The Fresno State Bulldogs will host the Utah State Aggies in the first MWC title game this Saturday. While casual fans will catch on to the common narrative -- unstoppable offense meets immovable defense -- chances are that individual matchups will determine how the game develops. I believe that the five players discussed here are going to have very important roles.
1. Curtis Riley, cornerback
I have not minced words regarding Riley. He has been thrust into an assignment in which he has been overwhelmed. His most obvious struggles have come while trying to contain San Diego State's Ezell Ruffin and San Jose State's Chandler Jones, two of the conference's best receivers, so perhaps he caught a break because Utah State does not have anyone of that ilk.
Like it or not, he will again be the number one corner. My hope is that defensive coordinator Nick Toth will give Riley help by dialing back pressure packages, but the 'Dogs will blitz and Riley will have to win one-on-one.
2. Da'Mari Scott, wide receiver/kick returner
For as dynamic as Fresno's offense has been all season, it is worth noting that they have not often benefitted from great field position. Scott has assumed kick return duties in the last few weeks and has been... well, he's been okay. He has averaged 19.3 yards per return. USU has the best kick return coverage in the conference, though, to go along with its well-regarded defense.
One big return can change the field position battle even if the offense is unable to find the end zone. Scott will do well to help Derek Carr begin drives outside of the 20.
3. Austin Wentworth, left tackle
Derek Carr has blossomed in a very quarterback friendly system, but the offensive line has mostly kept him upright in allowing just eight sacks. Utah State will test their resolve, especially with pressure from their touted linebacker corps, because the Aggies have racked up 29 sacks. Wentworth protects Carr's blind side, and my guess is that he will be very familiar with Kyler Fackrell by game time.
4. Tyeler Davidson, defensive lineman
The games against Nevada and Wyoming showed that Fresno was capable of shutting down potent running attacks, and a great deal of credit for this is owed to the all-conference nose guard in the trenches. His name is rarely brought up in broadcasts, but since the Aggies will want to keep Carr and company on the sidelines, Davidson will want to win against Tyler Larsen, an NFL-caliber center. Clogging the running lanes will make life a lot easier for Kyrie Wilson and Karl Mickelsen.
5. Marteze Waller, running back
It's not a coincidence that Fresno has run into the most trouble when forced to abandon the running game. It is a pass-first attack, no doubt, but the loss to San Jose State must have been especially frustrating to Waller because he touched the ball just eight times. For some reason, he has lost playing time to Josh Quezada despite similar production. If the game devolves into a slugfest, Waller will have to be part of the solution that wears down the Aggie front seven.