Fresno State's Offensive Line
Fresno State said goodbye to Ryan Wendell at the end of 2007. However, due to injuries during the 2007 season all five starters in 2008 were able to gain experience on the field of play. The Bulldogs will begin the season with Bobby Lepori at left tackle, Cole Popovich at left guard, Richard Pacheco at center, Andrew Jackson at right guard, and Kenny Avon at right tackle. Fresno State's starting five average 293 pounds as they have both the size and agility to keep Rutger's defense off of Brandstater. While the Bulldogs have become a great pass blocking unit the past two seasons the fact remains that this offensive line thrives on run blocking more so than any other aspect of offense.
Fresno State's offensive line prior to 2007 had become accustom to seeing a 1,000 yard rusher on the team. Although the Bulldogs did not have a 1,000 yard rusher this past season they were able to gain over 2500 yards rushing from four different running backs. In other words the offensive line in 2007 did just as well as Bulldog fans have become accustom to in the Pat Hill era. There is no reason to think 2008 will be any different. Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding all return for another chance to tear through the opposing team's defense. The Bulldogs offense line once again should have success opening holes for the running backs and protecting Brandstater on passing plays. If Fresno State's offensive line is able to perform anywhere close to the level that they did in 2007 look for the Bulldogs to rack up a large amount of rushing yard while Tom Brandstater enjoys his best season to date.
Rutger's Offensive Line
Rutgers will begin the season with three new offensive linemen. The starting five for Rutgers will go as follows: Anthony Davis at left tackle (first year starter), Kevin Haslam at left guard (first year starter), Ryan Blaszczyk at center, Caleb Ruch at right guard (first year starter), and Mike Gilmartin at right tackle. While having three new offensive linemen is reason for concern Rutgers has become one of the better pass and run blocking units in the nation. In 2007 Rutgers opened hole after hole allowing Ray Rice to rush for over 2,000 yards on the season. At the same time the Rutgers offensive line kept the defense away from Mike Teel only allowing him to be sacked seven times the entire season.
The problem that Rutgers is faced with is the fact that the offensive line must play together right from the first snap of the season. Because Rutgers begins the season with a quality opponent in Fresno State they will not be able to make many mistakes on the offensive line if they want to win this game. The Bulldogs will put pressure on the offensive line of Rutgers early and often in order to force them to deal with situations that most of the offensive line has not faced yet in their early careers. Rutgers has the ability to play well on offense but the game will come down to how well this line has learned to play together in fall camp. If the Scarlet Knights offensive line can keep the Bulldogs defense away from Teel while opening holes for the running backs look for Rutgers to control the tempo of the game and come away with a victory.
The Difference Maker
Fresno State has the luxury of returning a tight end that was already one of the best in college football during his junior season. Bear Pascoe (6-5 260) caught 45 passes for 553 yards and 4 touchdowns during the 2007 season. Pascoe has amazing hands and has the ability to use his frame to catch balls that many other receivers cannot get to. This was evident in the Texas A&M game last season as Bear reeled in two very high throws from Brandstater to keep the game alive. Pascoe has also become a great run blocker which will only lead to more success for him down the line when he makes the jump to the NFL. Pascoe may not have the speed burst that many tight ends do but he is able to run great routes, catch almost anything in his vicinity, and give Brandstater another reliable target to look for on passing plays. Fresno State takes a big step back with respect to their backup tight ends. While Ryan Skidmore has the size to compete he is coming off of his redshirt freshman season. With the status of Drew Lubinski uncertain the bulldogs will have to rely on Skidmore to make an impact from time to time in his freshman season. Overall Fresno State is in a good position with their tight end position. Look for Pascoe to take a bulk of the snaps wreaking havoc on any defense that tries to cover him man to man.
Rutger's Returning Tight End
Rutgers also returns their leading tight end. Kevin Brock enjoyed a decent 2007 season as he caught 23 passes for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brock also has a large frame (6-5 255) and will be used in blocking schemes much in the same way that Pascoe is. If Fresno State does not pay attention to Brock he will cause problems for the Dogs. Most QB's have a knack for finding the receiver that stands at 6-5. Rutgers backup situation at tight end is very similar to Fresno State's due to the fact that Shamar Graves has seen very little playing time up to this point in his career. With that being said look for Rutgers to use the tight end position very similarly to how Fresno State does. The only difference may be that Fresno State tends to throw to their tight end a bit more than Rutgers does. Make no mistake about it, both teams tight ends have the ability to make a difference throughout the course of the game and that is what both defenses must remember.
Keys to the game