Game day is approximately 24 hours away when Fresno State hosts Utah State for the inaugural Mountain West title game. The game has been broken down in detail from both sides, the coaches have spoke and we have interviewed experts on this game; so now it is time for one final preview of the game.
Fresno State has the top offense and Utah State has the best defense in the Mountain West, and neither of those units will have faced an offense or defense of this caliber. Fresno State's toughest defense they faced is likely San Diego State or Boise State; while the best offense Utah State has faced is BYU. It is safe to say that this is the toughest unit that these top rated one's per team will be the most challenging on Saturday.
When Fresno State has the ball:
This is quite simple in that quarterback Derek Carr will be slinging the ball to his trio of wide receivers in Devante Adams, Isiah Burse and Josh Harper, assuming he is healthy. Adams is the most talented of the group but the others are not far behind; however, Adams has been the playmaker as he has 22 touchdowns so far this year.
What makes Fresno State's offense run so well is that the offensive line protects Carr very well and he gets rid of the ball at a Peyton Manning style of speed, which is fast. That offensive line has allowed Carr to be sacked just eight times. The bulldogs offensive line will be tested as the Aggies led the Mountain West in sacks with 31.
Fresno State will not go away from what they do well, but they probably will get running backs Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller involved more than normal, at least early on Quezada has been slowly earning more carries as the season has gone on over Waller, and is almost a two-thirds to one-thirds ratio in carries.
With how fast and strong the Utah State defense is with Kyler Fackrell, Nick Vigil and Jake Doughty at the linebacker spot this could force Fresno State into running some counter plays, pulling guards or tackles, screens and play action sets to keep that defense from being able to just pin back and attack Carr.
The odds are that Fresno State will not be able to be slowed down on Saturday night to the extent where they will be struggling to get points. The Bulldogs may just have to work a bit harder to get points against Utah State, but still look for them to put up a decent amount of yards.
The key for Utah State's defense is to create pressure on Carr and they probably will have their chances to get in his face, but to be successful they need to stop Fresno State drives short and force them into field goals, and also create turnovers.
When Utah State has the ball:
This matchup between Utah State's offense and Fresno State's defense could be more important than the opposite units squaring off. The Aggies have used true freshman Darell Garretson over the past six weeks ever since star quarterback Chuckie Keeton tore his ACL. Garretson is not the same dynamic quarterback as Keeton but he is certainly getting the job done, and in his time as a starter is averaging 186.2 yards per game passing the ball and has nine touchdwowns to four interceptions.He is able to avoid the sack but he is averaging just under 11 yards per game rushing the ball.
The running game has stepped up with Joey DeMartino and he should get a lot of carries this Saturday. He has just over 1,000 yards on the season and 12 touchdowns. DeMartino is the player that will keep the Fresno State defensive line from just rearing back and attacking Garretson. The Fresno State defense is not known for being known for a great unit, but what they do well is get after the quarterback. This year they have racked up 31 sacks which leads the Mountain West and they are third in the league with 89 tackles for a loss.
Fresno State will want to create pressure against Garreston and force him into mistakes, and that pressure will possibly allow to mask the Bulldogs secondary which has underperformed this; part of which is due to injury.
The Aggies should try to get the ball to reeiveres Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen, and if that happens on a consistant basis then Fresno State could be in real trouble. These receivers are not as good as San Jose State's Chandler Jones but they are probably similar to what San Diego State and Boise State have, and those two latter team's wide outs had some good games against Fresno State.
This is another area that could determine game, specifically in the punt return game on both sides. Isiah Burse has a pair of touchdowns and averages over 14 yards per return, and Utah State has Bruce Natson who also has a pair of touchdowns and averages over 11 yards per game. Fresno State normally doesn't punt too much since they go for it on fourth down more often than most teams, and also their offense will just score touchdowns instead of punting.
As for field goal kicking the two teams are a wash as each kicker has missed five on the year.
The main focus on this game has always been what Fresno State's high powered offense can do against a very good Utah State defense. Saturday night we will all find out if the saying that defense wins championships is still accurate, or if Fresno State's offense is too much.
Expect Carr to get plenty of yards on Saturday through the air but some drives may come up short due to Utah State's defense. This will not be a game where Fresno State will score over 40 points, but at most the mid-30s, and that is what Utah State needs tohave happen. If the Bulldogs get out to a quick two or more touchdown lead that likely will spell the end for Utah State because they do not have the offense to catch up if they fall into a big hole. Also, a shootout would favor Fresno State over Utah State, because once again the Aggies offense is not built upon to score a lot of points.
Utah State will need to get to Carr early on and make him throw the ball away sooner than later, and also force them into third down situations, and though it seems odd shorter distances would be better. Goning under center is not something Fresno State does all that often so even if it is 3rd-and-1 they still may line up in shotogun even if they are going to hand the ball off, and while Fresno State's offensive line is a good one they are not equipped to be a power team.
This game will likely have a pair of outcomes: First, Fresno State will just start out hot and get out to an early lead by scoring touchdowns on their first few possesions and having Utah State to play catcup all night which they likely can not not do. The other way is that Utah State's defense does slow down Fresno State and keep this ga game where the winner will be threatening to get to 30 points, and if that happens then Utah State is likely to win that style of game.