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September 27, 2013

Fresno State at Hawaii preview

The Bulldogs enter Saturday's game against the Hawaii Warriors ranked No. 23 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll and hoping to make some noise. More importantly, Coach Tim DeRuyter and company will look to have this team focused after an emotionally draining war with heated rival Boise State. Those are some in the industry who might call this a 'trap game.'

For their part, the Warriors enter the game without a win. The Warriors have yet to score more than 14 points in 2013 and their defense has to hold an opponent to under 30. If you sprinkle in the fact that the Warriors get this one at home, immediately after Boise State pushed the Bulldogs to the limit, and while the Fresno St. is still trying to figure out the run game, and you have the makings of a potentially magical day for the Warriors.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the reality is that their scoring offense is ranked No. 119 in the country. Their highest ranking in any offensive category would be their No. 85 ranking in passing offense. Everything else is ranked 91st or worse. Actually, things get progressively worse after their No. 91 red-zone offense. Every other statistical category is 104th in the nation or worse. Essentially, Hawaii hasn't shown enough firepower to get people talking about the possibility of an upset.

The Bulldogs can and should use this game as a means to establish some sort of running attack. That said, doing so will be no easy task. The Warriors' defensive rankings are slightly better than their offensive rankings. Perhaps most importantly, the lead the entire Mountain West in rushing defense. The Warriors are actually the nation's 42nd best rushing defense. Who knew?

Their passing defense is much, much worse, coming in at No. 102 in the country. While this seems like a perfect opportunity to pass the ball, it's probably more important that the Bulldogs try to establish the run early on. After all, if the Bulldogs are to have any hope of upending a BCS opponent in their future, they're probably going to be seeing a rush defense similar to what the Warriors will present in this game. Put simply, if you're ever going to get it going, now would be the time.

It won't be easy, though. Hawaii only allowed 340 yards of total offense to Nevada last week. Still, the Warriors are only 10-36 against nationally ranked teams, but two of those wins came against Fresno State. The Bulldogs lead the overall series 23-21-1, including victories in three of the last four meetings. The Warriors hold the all-time edge when the game is played in Honolulu, as they lead 14-11 at home. The Bulldogs have never beaten the Warriors while ranked in the AP Poll. They're currently ranked No. 25 in said poll.

Quarterback Derek Carr feasted the last time these two teams met. The Bulldogs led 42-3 and had 428 total yards of offense at the half. Carr finished his day with 15-of-23 completions for 304 yards and four touchdowns.

With a win on Saturday, Fresno State can move to 4-0 for the first time since 2001. Given the productivity that Carr had with only 23 attempts in 2012, now presents a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to establish their running attack. Look for T.J. Thomas to get a few more carries. Thomas only has six carries on the season, but he is averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. If Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller are unable to get things going early, the Bulldogs might also take a harder look at Malique Micenheimer, who ran very well in spring and leading up to fall camp.

Hawaii and their relatively inept offense present a chance for this Fresno State team to get back on track with their interception streak. After safety Derron Smith intercepted a pass last week, the Bulldogs have a chance to make it two games in a row with an interception this week. Hawaii has thrown nine interceptions on the season. It's probably safe to say that the ball-hawking Bulldog defense could come up with more than one.

To say that the Warriors are inept on offense would be an understatement. The offense has four total touchdowns on the season. The Warriors are -7 in the turnover department. Put simply, they have three more turnovers on the season than they do offensive touchdowns. Fresno State will need to win by more than one point if they want to remain ranked.

Overall, this game is really just a chance for the Bulldogs to work on fundamentals and get things right as they make a push in the BCS. The Bulldogs have three of their next four games on the road. Things won't be easy, but a fast start at Hawaii could go a long way in setting the tone for the road portion of their schedule.

Fresno State's next four opponents are a combined 2-12 at this point in the season. The only team that even has a win is UNLV. The Bulldogs aren't going to get any help from their schedule over the next month and that means they will have to start putting on a show if they want to move up. We're moving into conference play right now and more teams are going to be seeing tougher matchups. The Bulldogs possess their destiny in their hands right now.

It's unlikely that Hawaii has any answers for Fresno. Carr is playing more focused than he ever has before and might be in a much better place now that he has the Boise State gorilla off his back. If Carr is as mentally relaxed as he looked after the game against the Broncos, this might be the deadliest version of him that Hawaii will ever see.

Look for Carr to come out and immediately set the pace, terms, and tempo at which this game will be played. Look for him to audible out and call runs if the Warriors drop men into coverage because of the Bulldogs' running woes. Quick passes and slants to their slot receivers and tight ends may also be a way that the Bulldogs get their running game going.

Prediction: Hawaii 13, Fresno State 55

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the Fresno State 2013 season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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