1. The NMSU Gameplan
It had to happen, I suppose. A college coach gets desperate. He's having a horrible season, losing to nearly everyone, and then he sees the nation's leading rusher, Ryan Mathews, coming to town, leading a football team that has beaten his school 15 games in a row. This coach is an experienced defensive specialist - in fact, he was the defensive coordinator at UCLA before taking the New Mexico State head coaching position and a coach in the NFL for some years before that.
He decides that he has to stop Mathews at all costs, by loading the box with eight, even nine players and, thereby forcing the Bulldog quarterbacks to throw the ball, if he wants to win.
Well, it worked, sort of, kind of...for about two quarters and part of the third. It was kind of a “New Mexican Standoff”.
The Aggies literally had Mathews double and triple-teamed. At one point, five (5) NMSU players were tackling Mathews en mass (and he still gained three yards). They KNEW the stubborn Pat Hill is still going to run Mathews and they just focused on No. 21, pretty much every play he was in the game.
At the same time, they challenged the Bulldog quarterback Ryan Colburn – called him out.
Plainly displaying his options, they dared him to throw it and... well... he didn't exactly rise to the challenge. Evidenced by ineptitude (his first pass sailed eight or nine feet wide right of a wide open receiver), staring down his receivers, followed by a horribly inopportune interception, a fumble and some other very-near-interceptions, along with bad decision-making and a sense of... well, dithering...he staggered through the first half, completing about 40% of his throws.
He did get his moxie back, somewhat, in the rest of the game, but it can only be called a sad effort, overall.
Meanwhile, the NMSU gameplan to stop Mathews only half-worked, he bulled ahead, dragging the whole Aggie line, it looked like, and gaining a respectable 61 yards in the first half - which, to NMSU, is better than his usual 150!
But, eventually, he broke loose and raced down the right sideline for 18 yards, followed by a 68-yard bolt up the middle to the end zone.
Game over, pretty much, final is 34-3. Mathews sits with 157 yards and two touchdowns under his belt. A win, yes, but frustrating.
2. Derek Carr
Whereas Mr. Colburn appears to be flinging high-arching rocks from a wobbly, inaccurate catapult, Derek Carr is shooting a high-powered rifle, firing bullets at wide receivers with tight spirals that arrive hot, flat and on-target. He throws on the run and seems, unlike Mr. Colburn, to thrive under big pressure.
It struck me, while Carr was playing, that Pat Hill was watching closely. The analyst, on ESPNU, who was a knowledgeable guy - an ex-NFL DB - had no clue about the inside details of Bulldog football.
He was criticizing Hill for allowing Carr to throw it so much. The ESPN guy saw it as a game won, salted away, and now Pat just needed to run the ball. Stop making risky throws.
But I realized, as did most diehards, that Pat Hill was having his backup quarterback to keep on throwing it because he wanted to see what Carr can do!
He was giving Carr a little demo opportunity to display his offensive talents, which feature a serious passing arm. He may also have been sending a little "non-verbal" message to Colburn, to wit -
"You are teetering on the edge of being benched! Here is a young gun who can sling it! You better step up your performance, bub, or this kid is gonna play more, each game!"
3. Special Teams
Things are looking up in special team land, baby!
Blocked kicks and awesome returns set the tone for the Bulldogs best special teams performance of the year. Fresno State is returning to the awesome reputation it once had, as head-hunting, hard-hitting junkyard ‘Dogs, looking for someone to bite!
The Bulldogs are also leading the nation, since 2002, in blocked kicks. That is a Pat Hill specialty! Kenny Wiggins and Ben Jacobs combined for the blocked field goal. Awesome!
I saw something last week, in the San Jose State game, that just weirded me out. Seconds before halftime, the Bulldog special team coach John Baxter brought the punt returner (I think it was Marlon Moore) all the way forward, back up to the line of scrimmage, gambling everything on blocking the kick! There was nobody back there, to catch the punt! It looked really weird for a few seconds - then we blocked the kick and all hell broke loose.
Well, that same attitude carried over to Saturday night in special teams.
There is this reckless, hell-for-leather sense of fierce, attacking abandon. Maybe the best example of it is in the person of Travis Brown, who is just looking for SOMEONE to hit! Desia Dunn is of that mindset, as well.
Marlon Moore and Chastin West were formidable punt returners last night, almost unstoppable. They did this in the absence of my favorite speed demon, Devon Wylie. West took a long one (88 yards) to the house. Stud.
4. Kind of a problem
I don't like the fact that the defensive backs have to make so many tackles.
The ESPNU announcers even mentioned it during the game that cannot be a good thing. The stats don't lie. They are much too high up in the number of tackles, each game, to be healthy. In the same vein, is it my imagination, or is Ben Jacobs not tackling as much as he did? I thought he was, like, a 10-tackle-per-game kinda guy - but now he is, what - like six or seven per game? I don't like it.
On the other hand, A.J. Jefferson is looking better and better, as a tackler, each game. Maybe it is because he HAS to do it! Anyway. Kudo's to him.
5. Solid Defense
My previous point is not an attack of the entire defense, just a troubling detail that irritates me. Truth is the defense played a very solid game on Saturday night.
I mean, 34-3.
Hello? Three points allowed?
I believe they held the Aggies to NEGATIVE yards passing, in the first half! That is solid. Jefferson deserves even more praise for a HUGE pass breakup in the end zone that was a sure NMSU touchdown, without his skill and quickness – just a textbook defensive play. He is starting to look more and more like an NFL player, to me.
The pass rush and pressure on the opposing backfield is hugely upgraded from last year. It is easy to get giddy about this, but it is only comparative improvement, not national prominence, like the running game. Fans get excited because the ‘Dogs were so horrible, last year. Still, it makes a huge difference when you can pressure the quarterback and tackle running backs in their own backfield.
The Bulldog defense was particularly tough in the red zone. No touchdowns allowed. None! On top of that, the defense rubbed salt in the Aggies' wounds by producing a touchdown of their own! See Lorne Bell, below.
Chris Carter, of course, was very active all night, as was Wilson Ramos and Kenny Borg. No. 39, Sean Plummer was flying around the field as well. And Great game for nose tackle Cornell Banks.
6. Ryan Mathews
OK, I will try not to worship. At 1,131 yds, after seven games (actually - less than 6 full games played!), Mathews is separating himself from the rest of the D1 running backs. At 162 yards per game, he is far and away the best back, numerically. The analyst on ESPNU made the excellent point that Ryan is bigger (223 - 227lbs) and stronger than ALL the linebackers and defensive backs that started for the Aggies.
The "sledgehammer", as Tomey calls him. That is actually a really good analogy. It is like a sledge wielded by a muscular arm, striking a cinder block wall. He does significant damage with each whack, but eventually, he is going to break through. Then, he is gone. We saw that, last night.
He has become the focus of opposing defenses. Pat Hill needs to take advantage of that. Personally, I would love to see Robbie Rouse in the same backfield with Mathews – fake a handoff to Mathews (which draws half the defense that are in the box) up the middle and pitch it to Rouse on a reverse...oh, well...it is fun to dream.
7. Lorne Bell
Looking healthy again, the hard-hitting, super aggressive safety, Lorne Bell returns to compete with Chris Carter for the "Heart and Soul of the Bulldog Defense" award.
He was playing his regular game, last night, just laying serious wood, when he saw a wrinkle, stepped up and made a sweet pick, followed by a race for the end zone, which he won!
Great play, great player, glad you are back, Mr. Bell. Hope you stay healthy. Fresno State is a much better team, with you around.
8. Pat Hill Blew It!
The Aggies got a fumble recovery when the replay clearly showed the ground caused the fumble. Pat didn't challenge it. I was yelling at the screen. Even the ESPNU announcers mentioned that Pat better do something before the snap. He didn't. Dang.
9. The Wacky WAC
I guess the Idaho Vandals got yanked back down to the real world on Saturday afternoon. The Nevada Wolf Pack lit them up for 70! Ouch, that is going to leave a mark. Although I did not see the game, I understand that Colin Kaepernick had over 230 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. That may be a problem, right there.
Boise killed Hawaii. Duh. Utah State squeaked by Louisiana Tech. Snore…
Next up for the 'Dogs is the above mentioned Utah State, in Fresno. Hope the ‘Dogs don't take a nap.
10. Last but not least...
I thought Jamel Hamler had a fine game, last night. Seems to stepping into his own. Welcome, Jamel, you are becoming a star.
Redroadster is highly regarded attorney in the Central Valley, a loyal Bulldog fan, and a regular poster/contributor on BarkBoard.com. Check in time to time for his take on games and other Bulldog athletic events in his View from the Roadster.
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