Apr 25, 2019

Four-down territory

“Convergence” is the common theme in our newsroom this semester.

With the world of print journalism slowly but surely becoming more and more suited for an electronically savvy generation, we here at The Collegian are naturally following suit.

As sports editor for three semesters, it’s been a privilege and life-changing experience being able to cover Division I sports for our campus’ No. 1 news source, but I felt like our Web site needed a little boost when it comes to breaking sports coverage.

This semester I will be providing our loyal Collegian readers with all the in-depth analysis and commentary on Bulldog athletics you’ve come to love since our paper’s inception in 1922.

Make sure to check my blog every week to get the latest updates and information pertaining to Pat Hill’s football team, the defending WAC champion women’s soccer squad and all the other tidbits about Fresno State sports.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get down to business – of course I’m speaking of Fresno State football.

I feel safe saying I’m not the only one who was disappointed with the way last season ended.

Fresno State let an opposing tailback (Gartrell Johnson) set a bowl record for rushing yards in a single game – ouch!

Additionally,  the defense allowed two WAC running backs to set career highs in rushing and finished ranked 108th out of 119 teams in the nation in rush defense.

After beating UCLA at the Rose Bowl and waving the ‘W’ flag, who would have thought the season would have ended with a beatdown in the New Mexico Bowl and fifth place finish in the WAC?

Needless to say I’m not too optimistic about the team’s chances in 2009.

Eight out of the 11 starters are back from last season’s defensive unit, but hopefully the group has learned how to at least contain the run.

But I have to give these guys a fair shot to begin the season.

I attended the fall scrimmage with sports editor and podcast co-host Logan Hopkins and was surprised to see that the defense was surprisingly stifling.

There were pads crunching, trash-talking and offensive players getting pancaked all over the place – I have to think Dan Brown was looking down and smiling.

But it was only a scrimmage and there are still two weeks until the season opener against UC Davis on Sept. 5.

In true football fashion here are my four biggest storylines going into this season; my four downs, if you will:

First Down: Who’s under center? – Will it be “Southpaw,” “The Kid” or “Legs?”

Almost sounds like a gang of outlaws from a really bad Western, but three men are vying for the starting quarterback spot vacated by Tom Brandstater.

Last time there was a legitimate quarterback competition under Hill was Brandstater’s sophomore season back in 2006 when he beat out Sean Norton for the starting job.

Ryan Colburn, Derek Carr and Ebahn Feathers each saw a fair amount of playing time in the scrimmage, but none of the three looked any better than the other.

Feathers will most likely be used in special packages designed for him to run or implement the option, leaving either Carr or Colburn to take the starting job.

If history helps at all, I’d say Hill will go with Colburn just because the lefty is a veteran and has been in the program for three seasons, going into his fourth.

Though Carr has a great arm and decent composure for someone so young, Colburn is a little more durable and has the ability to use his legs if necessary.

Safe bet that Hill goes with Colburn in the opener, but if things go south, Carr should be ready.

Second Down: They have the horses – will they stay healthy? – The fact that there is inexperience at quarterback isn’t so worrisome because of the depth at tailback.

Junior Ryan Mathews, senior Lonyae Miller and senior Anthony Harding all had their moments last season, but none of them locked down the starting job.

Mathews was hampered by a nerve injury in his calf after September and was never really able to regain his form.

Miller ran for 812 yards in 2008 and led the team in rushing touchdowns, but also struggled with a bum hamstring for most of the second half.

Harding ended up being the team’s most consistent tailback and led the Bulldogs in rushing after beginning the season at No. 3 on the depth chart.

This group of running backs has yet to reach their full potential as a group.

Despite the injuries last season, the three were still able to combine for 2,240 yards and scored 19 times.

If the three-headed monster (that’s not copyrighted or very clever) can stay off the IR, it should make up for any growing pains from the quarterbacks.

Third Down: So many receivers, so little time – The talent of this season’s receiving corps hasn’t clicked at the same time.

Three different players have led the Bulldogs in receiving the last three seasons and all three of them are seniors this year.

Chastin West (2006), Marlon Moore (2007) and Seyi Ajirotutu (2008) were each Fresno State’s top receivers at one point and now the three of them will be on the field at the same time, hopefully with health on their side.

Also in the shuffle are slot receivers Devon Wylie and Rashad Evans, adding a lot of depth for Fresno State’s young quarterbacks.

If the trio of West, Moore and Ajirotutu can become reliable targets in the same season, it should take the burden off of whoever is under center.

Fourth Down: Sweeney thumbs up…if they can stop the run – There’s always two sides to everything so pardon me for not getting too excited about the defensive unit this season.

Yes there are eight of 11 starters returning on defense, but this is also the same group of guys who allowed the 12th most rushing yards in the nation in 2008.

Add in the loss of defensive linemen Jon Monga and Ikenna Ike and it could be a rough road early in the season for the defense.

Ben Jacobs is a fierce competitor at middle linebacker and is beginning his third season as a starter for Hill, so at least there will be a solid veteran leader in the huddle.

Players like Logan Harrell and Chase McEntee will need to learn from the failures experienced last season to improve the play of the defensive line.

Kenny Borg was out with an ACL injury all last season and Chris Carter is making the switch from linebacker to defensive end.

All of these factors combine for one fact – there is little experience from players who will be relied on to stop the run.

Hill’s defense will need to establish its identity early if it hopes to stay consistent all season.

2-Minute Warning: The bottom line is that all of this talk is only speculation.

The defense could be killer this year, the quarterbacks could be big surprises like Boise State’s Kellen Moore in 2008 and the running game may not provide a lot of offense.

This is what’s great about preseason – the fans get to talk all they want about what may happen.

You have anything you want to add or rant about? This is where you can do it.

We’ll be here all season talking Fresno State football and all the other news surrounding Bulldog athletics.

Make sure to check in every week for the REDWAVE Podcast, which is that snazzy little link to the right of where you’re reading this.

Logan Hopkins and I will analyze every football game and will also preview the week’s upcoming contests.

Now go out to Valley Grower’s Field and check out Pat Hill’s Bulldogs in action.

Any questions, comments, or concerns? E-mail me at jgraben@csufresno.edu and I will feature them in the blog.

Also make sure to follow us on Twitter by clicking the tab on the top of this page.

Previous Story

Warped Tour hits Fresno

Next Story

Bulldogs begin season scoreless, winless