Homecoming week is upon us once again, and as is tradition, the Fresno State Bulldogs football team will take the field in front of the Red Wave, this year against the University of Hawaii Warriors.
The challenge is a daunting one for the ‘Dogs, but not unlike ones that they have faced already this season.
Hawaii’s strength is unquestionably its explosive offensive potential. The Warriors are putting up a healthy 34.9 points per contest, which ranks them fourth in the Mountain West. The team is also ranked second in the conference in yards per game at 440.
The Warriors offense features a dynamic combination of quarterback Cole McDonald and receiver John Ursua. McDonald leads the conference in passing yards and touchdowns while Ursua leads the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in those same categories. The FBS is the highest level of Division I college football.
McDonald has thrown 29 touchdown passes and 2,607 yards, while Ursua has caught 71 passes for 14 touchdowns and 1,013 yards, an average of over 112 per game.
“For those guys to be putting up the numbers that they have put up, they know what they are doing. It seems like they are on the same page. Their quarterback is very accurate throwing the ball,” Bulldogs head coach Jeff Tedford said during his weekly press conference. “They have the No. 1 receiver in the country as far as yards and touchdowns and so they are very productive and it’s going to be a tall order.”
If there is one equalizer that Fresno State can use to exploit to an advantage, it’s Hawaii’s pass defense–or lack thereof.
The Warriors have allowed more than 2,200 yards through the air, over 100 more yards than the second worst team in that category in Colorado State. The team ranks 10th out of 12 teams in the Mountain West in interceptions with just four, and the Warriors have yet to return one for a touchdown.
It all translates to the team surrendering 33 points per game, defensively.
However, they aren’t entirely hopeless on that side of the ball. Hawaii is tied with Nevada for the lead in most quarterback sacks with 23, so it will be incumbent on Fresno State’s offensive line to give quarterback Marcus McMaryion time to throw the ball downfield.
Fresno State has excelled in pass protection this season, allowing a miniscule five sacks the entire season, which has the ‘Dogs tied with Air Force for the fewest allowed in the Mountain West. It appears that it will be strength-on-strength in this regard.
If McMaryion is afforded the requisite time to throw, he has a wealth of skilled receivers who he can get the ball. Senior KeeSean Johnson has been his go-to target all season, and that showed up once again last week on the road against New Mexico.
Along with two touchdowns, Johnson set a new career-high in receiving yards with 149, while also extending his streak of consecutive games with at least one reception to 43, which leads the FBS.
But it would be a mistake for any defensive coordinator, or fan for that matter, to take for granted the other weapons at the team’s disposal.
Running back Ronnie Rivers–who is going to play in his fifth game of the season after missing the first three due to him recovering from an injury suffered during spring practice– has been a bigtime playmaker running and catching the football.
Against New Mexico, Rivers scored three touchdowns, including two rushing and one receiving. Against, Hawaii, his ability to take the ball to the end zone any time he touches it, should be a factor in this game.
Fresno State’s defense looks like it could be the determining factor in this game as it has in many of the other games before it. The Bulldogs defense has allowed a total of 13 points in three Mountain West games this year.
Several aspects of the defense could play a key role in stopping Hawaii’s potent offensive attack.
The defense has flat-out keeping the opposing teams out of its end zone. Through seven games, the ‘Dogs have allowed a paltry 88 points. No other team in the Mountain West has given up fewer than 100, with the next closest team being San Diego State with 129.
Hawaii is likely to have its hands full getting the ball across the goal line. The ‘Dogs will need to continue what they have done all year, and that is force field-goal attempts.
If the Bulldogs can continue that trend, they have a great opportunity to win and to make Homecoming a special one for alumni from all over the country. And Tedford said that he hopes to see a great showing from the hometown faithful for such an important game.
“I hope we have a good turnout, because that always brings energy. We try to go into every game with really the same focus.I think we really do feed off our crowd. I think when our crowd is there and into it, it creates an extra spark for us.”