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September 19, 2013
Friday's match-up against the Boise State Broncos is not only the conference opener for the Fresno State Bulldogs, it's also the chance to shed the 800-pound gorilla that's been on their back for the past decade.
The Broncos enter the game leading the all-time series against the Bulldogs by a total of 11-4. They have also won seven straight and 11 of the last 12 games played between the schools. Making matters worse, the Broncos are also 10-1 against the Bulldogs when the two meet in league play.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are looking for their first 3-0 start since 2004. They're also ranked No. 25 nationally, a feat last seen in 2008. The Bulldogs actually entered the rankings despite their game with Colorado being canceled due to flooding. Friday's game is a chance for the Bulldogs to make a statement about the new class of Mountain West elite.
The tide has turned and Boise State finds themselves an underdog in tomorrow's game. Though only a four point favorite at home, the Idaho Statesman's Brian Murphy has predicted that the Broncos will fall to the Bulldogs by exactly that total. Murphy has Fresno State winning by a score of 45-41.
The Bulldogs will rely upon quarterback Derek Carr to get the job done at home. Carr has amassed 661 yards through two games. Carr has also tossed eight touchdowns to only one interception. He's been a sniper, completing over 70% of his passes in 2013. He's done all of this and the Bulldogs haven't had a single game where someone has rushed for over 100 yards. The Bulldogs don't even have a running back with 100 yards on the season. Good as they've been, this will need to change if they expect to win Friday.
The Broncos will rely upon the arm of Joe Southwick to get the job done on the road. As accurate as Carr has been, Southwick has been more accurate. Southwick currently sits just below a 73.5% completion percentage, and he's only thrown 10 less passes than Carr on the season. While Southwick only has six touchdowns and two interceptions, he has 12 more yards to his name than Carr.
Where things start to get interesting is the running game. Boise State has Jay Ajayi and Aaron Baltazar in the backfield. Boise State is currently 45th in the nation in rushing yards, having piled up 620 entering Friday. The Bullogs are 94th in the nation, having a meager 243 yards on the ground. As a matter of fact, Boise's Ajayi has more yards at 298 than the entire Bulldog team. Southwick has half of Fresno's rushing-touchdown total by himself.
The Bulldogs will need Josh Quezada to find the tough yards when it matters. The Bulldogs are averaging almost four yards a carry, but it hasn't been consistent enough to come through on a regular basis. Quezada and Marteze Waller will need to create enough problems up front to allow Carr to do what he does best, which is pick people apart with his arm.
The Bulldogs will also hope that wide receiver Davante Adams can continue his nation-leading streak of 10 consecutive games in a row with a touchdown catch. This will prove especially useful if Isaiah Burse can continue to rack up the yards in a variety of different ways. Burse only needs 158 yards to reach the magical 5,000 all-purpose yards for his career. Oh, did we mention he also returned two punts for a touchdown last week? A couple of big returns from Burse could go a long way for Fresno in this contest.
It's also worth noting that Burse is only a kickoff-return for a touchdown away from completing college football's version of the cycle. Burse has thrown for a touchdown, rushed for two, has 10 receiving scores, and returned two punts for scores against Cal Poly in last week's game. The last FBS player to score a touchdown in five different ways was Clemson's C.J. Spiller in 2009.
Look for Fresno State's defense to key in on Boise's Matt Miller and Ajayi, who has six rushing touchdowns on the season. The Bulldogs will look to start another interception streak after their 12-straight game streak of interceptions came to a halt against Cal Poly. The Bulldogs have recorded 23 interceptions in 15 games under coach Tim DeRuyter.
Look for linebackers Karl Mickelsen and Kyrie Wilson to play a big part in shutting down Ajayi. Mickelsen leads all Bulldogs with 14 tackles on the season. Despite the great play from their defense, the Bulldogs have yet to force a fumble this season. Friday's game would be a great time to get your first.
This game is likely to be decided by turnovers and the ability to run the football early. Both quarterbacks possess an ability to pick apart a defense when they have time to throw the ball. Will the Bulldogs be able to keep Ajayi to a limited number of yards? Fresno's defense will need to play better than their current ranking of 111th in the country. If they can, then they can key on Boise's receivers while finding creative ways to apply pressure to Southwick.
Getting pressure on the quarterback will be critical to each team's chances of winning this game. Fresno State is currently 3rd in the nation in giving up sacks. Boise State is currently ranked 5th in the nation in that same category. Neither of these teams allow opposing defenses to get pressure on the quarterback. If there's an area where someone can tilt the scales in their favor, this would be it.
Perhaps the most important question hanging over Fresno is whether or not they can find a way to get their running game going. Boise is currently 99th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just under 203 yards per game. That's good enough for 8th in the Mountain West. If there was ever a time to get your run-game going, this would be it.
Overall, this game is going to boil down to one thing: who wants it more? The Bulldogs are ready to take that next step and it starts by winning a conference game against your biggest your rival. The fact that the Bulldogs get this one at home couldn't set the table any better.
Prediction: Bulldogs win 37-29. Who do you think will win? Tell us.
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on tomorrow's game against Boise State.
Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.
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