The first kickoff of the 2010 Football season is just nine weeks away. With that in mind it is time to start looking into what UC will be up against this season starting with the season opening game against Fresno State.
Last year was the first and only time that the Bulldogs and the Bearcats have met on a Football Field. From a UC perspective this game was certainly a little bit more nerve inducing than it probably should have been due to the limited number of possessions UC had on offense and a complete inability to get off the field on 3rd downs on defense. The final score ended up being 28-20 UC. The defense really set the template it would follow for the rest of the season, concede time of possession and yardage for large chunks of the game, but somehow find a way to come up with timely stops in crucial moments. The two biggest such plays for UC in this game came in the 4th Quarter. Craig Carey's interception at the start of the fourth quarter facing 4th and 1 on the UC 5 yard line.
The play that sealed the game was Aaron Webster breaking up a 4th and 7 pass from Ryan Colburn intended for Chastin West.
This game was the start of the bend but don't break mentality of the defense.
Something that I find interesting, that I am pretty sure no one else will find interesting, but its my blog so you are going to read it, and like it. Anyway, back on point. UC and FSU signed the contract for this game it wasn't intended to be a back to back home and home deal. Fresno was due to venture out from the Valley to Cincinnati in 2007 with the 2010 game scheduled as the return trip. But the initial game was pushed back when ESPN approached Oregon State and UC about a setting up a Thursday night game in early September if both parties could manage to open up their schedules for that weekend. When UC approached Fresno State agreed to push back the series in exchange for compensation (read: Cash Money) and UC welcomed the Beavers to Nippert, beat them down and announced that UC was going to be a slightly different bird under Brain Kelly.
Sidebar over, here are highlights from a Fresno State and UC perspective from last years game.
Fresno State Offense:
The Bulldogs offense on the face of it won't be anywhere near as good or balanced as the 2009 version was. Gone from the lineup is Ryan Mathews, the top rusher in the nation last year, and secondary stretching receivers Seyi Ajirotutu and Chastin West. What is coming back however is the offensive line, all of it. So while Mathews is gone they are bringing back that dominating offensive line, hands down the best in the WAC. As a general rule of thumb if you have a deep experienced offensive line you can replace a franchise stud like Mathews with another back and still produce at a pretty high level. Not that Robbie Rouse is just another back. He somehow managed to put up 479 yards backing up Mathews.
One of the more interesting developments with Fresno State over the course of last season was the improvement of Ryan Colburn from the start of the season to the end. At the start of the year he looked very, very average. Against Wisconsin, Boise State and UC in a three game stretch he completed just 56 per cent of his passes for 629 yards and 6 TDs to go with 6 INTs. After that stretch of games he really turned it on over the back half of the year, admittedly against lesser competition. I don't think Colburn is quite as good has his second half performance last year would indicate because he had the benefit of throwing against 8 man boxes with two deep threats at wide out. He will not get the benefit of that this season barring a completely incendiary performance by Rouse, which is a long shot. His primary weapons at receivers have departed. The offense will be completely in his hands this season which should be interesting.
Fresno State Defense:
Last years defense for the Bulldogs was, to put it mildly, not good. They gave up 28 points per game and were a member of a very small, not very elite group of 15 schools who gave up 200 yards or more per game both running the football and passing it. So by the raw numbers they weren't very good. The passing defense was more average than bad. They only allowed teams to complete 55.2 per cent of their passes which was actually quite good. One thing that wasn't good with the pass defense was the TD to INT ratio which was 24 to 8. But it was the rush defense which set some pretty low standards. 214 yards per game with 22 TD's allowed on the season with a pathetic 6.01 yards per carry. So in summation, they couldn't stop the pass, they couldn't stop the run, they couldn't rush the passer ,just 11 sacks on the year, 118th in the country, they couldn't turn the ball over, only 15 takeaways good for 111th in the country. They couldn't do anything to impact the way opposing offenses tried to play the game.
Fresno State should have a better defense this coming season. They return 10 of the 14 players from last years front seven two deep. Barring a great attrition of players up front the front 7 should be vastly improved over last years. Where the problems are is in the secondary. They return two starters, but their best player from last year AJ Jefferson and don't have anyone on the roster capable of delivering a similar impact in the secondary. The improved from seven should help the numbers improve, but they won't actually be as good as last years secondary was. The defense for the Bulldogs is going to improve, but it was so bad last year that even a sizable improvement is only likely to take them from dreadful to bad.
Fresno State Against UC:
This is actually a very good game for UC to initiate the Butch Jones era with. It will provide a baseline reading on what UC fans can expect from this team in 2010. It is a very late kickoff, 10 PM eastern, on the road against a good, but not great team in a stadium that has been fairly hostile to BCS teams over the last decade. Fresno is 2-2 over the last decade when hosting BCS conference foes. The two losses came by a combined 10 points to Oregon and Wisconsin respectively. There are a number of similarities between this game with Fresno State and game in 2007 with San Diego State. Long road trip, capable opponent, very late kickoff time. The main difference? Fresno State is a much better team than San Diego State, and UC is a much better program in 2010 than it was in 2007. On paper this should be a win, maybe not an easy one, but a win for UC.