For insight on the Bulldogs, we went to the SBNation community Mountain West Connection, who covers the entire conference. Matthew Kenerly covers Fresno State for the site, and we reached out to him for the answers to what to expect tomorrow night. We thank him for his help, and invite you to follow him on twitter for insight during the game.
1. Well, not a great start for the Bulldogs this year, as they have gone on the road and given up two 50 point games to USC and Utah. Is it fair to say that this team is better than this? Or is this something that is going to linger all year?
My answer to the first question is going to sound like a cop-out to some people, but while I feel like the Bulldogs should be better than they've looked in the first couple weeks, I have no idea yet whether they actually are. Most fans around the Valley felt like it was going to be a reloading year rather than a rebuilding year, but the big questions that hung over the team (chiefly at QB and CB) throughout the fall still haven't been answered. Now, at 0-2, there's a distinct possibility that history could repeat itself, that the hangover from "Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere Gone Wrong" could take the season to a dark place.
2. Tim DeRuyter is a guy who seems to be mentioned for all the high end Power 5 jobs that come up, and rightfully so. Two years, two Mountain West titles. How much longer can Fresno hold on to him before he may leave for greener ($$) pastures, or could he stay for a spell?
I am an optimist in this regard, especially considering the university ponied up to give DeRuyter a raise and extend his contract through 2018 during the last offseason. The carousel which sweeps coaches from their mid-majors into the waiting arms of Power 5 programs has continually passed over Fresno State and, though it probably sounds hokey, there's something to be said for the legacy that Jim Sweeney built and Pat Hill continued by roaming the sidelines and having success here for so long. My guess is DeRuyter stays on the Chris Petersen path and contends for a few more Mountain West titles before moving on.
3. With the departure of Derek Carr, it looks like Brandon Connette gets the keys to the offense this year. He hasn’t been terrible, but hasn’t been great. What have you seen from him that gives you confidence he’ll pick it up and get better in Dave Schramm’s offense?
Actually, Brian Burrell has been the nominal starter in the first two games and, though the numbers don't look pretty, it wouldn't surprise me if they ran him out there to start again. If you look back at Schramm's playcalling in the last two games, it's almost like he's insisting the Bulldogs are still a pass-first team when they've had more success establishing the ground game. Of course, Burrell deserves some share of responsibility for his own ineffectiveness thus far, but I'd argue he has the slightly stronger arm and nearly as much mobility as Connette.
What I like about Connette, though, is that he's not afraid of a little contact if it means getting that extra yard or two. That kind of play, the zone-read stuff they've introduced to a small degree, has really jump-started the offense when he's taken the field. However, the fact is he's come in down by 24 and 17 points and both defenses were more than happy to get down the field one first down at a time. If he does start like everyone thinks he will it's going to be interesting to see how effective he is when the situation isn't quite so dire and the Huskers are ready for anything.
4. Marteze Waller has been your best RB, while Josh Harper has been statistically your best wideout. What other playmakers are we going to see on offense?
I've maintained that Aaron Peck has the potential to be the next Davante Adams because of his combined size and speed although, you know, it'd be hard for anyone to match Adams' gaudy numbers. At 6'3" and 213 pounds, Peck is the biggest receiver on the team, and even with the QB struggles last week you could see his playmaking ability. If the 'Dogs can get the situation sorted out under center, he could easily surpass 1000 yards.
And because the Bulldogs run an up-tempo spread, the guys who line up in the slot are going to have to receive some attention from Nebraska's defensive backs. Keep an eye on Greg Watson, who's come up big in critical situations before (he scored the winning touchdown last year against Rutgers) and scored twice late last week.
5. The defense has been... well, brutalized. But, returning home and a night game at Bulldog Stadium against a offense that has gone Jekyll and Hyde.. what are the weaknesses and strengths of this D so far this season?
The one thing that the Bulldogs can hang their hat on despite the overall performance is that they've had sporadic success on run defense. They've already accumulated 14 tackles for loss, but the problem has been tackling with consistency. Let me tell you, watching the defense make a stop in the backfield on second down only to have the opposition convert third-and-long with a big pass play gets old in a hurry. Fresno's outside linebackers, Donavon Lewis and Ejiro Ederaine, were better known last year as a fearsome pass-rushing tandem, but their performance stopping the run could be the key to a victory given that Ameer Abdullah is the one guy that must be contained on early downs.
Even if they are successful in that regard, though, the corners have been horrendous enough that it wouldn't surprise me to see either Jordan Westerkamp or Kenny Bell (or, heaven forbid, both guys) go over 100 yards with a couple of scores. Derron Smith is unquestionably Fresno's best player on defense, but he and fellow safety Charles Washington haven't had any time to be playmakers because they've been too busy scrambling to account for blown coverages. If Armstrong is able to hit a big pass early, it could signal a long night.
6. Bulldog Stadium isn’t very big, but we’re guessing a fair part of the 41k in attendance will be for the Huskers. What are your fan expectations for the game? And, for those coming to the game, where should the out of towners go to eat and hang out?
The tickets for this game sold out within minutes when they were first made available, and each subsequent release has been met with similar demand, so the Red Wave will be out in full force when Big Red takes the field on Saturday night. For any Nebraska fans who happened to watch last year's Fresno State/Boise State tilt, I think that's about what you can expect to see.
As for local recommended eats, I would be remiss if I did not mention In 'n Out because, yes, it is as good as advertised (there are five convenient locations!) (Authors note: DAMN RIGHT). If you're in the mood for something a little heartier, you must experience tri-tip at either Westwoods BBQ, Tahoe Joe's or the Dog House Grill. Campagnia and Veni Vidi Vici are a couple of good higher-end options, while the Fresno Breakfast House is the best bet for the most important meal of the day. The rest of the shortlist will depend on taste and/or your sense of adventure, and would have to include The Landmark (Basque/American), La Elegante Taqueria and Casa Corona (Mexican), Sushi and Pop (Japanese), Phoenician Garden (Mediterranean) and Lucy's Lair (Ethiopian). Consult Yelp for details!
7. Give us any names we should watch that haven’t been mentioned above.
His name isn't going to jump out at you in the box score, but the Bulldogs have made it a point to rotate defensive lineman Tyeler Davison between end to nose guard in our aggressive 3-4 front in order to take advantage of his versatility. He's an all-conference performer who allows the linebackers to clean up behind him, and should figure prominently in Fresno's fortunes early.
Also, keep an eye on Malique Micenheimer. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that he'd be the big bruising running back the Bulldogs could use as a bit of a change-up. The way things have turned out, though, Micenheimer's been on the field when Connette is at QB and has proven to be a surprisingly effective pass-catcher in the early going. The Bulldogs threw a ton of passes to their running backs last year, which was an underrated part of their success, and when you consider Connette's running ability it's easy to understand why defenders would key in on him and allow the other guy in the backfield to slip out into the open. I'll be interested in just how often he sees the field on Saturday night.
8. Alright, finally prediction time. Tell us how you see the game unfolding, and whether the Bulldogs make it 14 in a row at home or if Nebraska ends the streak Saturday night.
Sadly, I am not feeling great about this game. If the 'Dogs sputter on offense in the first quarter again, that will make it very hard to win and would definitely deflate the home crowd. Neither quarterback has inspired much confidence thus far, and my gut says the Huskers make their Saturday night yet another miserable experience. 38-14, Nebraska wins.