Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, September 12, 2013

2013 Fresno State Football Preview - UPDATED

I cannot relate how stunned I was when Ralphie failed to run last Saturday. It defies words. The whole thing felt completely out of place - I would've expected such a disaster to have happened during last season's tour de fail, rather than in this season of renewed hope. Colorado Buffaloes football without the team running out behind their namesake is like baseball without beer, or a cowboy without a horse.
The slogan is 'run Ralphie, run' for a reason.
Friend of the blog @BupsJones did some digging, and confirmed that Ralphie IV had refused to complete her run at least once in '03 (a 31-22 loss to the hated Corn), but, as far as anyone can tell, the current Ralphie's record had been spotless up to this point (besides, of course, that little misunderstanding at the '08 Spring Game).

As the story goes, wafting smoke from the players' entrance spooked Ralphie to the point she refused to make her traditional entrance.  Given a stubborn mascot, the handlers told the players to run out without her, and the game was started under a cloud of uncertainty.  Coach MacIntyre even admitted that the incident played a part in a slow start for the team.

The powers that be assure me that Ralphie will get both her public workouts in on Saturday.  She'd better, because I never want to see the team run out at home without a buffalo leading the charge ever again.


The Fresno St. Bulldogs sit on the fringes of the top-25, and a win this weekend in Boulder should be enough to get them into the rankings for the first time since 20042008.  Expect a motivated, talented club to hit Boulder.  It'll be a good test for a Colorado team riding high on confidence.

Kickoff from beautiful Folsom field is set for 12:05 MT on Saturday.  Television is set for regional coverage on Pac-12 Networks, with Mark Johnson and the radio call on 850 KOA. Game has been canceled due to the flood.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

(Last season's preview can be found here)

I apologize in advance, as this preview is about to get ugly right out of the gate.  I don't mean, in a season dedicated to the return of positive energy, to harp on the depressing past, but I don't think you can honestly look forward to this Saturday's game against Fresno St without first examining last season's meeting in California's central valley.  If you'd rather not be reminded of that game - completely understandable - please feel free to skip this section.  I won't hold it against you.

In many ways, the 2012 University of Colorado football team was the worst in the program's 123-year history.  If you were looking to point to one game to encapsulate the season-long struggle, as an example to explain to outsiders just how defeated the team was week-in, week-out, the loss at Fresno St, more than any of the other 10 from last season, would be the best place to turn.  Never in my years of watching sports have I seen a team quit so completely, so early in the proceedings.  From the opening kickoff, you could tell that Fresno, CA, on a 102 degree day, was the last place any of those kids wanted to be. This was some 1st hour Mighty Ducks-level shit.  All they were missing was shoulder pads made from newspaper, and a fat kid in goal.
The porous CU defense that would define much of last season was on fine display that afternoon.  It took the Bulldogs barely over 12 minutes to put up 35 unanswered points, and the scoring avalanche would continue, unabated, until they had cracked 48 with just under eight minutes to go before halftime.  Possessing basic human compassion, Fresno eased up after the break, and the Buffs were allowed to limp home with a 69-14 loss.

All told, the Bulldogs put up 665 yards of offense in only 67 plays, good for a mind-numbing average of 9.9 yards per (for those who struggle with math, that's, essentially, a first down every snap).  Primary culprits from Fresno included running back Robbie Rouse and quarterback Derek Carr.  Rouse scored four of the team's five 1st quarter touchdowns, notching 119 yards of total offense on those plays alone (fortunately, Rouse has since graduated).  Carr calmly carved up the neophyte Colorado defensive backfield for 300 yards and five scores in only 30 minutes of action (unfortunately, Carr is still there).  They even allowed Derek to try his hand at punting on his final touch of the game.  How nice.

The CU defense wasn't alone in their struggles, however.  The offense was similarly inept, giving up a pair of pick-sixes, and only accounting for 283 yards on the day (Fresno rushed for more than that).
The Buffs were swarmed from the opening kickoff.
Overall, it was a performance worthy of 'freshman' mode on NCAA '14. The onslaught broke numerous program records for defensive futility, including: most points allowed in a first quarter, most yards allowed in a quarter, most yards allowed in a half, and most passing yards allowed in a half.  Everyone was to blame, from coaches on down through the roster.  The team was ill-prepared, disinterested, and woefully under-talented for the opponent.  Sure, the difficulties of a road-trip into some of the hottest temperatures ever played in by a Colorado football team contributed, but, in the end, there's no excuse.

This game highlights the root of my problems with last year's team.  It wasn't the losing by itself - I can stomach any number of losses, having been a CU basketball fan prior to the #RollTad era - it was the way the team went about taking those 'Ls.'  Luckily, through 120 minutes of play, the 2013 Buffs have shown nothing in common with their 2012 counterparts.  They're invested, feisty, and competitive.  Hopefully, memories of last season can provide ample motivation for this week.  If it really 'AINT THE SAME,' then there can be no repeat of that fiasco.


I've always wondered how I, as a hypothetical head coach, would handle a rematch like this one - where one team thoroughly kicked the shit out of the other the previous year.  Mac, to his credit, is acknowledging the past, while strictly denying that the Buffs will be playing for 'revenge.'  DeRuyter, in a much more enviable position, is going through the process of showing his team the tape from last year (the football equivalent of a snuff film), but he stresses that "[w]e’re looking at a totally different team than we played a year ago."

I'm still not sure what I'd do in Mac's shoes, but I know for damn sure I wouldn't be showing off the film if I was in DeRuyter's.  Acknowledged caveat or not, it can't be healthy to dwell on a victory achieved so easily when you know things will be different this time around. Instead, I'd be showing the film from San Jose St.'s 27-24 victory from 2011 in Fresno.  That's the style that Fresno will be playing against Saturday, and it also carries with it the spur of a rivalry showdown.

Regardless, DeRuyter is correct in saying that the 2013 Buffs are completely different from their 2012 shadow. If his team doesn't get that fact into their heads they're going to be in for a rude awakening this weekend.

The Bulldogs in 2013 - 

Fresno St was listed by many in the preseason as a dark horse contender for the Mountain West title.  Loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, they claimed seven All-Conference selections and both the offensive and defensive players of the year in the preseason media poll.  This is a legitimate team with top-25 potential.

So far, however, proceedings haven't been as fluid as many might've hoped.  While the offense has held up their side of the bargain, the defense has looked, at times, porous, and Fresno is lucky to come to Boulder with a 2-0 record.

It all started with an overtime thriller against Rutgers. The game was a back-and-forth affair that featured eight lead changes and 804 combined yards of offense.  
Rutgers was *this close* to the upset.  From: the Fresno Bee.
A roller-coaster finish that featured 24 points over the final five and a half minutes of regulation only built the tension for the climactic pair of overtime possessions. After Fresno scored on their first play of the extra frame, Rutgers responded by quickly finding their own way into the endzone.  Hoping to seize on an opportunity, the Scarlet Knights decided to go for two, but watched as QB Gary Nova's pass to Brandon Coleman fell wanting. The Bulldogs had survived, if barely, 52-51. That two-yard incompletion is all that separates FSU from a blemished record.

Shrugging off the scare, the Bulldogs rebounded last week against Cal Poly.  Behind another strong offensive performance, they scored the opening 34 points on the Mustangs, allowing them a comfortable cruise to victory in the second half. After only notching 44 yards of offense in the first half, however, Cal Poly was able to lean on the Fresno second string to produce 372 yards and game's final 22 points.  The game may not have been as close as the 41-25 final might suggest, but that second half performance raises some questions.
Cal Poly was able to find some running room in the second half.
The fireworks-show with Rutgers and the second half struggles against CP highlight a glaring weakness with the Bulldogs.  While the offense in 2013 seems almost as potent as the one that torched CU last season (453 yards per), the defense is allowing nearly 480 yards per contest (6.4 per play). Hell, FCS minnow Cal Poly was allowed to put up 5.5 yards per play on these guys.

Much of the problem stems from pass defense. The group that was second in the nation last season is beginning to sag under the weight of a thinning depth chart to the point that they've had to turn to converted offensive skill players for depth (paging Jason Espinoza).  They're coughing up over 14 yards per completion so far, and I can't help but wonder what the explosive CU air attack will be able to generate on Saturday. 

The offense isn't perfect, either. While the O has already scored 93 points (that's good), they're struggling with short yardage situations, converting a paltry 42% on third-and-one, or third-and-two plays (that's bad).  That extends to a CSU-esque 27% conversion rate on all third downs, good for 104th in the nation.  Coach Tim DeRuyter is openly concerned, saying recently, "if you want to win a championship, you're going to have to be able to convert third and shorts to finish games, to finish drives, and we don't have enough confidence in it right now to do that so we have to work it."

Their saving grace, so far, has been in the punt return game.  Whereas CU looks to the punt return as a dying art - a moment more for ball control than explosion - the Bulldogs use it to leverage great team speed to their advantage.  Behind burner Isaiah Burse, they already have two punt returns for touchdown on the year, and average an amazing 25.29 yards per return.  Burse is so good, MacIntyre openly fretted punting to him at his Tuesday press conference.  BuffNation has watched poor special teams coverage for two weeks now, and it may finally come back to haunt Colorado on Saturday.

The trick, then, will be limiting big plays.  Containing Burse, forcing their offense into third-down situations, and exploiting a struggling defense provides an opportunity.

Star Players - 

Fresno St. is so loaded with team speed that Coach MacIntyre can't stop saying the word 'fast.'  This is a legit bunch, who would push even the best that college football has to offer.  It's against this group that CU will seek revenge and a 3-0 start to 2013.

First and foremost, the team is lead by QB Derek Carr.  The 5th year senior and three year starter is on the verge of breaking the school's all time passing record (one that has stood since 1986).  He's got a pro pedigree, and a veteran's eye for the game.  Luckily, the CU defensive backfield is much improved over last season, as they didn't have a prayer of stopping him in 2012.
Carr is one of the nation's best.
His two primary targets - Davante Adams and the speedy Burse - are top-flight threats.  Adams, a 6-2 sophomore, is already an All-American candidate after hauling in 102 catches for over 1,300 yards and 14 scores as a freshman.  Burse, who's much more than just a return specialist, comes in after a three touchdown day against Cal Poly that earned him player of the week honors from the Mountain West.  The pair may be the best receiving duo that CU faces all year.  Combined, the trio of Carr, Adams, and Burse have accounted for 340 yards and four scores on the young season, and should be keeping Kent Baer and the Buffs up late this week.
Carr having Adams to throw to is almost unfair.
Luckily, there's not much definition in the backfield; otherwise this offense might be too much to handle.  What they do gain on the ground, however, will be behind preseason All-Mountain West lineman Austin Wentworth.  The 6-5 senior has seen 2830 consecutive starts, and made headlines last week by landing in the endzone via the old hook-and-lateral.  (Feel free to yell 'FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN' at this point)

On defense, they boast a trio of preseason all-conference selections, and should be better than their performance to date.

Last year, behind the efforts of junior safety Derron Smith and senior corner LJ Jones, the Bulldogs held opponents to only 167 yards through the air per game (again, 2nd nationally).  While the results haven't been as stellar this season, the pair is still back there, and are capable of making an impact.  They've already recorded a combined 23 tackles in 2013.
Smith was a major player in the defensive backfield last season.
Up front, the defensive line is anchored by junior NG Tyeler Davison. While he only has four tackles so far, the 6-2, 300lb Arizona native does a great job taking on double teams and discouraging the run game.

Coaching - 

Head coach Tim DeRuyter is starting his second season in Fresno as the head of a proud program regaining the confidence lost through the final years of legend Pat Hill's tenure.  After logging a 9-4 campaign in 2012 - which earned the team a share of the Mountain West title - the head Bulldog is looking for more, and an opportunity to cement his name as one of the up-and-coming talents in the West.
DeRuyter and the Bulldogs bring a champions' mentality into 2013.  From: the AP
Back in Fresno, he has helped turn Bulldog Stadium into a house of horrors for opponents, sitting a perfect 8-0 at home, while hanging just under 49 points per game up on the scoreboard.  The Fresno fans have responded, and are starting to stuff the stands again.

Of course, the flip side is that the Bulldogs are a very pedestrian 3-4 away from the Valley during his tenure.  The culprit has been an inconsistent offense, as they scored about 20 points less per game on the road last season.  This Saturday is their first opportunity in 2013 to prove that this year will be different.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 2-0.  Against the spread: 2-0.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +6.5 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday @ 2pm - CU +9.5, O/U 66.5

The only path to victory I can conceive for this game would be a third consecutive receiving explosion from Paul Richardson.  But #6 can't possibly have another big afternoon, right?  The Bulldogs certainly won't fall into the same trap as the Rams and Bears, and leave the talismanic wide-out free to roam in the secondary, right?

Well... actually... after looking at that shaky Fresno defense, I'm suddenly not so sure.

Now, I'm not going to go swimming in kool-aid, and do something stupid like call for the upset, but this game could become a shootout real fast, which would throw it into toss-up territory in a heartbeat. I still like Fresno to pull away late through their high-powered offense and special teams, but it won't be a blowout. 

But, hey, at least it won't be a repeat of last year. Headed into the bye week and conference play, the Buffs will be able to hold their heads high.

Give me Fresno and the over. 

FS 41 - CU 28



Eric J Walsh said...

Last time FS was ranked was 2008. Wentworth has 30 consecutive starts. Otherwise, great preview!

RumblinBuff said...

My bad, the Fresno Bee tricked me!