The Aggie football team travels to Fresno State on Saturday and nobody knows the Bulldogs better than their own fans so we enlisted the help of Todd Kaufmann, the founder of The Red Wave to help you get a better feel for the Fresno State Bulldogs. And yes, we stole the name for this segment from our buddy Jack Nixon.
Injuries have played a big part in this season for the Bulldogs, who have been the biggest losses for the Bulldogs personnel wise?
Let's start with Cole Popovich, losing a great leader like him I think was a big blow to the Bulldog offensive line and especially to lose him so early in the season hurt as well.
The next name I'd bring up is senior defensive tackle Jon Monga. Having him inactive for the past 6 games has really shown how important he is to this defense, especially after giving up 472 yards rushing to Nevada last Friday night. That's embarassing to give up those kind of numbers, especially if you're a team who was ranked in the Top 25 for the first, what, 3-4 weeks of the season? Since his injury, the Bulldogs have only had one game (Hawaii - 172) where they gave up less than 200 yards rushing. Getting Monga back for this game, being as it could be the game that decides whether or not Fresno State plays in a bowl game this season, is at the exact right time.
The last name, and the most important in my opinion, is running back Ryan Mathews. He was the reason this Bulldog offense was so successful early on, especially having him in the backfield along with Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, those three together are just explosive. When you lose Mathews, then you lose Miller against Louisiana Tech, it put the entire rushing game on the shoulders of Anthony Harding. Harding had a very tough time gaining any ground against Louisiana Tech and it put even more pressure on quarterback Tom Brandstater to make something happen. Getting Mathews back on Saturday along with having Miller and Harding available is going to be a huge boost for this team.
I think as any football fan, college or pro, knows, a running game sets up a passing game. When Fresno State lost both Ryan Mathews and then Lonyae Miller, that puts way too much pressure on junior running back Anthony Harding and that was evident in gaining just 67 total yards on the ground. It forced Brandstater to throw the ball 38 times and although he had a great game (23-of-38 4 TD's 1 INT), he was forced to really try and make happen than he could. It really shows how important all three guys (Mathews, Miller, Harding) are to Brandstater's success or failure.
What is this team's biggest strength and what's their biggest weakness?
I think this teams' biggest strength is their quarterback, senior Tom Brandstater. He is the leader of this offense, he is the captain and this team lives and dies by the decisions he makes. Bulldog fans saw what happened against Hawaii and I know a lot of the blame went to kicker Kevin Goessling, but Brandstater turned the ball over four times including three interceptions. When Brandstater is absolutely on his game, I think he's one of the best QB's in the WAC.
Their biggest weakness, without a doubt is their defensive line. Any time you give up 472 rushing yards to anyone, you've got a serious weakness and it's a weakness that teams have learned to exploit in recent weeks. This defense has given up 200+ yards rushing in each of their last four games and six of their last seven.
Who are a few players to watch for in Saturday's game when FSU is on offense and when they're on defense?
Offensively, Ryan Mathews is one of the most explosive players on the field. I'm interested to see how his ankle responds on Saturday. Will he be able to be 100%? Can he make the same cut backs, can he be just as explosiving in the open field or is he not quite up to full strength? If Mathews is back to his old self, he could be a lot of fun to watch on Saturday.
Defensively is gonna be another player returning from injury and that's senior defensive tackle Jon Monga. I think he may bring a much needed boost to this offensive line that was just horrendous last week against Nevada. If he makes his presence felt early on, I think not only the rest of the defensive line but the rest of the defense as a whole is going to feed off his energy and it's something they have needed all year long. He has the same questions though, is he 100%, will he be able to go most of the game or will he be limited at all?
With both of these players coming off injuries, it's really going to be interested to see how the rest of the team responds having them back in the fold.
There's been a lot of mumbling and grumbling about the way this season has turned out, do Bulldog fans really think they'd be better off without Pat Hill (who's a legend among mid-major coaches in our opinion)?
Do I think a lot of them believe that, unfortunately yes I do. Do I? Absolutely not. The complaint that I hear quite a bit is, why do they play teams like Wisconsin, USC, LSU, Tennessee, Oklahoma when they end up losing just about every one of those games? Why is Pat Hill concentrating on getting into a BCS game when he can't even win the WAC?
Those are the complaints, but you know the one thing that I don't hear? Who would you rather have? Let's hear some of the, realistic, names these fans want instead of Hill? I wrote an article a few weeks ago and I threw a couple of very unrealistic names just to prove my point of how ridiculous some of their complaints are.
Is Hill responsible for Kevin Goessling missing three field goals against Wisconsin in a three point loss? Is Hill responsible for Goessling missing another three against Hawaii in another three point loss? Is Hill responsible for this defense giving up 472 yards on the ground to Nevada? My answer to all those questions is no, but Hill will take the blame because he is responsible for getting "these kids" ready for each and every game. I just think if the players can't put that coaching to good use on the field, then why is the head coach being held responsible?
To answer your question, is Fresno State better off? No. I think Hill has to have maybe two or three consecutive losing seasons to lose his job.
For our fans who are traveling to Fresno for the game or live near the area and are going to the game, what are some of the best game day traditions at Fresno State and are there any "must visit" post-game watering holes/restaurants?
To be honest, I haven't been back to my hometown in a few years, but I'll give you the ones I hear about the most. I think if you want to go to a sports oriented place, be around the other fans, I think you need to hit Dog House Grill. Their reviews have been excellent, I understand their Tri-Tip is delicious as well as their BBQ Sauce.
A restaurant that I've always been partial to is Tahoe Joe's. Their steaks never seem to disappoint when I've been there, so that's definitely a place I would recommend.
The last place, one of my favorite mexican restaurants in town, is Sals Mexican Restaurant. They have unbelievably good food and I would highly recommend that you make a stop there before you leave town.
What your prediction for Saturday's game?
As for my prediction, I feel a little bit better with the returns of Jon Monga and Ryan Mathews to make this call. I'm still not sold on this being a blowout, I don't think I'll ever predict another blowout because I haven't been right all season with the games I thought wouldn't be close. It's Fresno State's home finale, it's senior day and it's almost a "win or go home" scenario for this team.
I'll take Fresno State 35 New Mexico State 28