andrew Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mathews, 2) TE Bear
Pascoe, 3) QB Tom Brandstater
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receiver speed,
Weakness of the offense:
Health, especially on the line
Projected Starter: 6-5, 220-pound senior Tom Brandstater
has had a decent career, but he hasn't blossomed into the
next-level superstar many expected he'd be coming out of high
school. That's starting to change. The scapegoat for a lousy
2006 season, he came back with a solid 2007 completing 63% of
his passes for 2,654 yards with 15 touchdowns and only five
interceptions. He didn't throw a pick over his final four games
and didn't throw more than one interception in any game all
year, greatly improving compared to the problems he had two
seasons ago throwing 14 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes.
With a little bit of mobility, he's not a statue running for 118
yards and three scores, with all three coming in the final three
games. He got better as the year went on, and he showed up big
against the better teams, throwing for 260 yards and three
touchdowns against Texas A&M, 263 yards against Boise State, 312
yards against Kansas State and 285 yards against Georgia Tech,
and now he needs to be the leader and the star who takes the
team to another level.
Projected Top Reserve: Brandstater handled almost
all the work last year, but 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Ryan Colburn looked strong enough
throughout practices and appears to be the main man for the
future. He completed four of his five passes for 58 yards in
mop-up duty early in the year, but if needed, he should be a
good option. Don't expect too much running; he's a bomber.
6-2, 185-pound redshirt freshman Matt Faulkner might not
be that big, but he has a live arm and is tremendously accurate.
He's the third man in the mix, but will push for the starting
job next year.
Watch Out For ... Brandstater to blossom into an NFL
prospect. The potential is there to make a huge splash, maybe
not like David Carr, but good enough to get more than just a
passing look from the pros. As is, Brandstater is draftable, but
in a weak draft class for quarterbacks, he could stand out.
Strength: Arms. Brandstater and Colburn can throw
it a mile, and Faulkner has a gun. Getting the ball deep will
never be a problem. Branstater has all the throws in the bag.
Weakness: Backup experience. The Bulldogs are the
WAC favorites, and a possible BCS buster, with Brandstater at
the helm, but they'll have to battle to win the title if Colburn
is under center. They can win with Colburn, but this is
Outlook: After a breakthrough season, Brandstater
is poised to become the WAC's best passer and the type of senior
quarterback who can take 32 games of experience and become a
special player. Colburn is a solid backup who'll someday be a
Projected Starters: The nation's 14th best rushing attack is
deep and talented, but it's sophomore Ryan Mathews, who's
the star after a breakthrough 866-yard, 14 touchdown true
freshman season. Once he became the main man, he was unstoppable
at times rushing for 171 yards and three scores on just 14
carries in the win over Nevada, 144 yards and two touchdowns
against San Jose State, and 106 yards and two touchdowns against
Utah State. And then he broke down. Red-hot over a five-game
stretch, he was limited a bit late with an ankle injury but
still ran for 99 yards and a score against New Mexico State
before being knocked out for the year. A former high school
quarterback who led the nation in rushing with 3,396 yards and
44 touchdowns as a senior, he's a producer. Now he has to stay
6-0, 215-pound junior Anthony Harding was on his way to
becoming the team's main backup early last year before getting
hurt, but he came back to run for 403 yards and four touchdowns,
and catching four passes for 22 yards and a score, seeing time
in every game. He'll line up at fullback, but while he's a good
blocker, his game is about speed. A good enough receiver to be
used more in the passing game, he'll play a bigger all-around
role this year.
Projected Top Reserves: Miller might be the main
man, but junior Lonyae Miller is hardly a backup. The
teams' third leading rusher cranked out 609 yards and seven
touchdowns, along with two catches for 23 yards, as one of the
main backs in the rotation over the first half of the season.
The team's most physical runner, the 6-0, 215-pounder has to
stay in one piece after missing three games with a bruised
Junior Reynard Camp is a real fullback. At 5-11 and 260
pounds, he'll be an occasional big blocker and will get a short
yardage carry here and there. He's a huge hitter who should be
an unsung star for the ground game. His key is staying in shape.
If he's moving well, he can be used as a second tight end.
On the way is true freshman
A.J. Ellis, a tip recruit who has the jets to be a
gamebreaker. While he might not be a workhorse, the 5-10,
175-pounder is tough for his size and can be used a bit as a
specialist to give Mathews and the rest a break. He needs to
develop into a receiver to make a big impact right away.
Watch Out For ... the Bulldogs to crank out a
1,000-yard rusher. Mathews was a lock to keep a six-year
streak of 1,000-yard backs alive, and he should hit the mark
this year if he doesn't give away too many carries.
Strength: Options. There are three good backs in
Mathews, Miller and Harding to rotate around, and Ellis
could turn out to be the most dangerous of the bunch. The
production will be there no matter who's in the backfield.
Weakness: Receiving. It's not that the returning
backs can't catch, in fact, Harding has terrific hands, it's
that they haven't done it yet. Clifton Smith was the
receiver out of the backfield, while Mathews didn't even
register a grab. They might get more involved in the passing
game this year.
Outlook: The ground game lost a major producer in
Dwayne Wright and got better. The emergence of Mathews made
the ground game explosive and productive, while Miller
proved he could be a top back if he stays healthy and is
given a chance. There are more good backs, like Ellis,
waiting in the wings, and others, like 5-9, 185-pound
sophomore Kyle Duffy, who'd be a star somewhere else
but will be lost in the shuffle.
Projected Starters: The Bulldogs have a potential all-star in
6-1, 220-pound junior Chastin West, but he has to
stay healthy. A surprise two years ago, finishing as the
team's leading receiver with 33 grabs for 365 yards and
three scores, he hurt his knee in fall practices last year
and missed the entire season. He spent his time getting
bigger and stronger, and now he should be more physical and
should be able to be used more inside and out.
The team's leading target last year was 6-1, 185-pound
junior Marlon Moore, who caught 48 passes for 694
yards with five touchdowns. Arguably the team's fastest
player with 4.3 wheels, he's a gamebreaker waiting to
happen. However, his longest catch was only 38 yards, and
now he has better technique that should help him get free
for bigger plays. His biggest issue has been drops, which
proved costly at times.
6-5, 260-pound former quarterback Bear Pascoe is a
special tight end who'll be playing on Sundays. The team's
second leading receiver, with 45 catches for 553 yards and
four touchdowns, he's a great athlete who can be used in a
variety of ways. His biggest problem last year was staying
healthy, but he still gutted it out for the entire year and
was a good blocker as well as a receiver. He won't blow
anyone off the charts with his speed, but he has great
Projected Top Reserves: One of the stars coming
out of spring ball was Seyi
Ajirotutu, a 6-3, 205-pound junior who is a fantastic
blocker and showed more receiving skills this off-season
after finishing fourth with 29 catches for 491 yards. While
he's not a deep threat and he isn't going to blow past the
better corners, he averaged an impressive 16.9 yards per
catch last year and can make the big play.
Needing to become a factor is
6-2, 185-pound junior Jason Crawley, a tremendous
athlete with big-time upside. He caught 22 passes for 199
yards and a touchdown last season and can do a little of
everything. He has the size to be a big inside target, and
the speed to blow DBs away on the outside. Cocky, he has the
attitude and fire of a No. 1.
6-1, 190-pound sophomore Jamel Hamler has some of the
best hands on the team and is fearless at making plays on
the inside. While he only caught five passes for 80 yards as
a freshman, he's reliable enough to be used far more often
in three-wide sets.
Working behind Pascoe will be junior Isaac Kinter,
who's more of a tweener/H-Back type than a big blocking
tight end. The 6-2, 240-pounder is faster than Pascoe and
can be used as a big wide receiver, catching 12 passes for
111 yards and two touchdowns, and while he's not huge, he's
a big hitter.
Watch Out For ... Moore. As a sophomore it seemed
like Moore was just trying to figure it all out. He had some
huge games late as he started to catch on to what he needed
to do late in the year, and now he has the potential to grow
into a pro prospect.
Strength: Speed, speed and more speed. No one in
the WAC can match the wheels on this group. With Crawley
about to play a bigger role and with West and Moore already
established, last year's team average of 12.6 yards per
catch might appear paltry.
Weakness: There's only one football. Outside of
drops, there aren't many problems with a corps that has a
tight end like Pascoe, speed everywhere, and promising depth
waiting to break out.
Outlook: Fresno State is at its best as a running
team, but that could change a bit with a receiving corps
fast enough and good enough to make the passing attack the
main focus. With a quarterback like Tom Brandstater able to
bomb away, expect several big plays and lots and lots of
production spread around to all the targets.
Projected Starters: The line was terrific last season and should
be excellent this year with four returning starters led by senior
Bobby Lepori at left tackle. The 6-5, 285-pounder as started for
most of the last two seasons turning into an athletic all-around blocker
and a dominator for the running game. The former walk-on who started out
his career at Nevada needs to be back healthy after missing most of
spring ball hurt.
Returning at left guard is 6-3, 285-pound senior Cole Popovich, a
star recruit a few years ago, he has lived up to the hype as a four-year
producer and top player when healthy. Hurt early last season, he missed
six games but returned late just when the team needed a pickup. While he
won't maul anyone, he's a technically sound run blocker.
At the moment, 6-4, 290-pound senior Adam McDowell will be the
main man in the middle, but that could change if Joe Bernardi is
healthy. McDowell started the first two games of last year at right
guard before getting hurt for the year, but he's back and ready to
become a factor somewhere on the inside. Ideally, he's a top backup who
steps in wherever needed at any of the five spots.
6-3, 285-pound senior Kenny Avon doesn't get much publicity
compared to Lepori and Popovich, but he's a strong, sound right tackle
who was one of the only linemen to make it through the season healthy.
He has grown into a possible all-star with tremendous athleticism and
feet, and now the former defensive lineman should get some more
6-6, 300-pound sophomore Andrew Jackson stepped in at right guard
when McDowell got hurt and turned into a rock for the line the rest of
the way. He's big, quick, and has next-level upside if he keeps
progressing. The other four starters are good, with a few all-star
candidates, but Jackson is the one who could end up playing at the next
Projected Top Reserves: The pieces of the line
puzzle depend on the health of 6-4, 285-pound sophomore center Joe
Bernardi. A starter for five games last year, he went down with a
knee injury and is still questionable for the start of this year, if at
all. Incredibly strong and tremendous for the ground game, he's a good
one who won't be rushed back, but will likely be ready to go for the
The Bulldogs like to go with quickness over size, but 6-5, 315-pound
sophomore Devan Cunningham pushes that rule. He came to Fresno at
over 340 pounds, and could get there again with a few big meals, but
he's quick and talented. He saw time last year and could end up being
more in the rotation at right tackle behind Avon.
While not the team's most talented lineman, 6-2, 300-pound junior
Richard Pacheco is one of the most versatile. A valuable backup at
all three inside positions, he's best suited for center but will likely
be needed more often as a backup guard.
Watch Out For ... the sophomores. Fresno State always
has good linemen, but the recruits over the last few years have been
special. Bernadi, Cunningham, McDowell, left tackle Kenny Wiggins,
will form the core of the league's best line by far next year.
Strength: Veterans. All the injury problems of
last year allowed several young players to be thrown into the fire, and
now there's enough starting experience returning for a good veteran at
every spot, and reliable depth ready to roll.
Weakness: Health. Seemingly everyone got hurt last
year and there was a constant shuffling of players. While the production
was there, continuity was a problem.
Outlook: The line, if it stays healthy, will be
phenomenal with at least three all-stars and maybe more. This group was
phenomenal in pass protection and blasted away for the nation's 14th
best running game. With good athleticism all across the board, size, and
experience, this will be one of the WAC's best units at any position.