For Fresno State standards in recent years, this was an 'A' performance. But for sophomore Derek Carr, in just his second career start, it's clear he's capable of much more fine tuning. Carr was 20 of 41 for 254 yards and a touchdown in the loss. But most impressive, Carr seemed to will his team forward, even after the Bulldogs lost the lead for the first time during the third quarter. Carr's first quarter TD scamper, where he leaped over a nebraska defender near the sideline and reached out in mid air to get the ball over the goal line inside the pylon, was No. 2 on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays. Fresno State fans should appreciate the cool, calm, collected Carr when he steps to the line reading defenses and when he drops back or rolls out to pass. It's a true joy to see, especially from an inexperienced QB.
Running Backs: A
One of the most surprising tidbits of the young season is the amount of carries junior Robbie Rouse is getting. Rouse was the undoubted incumbent starter at the position, but there's such talented backups, who all shared in first-team reps during camp, that we expected to see more touches from them. ucla transfer Milton Knox is yet to get a carry. And A.J. Ellis has just one on the year. But a quick look at the stat sheet explains why. Against nebraska, Rouse had 36 carries for 169 yards (4.7 per carry). He didn't have a single carry for negative yardage. And he caught 3 passes for 28 yards. Against a nebraska defense considered one of the nation's best. Rouse's 36 carries were the most against nebraska since Ricky Williams in 1998.
Quite a bit of improvement for the receivers from the season opener to now. But there's still a ways to go. The hot reads aren't coming as smoothly as they should, something that'll have to be done if the Bulldogs truly are going to go from good to great. Isaiah Burse has had a rough first two games -- definitely isn't playing like himself. This group has a lot of big play ability. We saw the special 26-yard TD catch in double coverage to redshirt freshman Josh Harper, and the 55-yard toss to sophomore A.J. Johnson, but are still waiting for Jalen Saunders to get going. Rashad Evans showed off the hands and provided the security blanket with 6 catches for 63 yards.
Offensive Line: A
It was downright painful to listen to some of the local media the past week as they gave blame to the offensive line for the cal loss. While the line came up short, most media members were way off in their assessments, failing to recognize the strength of the run blocking. This week it was made painstakingly obvious. With starting center Richard Helepiko out with injury, and another key lineman going down at the start of the game in left guard Matt Hunt, Trevor Richter stepped in for his first career action and didn't skip a beat. Richter even pancaked one of the vaunted nebraska blackshirts on a key drive. Right tackle Cody Wichmann, in his first start, showed vast improvement from the cal game when he was forced into action. And how about Leslie Cooper, filling in for Helepiko at center and matching up with nebraska All-American Trevor Crick. At times, Cooper dominated Crick, answering his spin move and stopping him in his tracks. With Carr often rolling out to pass, the line gave Carr plenty of time and allowed zero sacks (we'll see how many times that happens to nebraska all year).
Defensive Line: C-
Though Fresno State was impressive most of the game in shutting down nebraska's offense, the Bulldogs were done in by allowing a handful of big plays. Against a one-dimensional QB in Taylor Martinez, the Bulldogs likely would have won if they were able to remain assignment sound and contain the edge when Martinez kept the ball and ran. The most costly came on third down and 3. A stop would have given the Bulldogs the ball back with plenty of time to go after the winning score, but instead, Martinez scampered right around the tackle and broke a long, game-clinching TD run. Give Logan Harrell and Chase McEntee credit for shutting down everything up the middle, but the edge of the line was inconsistent at best. Matt Akers had the only sack of the game for either team, and Tristan Okpalaugo showed some promising tenacity. But the Bulldogs have to improve in this area before games against utah state and nevada.
Though Kyle Knox was tied for the team lead with 8 tackles, he looked a step slow reacting to nebraska's option attack most of the game. Knox was caught out of position numerous times, something you don't want out of the senior leader of your defense. This group really has to work as one with the front four to become the type of defense capable of shutting down mobile QBs.
Defensive Backs: C-
The Bulldogs cannot afford any more injuries at the safety position. Sophomore Derron Smith went down after a potentially game-changing play in the first half and missed about a quarter of action. That left Terrance Dennis and Zak Hill as the two safeties -- both are liabilities in coverage right now, though Hill has showed much improvement. Dennis tied for the team lead with 8 tackles, and is a big hitter, but has got to improve in man coverage. The Bulldogs were again burned over the top by an inaccurate QB. What happens when they play quarterbacks who can throw well (Kellen Moore anyone)? Smith's early interception could have led to a double-digit lead for Fresno State, but was negated when he didn't protect the ball, flailing his arm behind him without tucking it in, and got hit hard and fumbled it right back to nebraska. He'll learn from the mistake, but the Bulldogs just hope he's healthy.
Special Teams: C
For the second straight week, special teams negated a great play -- or plays -- by giving up a crushing play. Devon Wylie opened up the scoring by returning a punt 67 yards for a TD. But the Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return that completely shifted the momentum nebraska's way after Harper's big TD grab. That return may very well have cost Fresno State the win. On a positive note, Kevin Goessling got out of that brutal Candlestick wind and returned to normal, with three field goals of 22, 36 and 37 yards. Hold your breath though, punter and kickoff specialist Andrew Shapiro (who hasn't been much of a specialist when it comes to kickoffs) was injured on the 100-yard return. Goessling came in for the final kickoff and booted it deep into the end zone for a touchback, but the 'Dogs need Shapiro for punts.
Give Pat Hill and staff huge credit for designing a gameplan to render nebraska's pass rush useless. From the get-go, Fresno State rolled Carr out of the pocked, relieving pressure off of the offensive line and buying lots of time in the passing game. The Bulldogs dominated nebraska's defense for a quarter or more, but the problem, as is often the case with Hill's teams, was in-game adjustments. nebraska's adjustments outweighed Fresno State's and the Huskers fought back and eventually took the lead.
Sunday, September 11, 2011