2009 CFN Fresno State Preview
Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews
Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews
Posted Jun 8, 2009

Can Ryan Mathews lead the Bulldogs to the promised land and out from the Boise State shadow? Check out the 2009 CFN Fresno State Preview.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Fresno State Preview | 2009 Fresno State Offense
- 2009 Fresno State Defense
| 2009 Fresno State Depth Chart
2008 FSU Preview | 2007 FSU Preview | 2006 FSU Preview   

Head coach: Pat Hill
13th year: 92-61
Ten Best FSU Players
1. RB Ryan Mathews, Jr.
2. LB Ben Jacobs, Jr.
3. DE Chris Carter, Jr.
4. RB Lonyae Miller, Sr.
5. CB/KR A.J. Jefferson, Sr.
6. WR Seyi Ajirotutu, Sr.
7. RB Anthony Harding, Sr.
8. WR Chastin West, Sr.
9. OG Andrew Jackson, Jr.
10. LB Nico Herron, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record:

9/5 UC Davis
9/12 at Wisconsin
9/18 Boise State
9/26 at Cincinnati
10/10 at Hawaii
10/17 San Jose State
10/24 at New Mexico State
10/31 Utah State
11/7 at Idaho
11/14 at Nevada
11/21 Louisiana Tech
12/5 at Illinois

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record:

9/1 at Rutgers W 24-7
9/13 Wisconsin L 13-10
9/20 at Toledo W 55-54 2OT
9/27 at UCLA W 36-31
10/4 Hawaii L 32-29 OT
10/11 Idaho W 45-32
10/25 at Utah State W 30-28
11/1 at Louisiana Tech L 38-35
11/7 Nevada L 41-28
11/15 New Mexico St W 24-17
11/21 at San Jose St W 24-10
11/28 at Boise State L 61-10
New Mexico Bowl
12/20 Colorado State L 40-35

2008 was supposed to be when it all came together for a supposedly loaded Fresno State team, but once again, Pat Hill's team came up short making this a pivotal year for the program. Bad things happen when teams don't live up to expectations, and coaches get put on hot seats when their teams lose four of their final six games.

Hill was a hot commodity a few years ago with his brash attitude, his fearless desire to play anyone at anytime, and his drive to turn Fresno State into a national power. But along the way, Boise State turned into the program Hill had always wanted FSU to become, while his team did just enough to tantalize and tease everyone to make it seem like there should be bigger things happening.

So how did a team that could open up the year with a dominant win over Rutgers, could battle with Wisconsin, and could beat UCLA, even though it was a lousy Bruin team, in Los Angeles become so mediocre? Simple ... it didn't play up to its athleticism and potential.

The offense was full of speed and explosion, but it rarely showed it off. The talent that was able to come up with the best all-around return game in America couldn't bring that same devastating playmaking ability to the offensive attack. But the offense was hardly the problem, and this year it should be even better as long as the line can be healthy and the coaching staff can settle on a starting quarterback. The stable of running backs, with Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding, is among the best in the country, and the receivers have the speed to stretch things out. And then there's the defense.

Loaded with so much promise, potential, and athleticism, the D was a disaster getting worse and worse against the run as the season went on. The front four that was supposed to be so devastating with its pass rush couldn't get into the backfield, while the linebackers, other than Ben Jacobs, couldn't seem to come up with a meaningful tackle. As always, the Fresno State D is loaded with good athletes and big hitters, but everyone will be playing with a heavy heart after the loss of coordinator Dan Brown to his battle against brain cancer.

So now all the attention will be on Hill and his 13th year at the helm. Does he have a trick up his sleeve to be able to save his job, or is this a case of a program growing stale after a coach has been around too long. Another bowl game is a given, but it might take a big season, helped by a win over Boise State and consistency throughout, for there not to be big changes going into next year.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Tom Brandstater had size, experience, and a next-level arm, but he was never able to come up with the production needed to get the program over the hump. Now the offense is going to incorporate more spread and more running, even though the quarterbacks don't necessarily fit the type. Left-handed Ryan Colburn is a bomber who can get the ball anywhere he wants to, while David Carr's brother, Derek, a true freshman, appears to be ready to do big things from day one. And then there's Ebahn Flowers, the wild-card in the mix with a nice blend of quickness and passing skills.

What to watch for on defense: Pass rush. The Bulldogs were stunningly bad at getting into the backfield last season generating just 18 sacks while finishing last in the WAC and 108th in the nation in tackle for loss. That's where Chris Carter comes in. Part linebacker, part defensive end, the junior was moved around last season and ended up making 88 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. Now he'll be a pure pass rusher asked to shake things up in the backfield. There's enough quickness along the rest of the line to do more, but the Bulldogs need production from all four spots.

The team will be far better if … it can pick off a pass and can stop the run. Over the last two seasons, Bulldog opponents have thrown the ball 844 times and Fresno State came up with a grand total of nine interceptions. Only Miami, with four, picked off fewer passes last season, while only ten teams came up with fewer than nine interceptions last year alone. And then there was the run defense. It came up surprisingly clutch against Wisconsin, but was gouged by Toledo the next week for 297 yards and four scores. Nevada ran for 472 yards, Boise State tore off 346, and Colorado State ran for 362. How bad was the run D? Despite holding New Mexico State and San Jose State to a combined -14 net yards rushing, FSU finished 108th in the nation in run defense allowing 210 yards per game.

The Schedule:
As always, Fresno State will challenge itself in non-conference play, but this is ridiculous. The Bulldogs have to go on the road to Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and close the season out at Illinois in December. If that wasn't enough, the Boise State showdown is the WAC opener sandwiched between the Badgers and Bearcats in mid-September. At least the Boise State game is at home, as is the Louisiana Tech game in late November. Three of the final four games are on the road for the second painful stretch like that of the season. There are only five home games overall.  

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Ryan Mathews. The only question is whether or not he can stay healthy. When he was able to stay on the field, he was among the nation's most productive backs running for 606 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. Combining with Lonyae Miller, who ran for 812 yards and seven scores, and Anthony Harding, who led the team with 822 yards and six scores, Fresno State is loaded in the backfield. 

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Ben Jacobs. Whether he ends up playing inside or out, he's the team's only do-it-all linebacker. Not only did he lead the team with 113 tackles, he also broke up five passes. He has to clean up things the other linebackers don't get to and he ends up getting in on seemingly every tackle, but now he has to start getting into the backfield on a regular basis.

Key player to a successful season: Senior SS Moses Harris. The secondary needs playmakers. The corners have speed and potential, but A.J. Jefferson is a better return man than a defender and Desia Dunn needs to be able to come through when picked on. The safeties have to start providing more help, especially until the pass rush comes through, if it comes through. Harris finished third on the team with 75 tackles and broke up five passes, but he didn't pick off a pass and he didn't do enough to come up with stops to halt drives.

The season will be a success if ... Fresno State beats Boise State and ends up winning at least a share for the WAC title. The Bulldogs aren't better than the Broncos and they aren't better than Nevada, but they get Louisiana Tech at home along with the big date with BSU. In the end, they're just good enough to go 6-2 in WAC play and get to a decent bowl again, but everyone wants more. The Humantiarian Bowl might not be enough to save Hill's job.

Key game: Sept. 19 vs. Boise State. It's not an overstatement to call this the most important game in Pat Hill's career. After last year's 61-10 bizarre embarrassment, with the Broncos scoring 51 second half points, the Bulldogs have to show that things have changed since last November by coming up with the win in the WAC opener.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Passes picked off: Opponents 12 - Fresno State 5
- Average yards per carry: Opponents 5.6 - Fresno State 4.9
- Penalties: Opponents 81 for 749 yards - Fresno State 64 for 543 yards