Talk about an unhappy birthday for Kalen DeBoer. His 45th birthday, and coaching debut for Fresno State ended with a bad loss to Hawaii on Saturday, and now he has to face Colorado State with only 5 days between games. The Bulldogs look for their first win in 2020 in what becomes CSU’s first game after their matchup with New Mexico was canceled because of COVID concerns. Let’s take a look.
Can the Fresno State offense bounce back in Week 2?
Much of the off-season hype for Fresno State came on the offensive side, where they returned a glut of skill position players, a highly touted QB transfer in Jake Haener, and DeBoer’s return after running hyper-efficient offenses in 2017 and 2018. We saw brief glimpses of those things on Saturday, but we saw a lot more inefficiency and turnovers dooming any sort of rhythm. Haener committed 4 turnovers against what is supposed to be a thoroughly mediocre Hawaii defense, although the 3rd INT was more on Keric Wheatfall letting the ball bounce right off his hands. Still, the Bulldogs have to be better, and that begins with Haener. He very much looked like a guy who hasn’t started a game since high school, and got flustered under pressure, leading to mistakes. He showed glimpses of a strong arm with good throws to Wheatfall and Chris Coleman, but the plays weren’t often enough to really keep things moving. There was a really surprising lack of Jalen Cropper in the offense, and passes to the running backs were missing. Look for both to get more involved in Week 2 and into the rest of the season to keep the offense moving.
Josh Kelly and Erik Brooks though were pleasant surprises, with both having big games after no participation in 2019. Kelly looked to be the go-to target for Haener, with Brooks providing a good safety valve out of the slot. If Haener can spread the ball around, and remove the turnovers from his game, he could become the upgrade Bulldog fans were expecting going into this season.
Where was the 3rd down defense?
Fresno State fans knew the defense would be a question mark going into Week 1, with a new scheme and a host of new players, but no one expected they’d give up 323 yards on the ground to Hawaii, and allow 8/11 conversions on 3rd down. The 4-2-5 defense still looks very new to the players, the loss of Justin Rice continues to loom large, and the rush defense was abysmal. That spells big trouble down the line in a conference that loves to run the ball. Now, this could all be down to installing a new defense in a year without Spring, Summer, or really Fall practices, but the drop-off from the elite 2018 defense to now is really concerning for Fresno State fans if they want to get back to winning games, especially going against a Steve Addazio offense in Week 2 that likes to run.
We found out after the game that Aaron Mosby has been playing injured, which severely limited his effectiveness, and meant that none of 2019’s starting linebackers were there in the middle for 2020, but the speed and aggression has to be better for a unit that wants to return to elite status. Look for an increased role for Justin Houston and Sherwin King Jr. if Mosby is not healthy going forward.
The biggest bright spots for Fresno State are the return of Kwami Jones, who had 3 sacks in the first quarter against Hawaii, and walk-on Bralyn Lux, who looked more like a seasoned veteran than the redshirt freshman he actually is. He forced a fumble on the first play of the game, and had several very strong plays in coverage, really justifying his starting spot in the lineup.
Previewing the Game against Colorado State:
This one is a bit of a question mark. Colorado State is another MWC team with a new coach that is quite different from their old coach, and starting QB Colin Hill followed Mike Bobo to South Carolina. Patrick O’Brien seems to be the bet as starter, but there has been no real indication one way or the other. Izzy Matthews is also gone now, as is Warren Jackson. Trey McBride returns, as do Ty McCullough and Nate Craig-Myers, so the passing threats remain. This truly depends on whether Addazio sticks to his Boston College offense of run first, second, and third, or if he goes for more of a passing offense. Given what we saw out of the Fresno State defense in Week 1, they’ll probably try to keep the ground game going to pressure the Bulldog front 6.
I’m honestly not really sure where to go with this one. Fresno State showed glimpses of being a good team, but there was way too many mistakes, and too much rust and insecurity showing on both sides to get there in Week 1. This is Colorado State’s first game, and they’re also dealing with canceled practices this week because of snow in Fort Collins. I highly doubt Jake Haener turns the ball over 4 times again, but I kind of doubt the defense gets it completely together after only 5 days since the last game. I think this will be an ugly game for both teams, but the skill position players of Fresno State eventually getting a win. I’m not seeing a high scoring affair for either side, mostly because of mistakes and sloppy play than anything to do with the defenses. Colorado State is a point and a half favorite, FPI gives them a 66% chance of winning on the road. I think the margin will be close, but the first game jitters bite the Rams down the stretch, and Fresno State wins a close one to get back to .500