Game 7 Preview: Fresno State at LSU

Game 7 Preview: Fresno State at LSU

The most anticipated game of 2006 has become a contest of survival and not the showcase of top college programs, which many first thought when Fresno State signed to play LSU back in February of this year.

Bulldog Offense vs. Tiger Defense

This is the biggest mismatch of the year on paper, and the reason why LSU is more than a 30 point favorite. However, to the Bulldogs credit, QB Sean Norton has only played little more than a half of college football. And the offense moved the ball more effectively in those two plus quarters than it did in the five games with Tom Brandstater as the signal caller.

LSU has the nation's best defense, giving up only 211.7 yards per game. But outside of tough road games at Auburn and Florida, the five other Tiger opponents have not been exactly offensive juggernauts. The Bulldogs inept offense fits perfectly into the Tigers tormenting 4-3 base defense. If Fresno State was ever going to shake things up offensively, it has nothing to lose at LSU.

Norton adds another dimension to the Bulldog offense. His ability to scramble and throw on the run will allow the Bulldogs to open the playbook per se. LSU has little film on Norton and whatever it sees on Brandstater will pale in comparison to Norton's ability to play quarterback. RB Dwayne Wright has to have a big game. He was taken out of the equation by Hawaii early on – partly because of his own fumbles. The Bulldogs must be able to run the ball to keep the Tigers defensive line from pinning-their-ears-back and rushing Norton.

The LSU defensive line was supposed to be rebuilding this season after losing three players to the NFL Draft. But don't tell that to So. DE Tyson Jackson. Jackson has 6 sacks on the season and is on his way to an All-American season. DE Chase Pittman has 4.5 sacks himself starting opposite Jackson. With that kind of pressure from the front four, the Tigers don't have to blitz its linebackers. The Bulldog offensive line is still struggling to live up to its potential; it will have to play its best game of the season against the Tigers.

LSU LB Ali Highsmith is Butkas Award finalist and leads the Tiger linebackers, but as well as Highsmith and Jackson are, neither as great as free safety LaRon Landry. Landry is All-American and leads arguably the best secondary in the nation. What looked like a stellar Bulldog receiving corps at the beginning of the season may be nothing more than young, raw freshmen and sophomores facing LSU, after suffering numerous injuries. But wide receivers Paul Williams and Joe Fernandez will make the trip to Baton Rouge and Head Coach Pat Hill said each will possibly see time.

If not, Chastin West and Marlon Moore will have to continue their heroics another week. TE Bear Pascoe showed last week he is a weapon that is underutilized. Along with FB/TE Isaac Kinter, the Bulldogs have great weapons that can create mismatches no matter how great a defense is.

Bulldog Defense vs. Tiger Offense

The Fresno State defense was absolutely shredded by the Hawaii's run-n'-shoot offense last week. The good news for the Bulldogs is LSU does not run the run-n'-shoot, but it might not make a difference if the Bulldogs continue to tackle poorly and not make plays.

Fresno State must stop the run, and despite the defense's shortfalls outside of Nevada's Robert Hubbard, the Bulldogs have not allowed a running back to top 100 yards rushing. And as great as LSU has been this year, only RB Charles Scott has top the 100 yard mark this season and he is listed fourth on the depth chart. Justin Vincent, Jacob Hester, Alley Broussard, Scott and Keiland Williams, truly define the term running back by committee. Scott and Williams are just true freshmen, but Vincent and Broussard are veteran backs that have led the Tigers in rushing in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

The biggest surprise for the Tigers has been the emergence of the passing game. QB JaMarcus Russell has passed for 1,700 yards on the season with 13 TDs against just four ints. He had only 15 TDs all of last season, and is completing 68% of passes compared to 60% last year. His receiving corps just may be the best in SEC, if not the nation.

Seniors Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis have combined for 80 catches, 1,052 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. That nearly matches their totals from all of last season. Jr. Early Doucet has added 25 receptions for nearly 400 yards and four TDs and completes the exceptional pass-catching trio. This group is similar to Oregon's terms in size and athleticism, but the Tigers receivers are faster and more talented. Unlike, Hawaii, LSU will not dink and dunk but when it goes deep the Bulldogs defensive backs will be overmatched.

Bulldog CB Marcus McCauley has been overwhelmed this season. He has been scrutinized by some for not making plays or leading a very weak secondary. But he can not do it all by himself. If there was ever a game Fresno State needed its defensive backs to make plays and create turnovers, it is this week's contest at Baton Rouge. The Bulldogs will not stand a chance if Russell is allowed to pick apart the defense with defensive backs playing seven to 10 yards off their men. Unlike last week, Fresno State should be able to employ their 4-3 base defense that played well vs. Oregon. However, well will not be good enough to stand a chance against LSU.

The Fresno State defensive line is not getting any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Don't let the stats fool you, the Bulldogs 10 sacks have not come when the defense really needed them, on third down. More often than not, the defensive line will push back an opponent, only to see the secondary give up a big play on a third-and-long.

For some reason the defensive front seven has not been able to make up for the rest of the defense's shortfalls, despite its tremendous depth and some very talented players. What was once thought as great Bulldog defense simply fell apart last week. This week is not the time for the defense to continue spiraling down. LSU has weapons, but if there is one area of concern for LSU it may be the offensive line. The Tigers' offensive linemen are talented, but in comparison to the rest of the team, this is where LSU lacks the most experience.

Special Teams, Coaching and Intangibles

The Bulldogs finally had a good, not great, showing on special teams last week. K/P Kyle Zimmerman has filled in nicely as the backup, emergency punter. K Clint Stitser is looking like he has shaken off his early season troubles, but the return game needs a huge boost. Despite the return of PR Clifton Smith, the Bulldogs have not been able to take advantage of his skills. West return practically every kickoff last week against Hawaii, but has yet to show any ability to juke or shake a tackler. What is more interesting was seeing backup LB Trevor Shamblee lined up as the kick returner. First it shows you how desperate the Bulldogs are, but second it shows how fast and athletic Shamblee is for a LB.

LSU doesn't give up a lot of points, so the Tigers don't get to return a lot of kickoffs, eight to be exact in seven games. And LSU hasn't been spectacular at returning punts either, averaging just 7.3 yards per return. K/P Chris Jackson is averaging 41.9 ypp but has yet to attempt a FG this season after hitting 10-19 last season. K Colt David as attempted all five FG attempts this season hitting three of them.

LSU Head Coach has been criticized for not being able to win big games, hence at Auburn and Florida this season, but Fresno State is not a exactly a big game. Yet, the Bulldogs will not be taken lightly and therefore, Miles will have his team ready to play. It all starts at the top and for Fresno State; Head Coach Pat Hill has been reeling, but stated this week in an interview that the Bulldogs will be back. But will it be this week?

LSU does not lose at Tiger Stadium too much – especially at night. Death Valley – as it is often called – is one of the most hostile environments in the country, but LSU has yet to face a challenge this season at home. Therefore, the crowd will likely not be in frenzy for a 1-5 WAC team. The Bulldogs literally have nothing to lose, the nation already has lost some respect for the program this season and a blow-out loss is expected.

Analysis

This game has LSU victory written all over it. Even last year at USC, some pundits gave the Bulldogs a shot to play USC tough and Bulldog fans certainly believed their then No. 16 ranked Bulldogs could win. Against LSU, the 32.5 point spread says it all. No one thinks LSU will lose, but there are still a few Bulldog fans believing Fresno State will play its best game of the season. However, the Bulldogs best game will not be enough to overcome LSU, unless the Tigers simply don't play well and cough up the ball.

BarkBoard.com Recommended Stories