The Fresno State Bulldogs are one of those painfully annoying teams that will never actually have a great year themselves, but are always good enough to wreck havoc on a better team’s championship hopes. Coming off a tough-to-swallow 36-21 defeat to the Cal Bears this past week, it’s safe to assume that this group will be playing like they have something to prove next Saturday when they square off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
"I still believe this will be a very, very good football team," Fresno State head coach Pat Hill said during his postgame news conference. "We had a lot of new guys. There's a lot of moving parts. We're going to go through a few growing pains."
Meanwhile, the Huskers come into this one after a blowout win versus the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs – but a victory that was anything but deafening. Injury concerns, a lack of fluidity in the offense and one notable mistake on the defensive end plagued the club, dampening any joy that they may have otherwise been taken from winning the openining game of the college football year.
Now, for Nebraska, it’s all about fixing the mistakes and ensuring that they hand the Bulldogs their first 0-2 beginning to a season since 2000.
Playing at home is a good start for the Huskers, where they’ve continuously proven themselves to be more or less unbeatable in front of their record-breaking, sellout crowds. Even when the squad was having their oops moments this past Saturday, the hometown fans roared loudly in approval and motivation, rooting for their team in ways that only they can.
In order to improve on the first game of the year, Taylor Martinez and Tim Beck will have to find a way to utilize the former’s underrated arm. Against Chattanooga, it seemed as though every time the young passer felt pressure from any direction – he bolted. The result was three rushing touchdowns, 135 yards and an unparalleled athletic exhibition, but a mere 116 yards through the air. That formula simply cannot be sustained if the Huskers hope to compete with some of the more notable defenses they will encounter in 2011.
Fortunately, despite their somewhat hardnosed reputation, Fresno State has shown a certain knack for letting dual threat quarterbacks run all over them in the recent past. Just last week, Cal’s Zach Maynard -- who is nowhere near the athlete Martinez is, but rather is simply a mobile quarterback -- broke free for 47 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put his team ahead by 12 points.
And if Martinez can give the Bulldogs defense even a little trouble, his defense will do the rest. Between Jared Crick, Lavonte David and the like, it will be a wonder if Fresno State’s recently revamped offensive line can protect their skill players for even part of the game. That line, mind you, featured four brand new starters originally to start the year, and then was forced to replace center Richard Helepiko -- who sustained an ankle injury -- by essentially reconfiguring the already reshuffled unit.
In short – Fresno State’s not exactly scaring anyone up front.
And with no real protection up front, quarterback David Carr was sacked four times and couldn’t lead his team to anything even remotely resembling an adequate offense versus Cal. He finished the day with a mere 142 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and got stripped during one particularly crucial third-quarter drive. The Bulldogs didn’t accumulate 200 yards in the game until late in the fourth quarter – essentially garbage time.
Despite all of the negatives, don’t look for Hill’s bunch to simply cave and hand Nebraska the Week 2 game. That’s not how they’re built.
"I think it is huge to develop as a team," said defensive tackle Logan Harrell, who recorded one of Fresno State's two sacks.
"It is a good thing for us to face good opponents like that and work off [Saturday]. Next week is another huge game for us, and it will determine where we will go as a team."