Fresno State at No. 4 Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Television: Pac-12 Network (Comcast CH 433/823 [HD], Dish CH 413)
Radio: KMJ (AM 580), ESPN Deportes (1600 AM)
Keys to the Game
Protect the Football – Forget about trying to score every possession, if the ‘Dogs can't hold onto the football, they could find themselves down by three scores midway through the first quarter. Fortunately, FS has experience at quarterback and running back with Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse, respectively. But how will center Lars Bramer, who is making just his second career start, handle the center-quarterback exchange amidst the Autzen Stadium crowd noise?
Air Attack – If Fresno State has a clear-cut advantage over the Ducks it's at quarterback. If given time, Carr can pick apart the Oregon secondary. However, the Bulldogs will be hindered at receiver depth once again. Josh Harper will give them a boost if he's close to 100%, but Carr needs redshirt freshman Davante Adams to be more consistent this week. Adams can't afford to drop balls if open against the No. 4 team in the nation. The passing game must produce the bulk of the ‘Dogs points, which will have to be over 40 if FS expects to have any chance at pulling the upset.
Composure – The Bulldogs have been here before. Despite the coaching change and addition of new faces, the mantra of taking on top BCS teams is something new head coach Tim DeRuyter wants to embrace. Many of Saturday's starters played last season at No. 10 Nebraska. But Autzen will still open some eyes. Carr, Rouse, and company will relish the challenge but how will coaches react and adjust if the ‘Dogs are getting run over in the first half?
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers – Few defenses have been able to stop Oregon's offense. The equalizer is forcing mistakes. Oregon redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has 1.5 quarters of game experience. Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth must dial up a game plan that will frustrate the young signal caller into bad decisions. FS won the turnover battle last week versus Weber State, but if the ‘Dogs expect to be in the game past halftime, they must force more than one turnover.
Protect the Edges – Fresno State's 3-4 defense is far more aggressive and athletic than a year ago. But Oregon has two of the most explosive players in the nation in De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. The Bulldogs can expect to catch either from behind let alone let them get around the edge. If the ‘Dogs can force runs inside it will limit the Ducks homerun threats.
Second and Long – Oregon's offense is tough to stop. But it will be much easier if the Ducks are consistently facing third down situations. And the best way to force third downs is to stop UO on first down for little or no gain. The Ducks want to run the ball, and Fresno State won't stop the ground attack. The ‘Dogs best chance to stay in the game is to create more passing situations for the young Mariota.
Playing at Oregon is tall task for any team or coaching to tackle, regardless if it's their second career game coaching or 200th game. The tone for Coach Tim DeRuyter first season could be set by the end of the first quarter in Eugene. Coincidently, Pat Hill's first game on the road has a head coach was also in Eugene. Hill's Bulldogs overcame a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime losing 37-34. The 1997 Bulldogs were not as talented as the 2012 team DeRuyter inherited. But the 2012 Oregon Ducks are head and shoulders of the '97 squad that Hill's team almost upset.
Asking DeRuyter to coach his ‘Dogs to an upset over the No. 4 team in the nation in just his second game is a bit much. But FS has to be competitive. Falling behind by three touchdowns in the first quarter, being behind by more than 30 points at the half, and gaining yards and scoring points against Oregon's backups won't win over too many Bulldog fans.
Fresno State will play fast, physical and fanatical. But Oregon will player faster, be as physical, and with a national championship as its goal, the Ducks will be just as fanatical as the 35-point underdog Bulldogs.
The Bulldog defense will make things interesting. As long as the Fresno State offense doesn't cough up the football or continually go three-and-out, ‘Dogs will be within striking distance at halftime. By striking distance, FS will be down by no more than 17 points.
Oregon is used to knocking out its foes early. If the Ducks starters are playing well into the third quarter, FS could be a turnover and quick touchdown away from making things interesting.
The ‘Dogs will need to score at least six touchdowns and force at least four turnovers to be in a position to win this game. Getting one of those will be tough, getting both will be almost impossible. Fresno State wants to play up tempo, which plays right into Oregon's hands. Unless the Bulldogs match the Ducks point for point, it's a battle UO will win.
Oregon 55, Fresno State 27
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