Who: Fresno State (1-0) @ No.11 Oregon (0-0)
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
When: Saturday, September 4, 11:00AM
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast on the PAC-12 Network
After what can only be described as a thorough demolition of UCONN in Week 0, Fresno State now much head on the road for potentially their toughest game of the year. 9 years after their last meeting, the Bulldogs head again to Eugene, Oregon to play the Oregon Ducks. Let’s take a look at the game, and see if Fresno State could pull off the massive upset.
The Ducks, under 4th year head coach Mario Cristobal, live and die on physicality. The biggest key to that physicality is all-world Defensive End Kayvon Thibodeoux. The Junior is projected on many boards as the No.1 prospect in next year’s NFL draft, and has continued to show why he was the No.1 overall recruit in his class. Fresno State has to plan around stopping or just delaying him long enough for Jake Haener to get the ball out of his hand. If Kayvon can get into the backfield consistently, it could be a very long day for the Bulldog offense.
Unfortunately for Fresno State, the star power of Oregon doesn’t stop there. The tandem of Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell will look to cover off any offensive gains at the second level, where Fresno State has usually been very solid with slants and underneath routes.
If there is one area that the Dogs might be able to attack, it’s Oregon’s secondary. They will be without Jamal Hill and DJ James stemming from an off-season arrest, although this does set up an interesting replacement. At safety, Fresno State will probably see Bennett Williams, brother of Fresno State safety Evan Williams. So if the O-Line can get Haener enough time, expect to try to use the vertical passing game and 4 WR sets to take chunks out of the defense. Fresno having a game already under their belt should help their confidence as well, as they shouldn’t be hit with the normal first-game glitches and nerves
We saw what the offense can do last week, although it would be a bit unfair to compare Oregon’s defense to UCONN’s. This should be a far stiffer test, but Jake Haener has more than enough weapons around him to get the ball to someone that’s open. Will the offensive line give him enough time though is the question? A year after giving up 25 sacks at 4/gm, they surrendered 0 in Week 0. If Fresno State wants any chance at the upset, they will have to keep Haener upright, and give his receivers time to develop separation. Add in Ronnie Rivers rushing the ball and catching it out of the backfield, and Fresno State should put up points still.
Now we really get to see if the defense is improved over last year. After being strongly questioned all through the off-season, they did pitch a shutout against the Huskies and only gave up 107 total yards. Calling UCONN’s offense anemic though is probably overselling them. Now, they’ll face an offense loaded with blue-chip recruits and elite speed. Former Boston College QB Anthony Brown has been announced as the starter, and brings a mix of running and passing back to Oregon that they did not have with Justin Herbert under center. Brown though does have a history of knee injuries, so I wouldn’t expect him to see him running much or putting himself in harm’s way in Game 1.
Outside of Brown, running back CJ Verdell is the real deal, and has the elusive mix of speed and power that Fresno State fans are used to in Ronnie Rivers. Along with Brown and Travis Dye, I would not be surprised to see Oregon try to run the ball early to really test Fresno’s defense. Out wide though, they do have weapons at receiver. Son of Bulldog legend Michael Pittman, Mycah is living up to his recruiting ranking, as is freshman receiver Johnny Johnson III. The Fresno State secondary will have their hands full, and we’ll really see if this 4-2-5 defense is improved in Year 2 under William Inge.
Fresno State Keys to the Upset:
- Get Oregon off schedule- use David Perales, Arron Mosby, Kevin Atkins, and Kwami Jones to get into the backfield and keep Oregon from running their game. Forcing another scoop and score wouldn’t be a bad thing either
- Contain No.5- Not Jalen Cropper, Oregon’s No.5. Kayvon is going to be a monster of a challenge, and Fresno State has to account for him on every play. Keeping him out of Haener’s face will be critical.
- Spread the Ball- it’s no secret that Fresno State has tons of offensive weapons and options, so always find the open man. It might not be a home run, but sometimes, that 5yd gain is exactly what the offense needs to keep the chains moving. And will allow Haener to operate quicker without needing to hang out in the pocket.
- Take advantage of first game jitters- the Dogs already have a game under their belts, while this is Game 1 for Oregon. We saw the Fresno State offense start slow, so we have to take advantage if Oregon does the same. Any sort of miscue has to be used against them, whether it’s drive-killing penalties or dropped passes. Stay aggressive, but don’t stop Oregon from making their own mistakes.
Pretty much everyone sees this game as a relatively easy one for Oregon. Vegas sees them as a 20.5 point favorite, with an O/U at 64. Guess they see this as a 42-21 sort of game. ESPN’s FPI gives the Ducks a 90% chance of victory, save for Bill Connelly’s SP+. Maybe I’m just a homer, but I’m more bullish on the Dogs. I see Oregon starting slow, and Fresno State hanging with them through the first half or even first 3 quarters. In the end though, I see Oregon’s talent as too much to overcome, and they win by between 10-14. For my score prediction, I’ve got-
Fresno State 28-41 Oregon
Maybe I’m completely wrong. We’ll find out Saturday. For all your Mountain West news, keep it glued here.