DATE OF CONTEST: Saturday, September 26th
VENUE: Back at "The Nipp"
PLANT KEESTER: High Noon
THE SERIES: Game 1
RECORDS: Bearcats 3-0, Fresno State 1-2
As the color-coded system at Nippert goes this year, this is a "White Out" game where everyone's supposed to wear white (duh). Truthfully, it might be a marketing ploy as there's the "Ring of Red" and "Black Out" games to come. My guess is the University Bookstore will be amply supplied with red,white and black shirts graced with the Adidas logo and a nifty C-Paw.
Heck, if you stop by this week you can even get Josh Katzowitz's literary masterpiece. He tells me he'll be signing before the game. I bet he'd even sign your white shirt if you asked.
Anyway, the Bearcats are home and so are the students as class started this week. That means a rabid student section as UC football is certainly the "in thing" to do on campus. Two years ago, I witnessed students lined up to get into the gates early for the first time and everything has pretty much steamrolled from there.
That's good, the program deserves it.
This should be a fun game as both teams run offenses that fully intend on blowing out bulbs in the scoreboard. The problem for Fresno State though is their defense has been susceptible. That's not exactly a recipe for success when you're against UC's finely-tuned fastbreak.
As gratifying as the Oregon State win was, Brian Kelly was unhappy with some mental errors in the offense. He also wasn't happy with the special teams. And, he thinks the Bulldogs offense will provide UC's defense with the toughest test yet.
What's that add up to?
Well, I'd look for the Bearcats to be extra prepared and "amped up" for the home crowd. Brian Kelly doesn't want to be "in the conversation". He wants to BE the conversation.
A win here and what should be a win in defense of the Victory Bell the following week sets the Bearcats up real nice for the league schedule. First things first....
UC's offense vs. Fresno State defense
In what might be considered an "off game" by his early standards, Tony Pike still threw for 332 yards and two TD's (he also ran for one). D.J. Woods had a breakout game and Armon Binns made big catches. All of that only offsets what Mardy Gilyard can do. Out of the backfield, Isaiah Pead stood out and Jake Ramsey's not going to go quietly. That all adds up to trouble for the Bulldogs who got lit up like a Christmas tree on their own field against Boise State. Three of their four leading tacklers are defensive backs Moses Harris, A.J. Jefferson and Lorne Bell. When the "back guys" are making the tackles, plays are being made downfield. While I admire Boise State's offense, I think UC's passing game is better. With UC's pacing and the Bulldogs travel schedule, it might not be a pleasant breakfast for those watching on the West Coast.
NOD: When you're QB's being mentioned in Heisman conversation, something's going right. I think the Bearcats want to entertain the new students on campus.
Fresno State offense vs. UC defense
Some have disagreed with me (not Brian Kelly) but I think the Fresno State offense is the best UC's seen this year. They have a whacked-out schedule, but they did take Wisconsin to OT in Madison and regardless of the level of the Badgers, that's not easy. Their game with Boise State looked like a prizefight as each offense was scoring like it was pinball (Google old arcade game kids). From a running standpoint, Ryan Mathews broke loose for three 60-plus yard dashes to the endzone. That's a high school-like game, you just don't see that in an FBS game. The Bulldog release says they have three RBs with over 1,000 career yards, but the fact is, Mathews is the one to stop. Fresno State also has three pretty good receivers, but Seyi Ajirotutu is the one that stands out with his 6-4 frame. For the Bearcats, they really didn't miss a beat with Curtis Young out as Walter Stewart stepped it up and the defense continued to prove people wrong. Andre Revels and J.K. Schaffer had great games at LB and CB Dominique Battle started laying a helmet on some people after an early Brian Kelly butt-chewing.
NOD: Stopping Mathews is the obvious key, although Pat Hill has found ways to score with other guys and won't be intimidated by playing a ranked team. The Bulldogs are on TV all the time. At home, you have to figure the defense is more awake than Hill's offense.
Brian Kelly's not happy with a number of things. Again, he's got to WD-40 Jake Rogers' head in place for fear that'll he'll slump. A shanked rugby punt and missed field goal in Corvallis has Rogers down some. However, Kelly was quick to point out that Jake's booming kickoff to the end zone from the 20 (after the safety) was a key turning point in beating Oregon State. As for returns, Fresno State looked like they were chasing a greased pig the other night against Boise as the Broncos broke several kicks. On the other hand, Fresno State has good return men of their own and a kicker with a "thunder leg" in Kevin Goessling (holds Bulldog record with a 58-yarder).
NOD: Playing anywhere else but Nippert, I'd learn toward Fresno State in the kicking game. However, their punt and kickoff teams looked like Swiss cheese, so the Bearcats get a slight edge.
Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks
No coach will ever admit it, but Fresno State's travel schedule is hellacious. They've already made the Fresno to Madison trip for the Badgers in that time zone. They had a Friday night game at home and have to play this game at what will be 9 o'clock in the morning back west. The kicker is, after this one they go to Hawaii. In all, they're going to travel over 23,000 miles and play in five of six U.S. time zones this season. Trust me on this one, college kids don't like to be up before noon on a weekend, let alone for a kickoff that's the equivalent of 9 a.m. This would be a better game at night, but TV dictates when teams play and Pat Hill's team has been on TV more than most.