2015 CFB Preview – Fresno State

    Fresno State BulldogsGo to Team Page BulldogsGo to Selection Page           It seemed like everything went wrong last season. By

    July 1, 2015

    Fresno State
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    It seemed like everything went wrong last season.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Fresno State went to a bowl game with a losing record – and got drilled by Rice in an embarrassing 30-6 loss. The offense came up with almost 1,400 fewer yards than it did in 2013. There wasn’t a high-flying passing game. There wasn’t any real defense to speak of. The team couldn’t win the turnover battle, couldn’t control games, and the special teams were lousy.

    And what else?

    It went to the Mountain West title game for the second year in a row.

    Last year was a major season of transition after losing so many key parts to the juggernaut offense of 2013, and while it wasn’t pretty, and there were losses to Hawaii and UNLV along the way, the Bulldogs scratched and clawed their way back to the title game. Yeah, they lost to Boise State, but getting to the conference championship was a massive success.

    This year’s team doesn’t have to undergo anywhere near the same type of overhaul, but now the bar has been set at title game or bust. If last year’s team could do it with all the problems and all the issues, then the program has to be able to push for at least the shot every year.

    With only four starters gone on defense and four more from the offense, there should be more consistency. There should be more firepower, more big plays, and more from both sides of the ball after never seeming to be able to come up with the same performance twice in a row.

    Head coach Tim DeRuyter is still around after three years at the helm, but if he can gear his team back up to a championship level, and if he’s able to show that it took just one year to reload the machine, he could be next year’s hot coaching prospect.

    However, he’s known for putting together great defenses, and he hasn’t done that yet. He needs to do more with a group that allowed 456 yards and over 32 points per game, while hoping the offense can be more fun and wild than it was throughout last year.

    The coaching staff is in place, and the team is better than the 2013 version. That means it’s time to make it three title game trips in a row.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: With seven starters back, the Bulldogs should be more consistent. The offense predictably fell down a few notches after losing Derek Carr and the top receiving weapons, but the running game still worked and the passing attack put up yards, even if it wasn’t efficient. This year, the line should be solid with three starters returning and RB Marteze Waller to add flash to the offense. The quarterback situation needs to be figured out, with Zack Greenlee having a slight edge in a three man race, but the receiving corps has to come through and be more explosive.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: Considering the coaching staff is supposed to know how to take care of a defense, it isn’t working out. Some of the stars of last year are gone, but the 3-4 has the linebackers with Kyrie Wilson inside, Ejiro Ederaine outside. Safety Derron Smith might be gone, but the other three starters are back in a secondary that should be stronger. Overall, the defense needs to come up with more timely plays and it has to get off the field. With the returning experience and athleticism, it should be able to do that.

    What to watch for on offense: Expect even more of a reliance on the running game. The troubled quarterback situation means Marteze Waller and the ground game will have to carry the attack a bit more after doing a solid job throughout last season. The receivers will be better, and there’s enough talent at quarterback to find an option to step in and produce, but the line should be a strength as the season rolls on as it paves the way for Waller and a ball control attack. It might not be fun like it was two years ago, but the team went 4-0 last year when it hit the 200-yard mark. The program has won its last 13 games when it ran for 200 yards or more.

    What to watch for on defense: The secondary has to start coming up with more stops and more big plays. Opposing quarterbacks got way too comfortable completing 60% of their passes and averaging close to nine yards per attempt. The Bulldog secondary gave up 32 scoring plays and came up with just nine picks, as opposed to the secondary in 2012 that allowed 15 scores and intercepted 22 passes. The 2013 defense could be forgiven – everyone had to desperately throw to try to match the Bulldog O – but this year, even with safety Derron Smith gone there should be more production with three starters returning.

    The team will be far better if … it wins the turnover battle. The Bulldogs could overcome mistakes two years ago by bombing away and cranking up the offense a few notches. Last year, not so much. They lost in turnover margin six times and lost five of the games – only getting by lowly New Mexico despite being a -2. On the flip side, they were 4-1 – only losing to Nebraska – when on the positive side. Considering controlling the game with the ground attack will be more vital than ever this season, Fresno has to be on the right side of the mistakes. Always.

    The schedule: The Bulldogs need the opener against Abilene Christian. It’s a must with three of the next four games on the road starting out with a date at Ole Miss.
    – There’s no Boise State from the Mountain, but Air Force, Colorado State and Utah State makes for a nasty interdivisional slate.
    – Not only does Fresno State get a run of three road games in four weeks in the first half of the season, but it gets a second three road game in four week run in the second half.
    – The big West showdown against San Diego State is on the road, but Nevada is at home before going off to Hawaii.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the regular season finale against Colorado State. Not only does Fresno State have to go on the road to Hawaii and BYU in back-to-back weeks, but it has to gear it back up for the Rams in the regular season finale. It’ll almost certainly matter in the West race.

    Best offensive player: Senior RB Marteze Waller. The Georgia native turned out to be a solid and consistent back, carrying the team at times. The quarterbacks turned out to be a big help with the rushing production, but the 1-2 punch of Waller and Josh Quezada was solid and occasionally sensational. More of a speed back who cranks out yards in chunks rather than a chain-mover, when he gets the ball with a little daylight, he’s getting six yards. The shaky offense really, really needs that.

    Best defensive player: Senior LB Kyrie Wilson. With the team’s top two tacklers gone – Karl Mickelsen and Derron Smith – the Bulldogs need their veteran inside linebacker to do even more after finishing third on the team with 90 tackles. At 6-2 and 238 pounds he has the size to go along with the hitting ability, and now he’s the true anchor with some decent young talent working around him including Ejiro Ederaine on the outside. Ederaine is flashier. Wilson is more of a rock for the run D.

    Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Zack Greenlee. Duke transfer Brandon Connette didn’t really work out so hot, and 2013 starter Brian Burrell decided to stop playing for Fresno State. That means it’s up to Greenlee, or redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson, or true freshman Chason Virgil to take over the job and be the main man. No one grabbed the gig this offseason, but it’s Greenlee who has been around the longest and seems to have the slight edge. He might not have the size, but he has the arm, the upside, and again, at least compared to the other options, the experience.

    The season will be a success if … Fresno State goes back to the Mountain West title game. Boise State, Utah State, Colorado State, and possibly Air Force are all better than the Bulldogs coming into the season – but they’re in the Mountain division. Nevada is okay, and San Diego State looks terrific in the West, but Fresno State is used to being in the title hunt now. Even if make it three straight title appearances.

    Key game: Oct. 3 at San Diego State. The Nevada game is at home, and if Fresno State is even thinking about winning the West, it can’t blink against teams like Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV. The key to last season was a 24-13 win over the Aztecs early on in the Mountain West season, and this year it might be for the division title yet again. Fresno State has won all three meetings between the two as Mountain Westers.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Penalties: Opponents 109 for 905 yards – Fresno State 59 for 546 yards
    – First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 129 – Fresno State 67
    – Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 16-of-27 (59%) – Fresno State 16-of-32 (47%)

    Players You Need To Know

    1. RB Marteze Waller, Sr.
    While he came up with a few nice moments on the field in his first two years, Waller was mostly known for ripping it up in the classroom as a Mountain West All-Academic star. Last year he got his shot to carry the workload, and he rolled, running for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns averaging over six yards per carry, and added 27 catches for 120 yards. Not a workhorse, he only carried the ball more than 20 times twice, but he made the most of his chances with 163 yards on just 19 carries against New Mexico and 164 yards on 18 runs against Boise State. While he’s a built 5-11 and 214 pounds, he’s not really a blaster on the inside – even though he was great around the goal line. He’s at his best when he gets the ball in the open field and can use his speed and quickness to tear off big dashes.

    2. OT Alex Fifita, Sr.
    The Bulldogs came up with a nice season on the ground, and it started with Fifita, a 6-4, 303-pound versatile blocker. He spent most of his time in his freshman year at right tackle, moved over to left guard as a sophomore, and last year settled in at left tackle now as the team’s key pass protector. The all-star is anchor of the line that might not be big, but can move. Fifita is the biggest body up front.

    3. LB Kyrie Wilson, Sr.
    The 6-2, 238-pound veteran knows what he’s doing as one of the most productive tacklers on a defense that hasn’t come up with enough big plays over the last few years. With tackle Tyeler Davison and safety Derron Smith gone, Wilson is the new star and the new leader of the defense making 177 tackles over the last two seasons. Last year he came up with 90 stops from his inside position to go along with two picks, an interception return for a score against Southern Utah and 6.5 tackles for loss. With 13 tackles against USC and ten against both New Mexico and Boise State, he knows how to clog things up with good range and toughness around the ball.

    4. LB Ejiro Ederaine, Sr.
    It took a year to get his feet wet, but once he figured it out as a sophomore, he rolled late in the season with 63 tackles and a team-leading ten sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. The 6-3, 221-pound speedster wasn’t as much of a pass rusher last season, but he still came up with 64 tackles with two sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Terrific late in the season, he came up with 19 tackles over the final two games with four tackles for loss against Boise State. It’s all there to do far more and be turned loose to the quarterback more and more this year with a great burst and closing ability. The defense needs him to be a threat.

    5. CB Charles Washington, Sr.
    Smart, big and tough, the 5-11, 197-pound corner hits like a safety with the versatility to see time in several spots. A strong safety for most of his sophomore season, he came up with 71 tackles and was excellent at getting behind the line. Last year he saw time both at safety and corner, finishing with 78 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and two picks, making 11 tackles against Utah and eight against USC. There might be talent and veterans in the secondary, but he’s the star.

    6. TE Chad Olsen, Soph.<
    The athletic 6-5, 222-pounder is more like a big wide receiver than a blaster of a blocker, but he still earned all-star status after coming up with 13 catches for 150 yards and four scores despite only catching passes in six games. He has the frame, the size, and the hands to be a safety valve and a field stretcher, and considering the inexperience at receiver, he’s going to be a bigger part of the attack.

    7. WR Aaron Peck, Sr.
    With 32 catches for 419 yards and three scores, Peck did his best as a complement to Josh Harper and Greg Watson. While he might have been No. 3 in the receiver pecking order, this year he should become more of a main target with his 6-3, 213-pound size and fight for the ball. A basketball player playing football, he can get down the field and is solid at 50/50 balls. Now he has to be the leader of a rising corps.

    8. QB Zack Greenlee, Soph.
    It’s an iffy quarterback situation with Kilton Anderson and Chason Virgil two promising young prospects getting an equal shot for the job. The 6-1, 200-pound Greenlee has more time in the system and the talent to be the one to take over as the main man. A tremendous recruit for the program, he was an Elite 11 camper with tremendous speed to go along with his live arm. Now he has to produce, though, rushing 12 times for 45 yards in his limited opportunities while being up and down as a passer – he completed just 7-of-18 passes for 49 yards in the Rice debacle. There’s too much talent and too much upside not to be a force – if he can grab the gig.

    9. P Garrett Swanson, Sr.
    An all-star kicker two years ago, he came up with good blast on his kickoffs and did a nice job averaging 43.1 yards per punt. He didn’t get as much help last season, but he was still excellent averaging 40.7 yards per kick forcing 32 fair catches and putting 26 inside the 20. He can air it out, but he only came up with three touchbacks on his 82 punts. He’s one of the team’s best and most consistent weapons.

    10. DE Todd Hunt, Sr.
    Back from a torn ACL, he rose up over the first few years as a spot starter, but last year he found his groove with 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 263 pounds he has the bulk to survive on the end in the 3-4, and the quickness to get behind the line from time to time. Consistent, he was good against the run all year long with his best performance coming against Hawaii with a sack and two tackles for loss. Always a part of a rotation, he’ll get more of a chance to make the job his.

    Head Coach: Tim DeRuyter
    4th year: 26-14
    Schedule
    Sept. 5 Abilene Christian
    Sept. 12 at Ole Miss
    Sept. 19 Utah
    Sept. 26 at San Jose State
    Oct. 3 at San Diego State
    Oct. 10 Utah State
    Oct. 17 UNLV
    Oct. 24 at Air Force
    Oct. 31 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 7 Nevada
    Nov. 14 at Hawaii
    Nov. 21 at BYU
    Nov. 28 Colorado State
    Ten Best Fresno State Players
    1. RB Marteze Waller, Sr.
    2. OT Alex Fifita, Sr.
    3. LB Kyrie Wilson, Sr.
    4. LB Ejiro Ederaine, Sr.
    5. CB Charles Washington, Sr.
    6. TE Chad Olsen, Soph.
    7. WR Aaron Peck, Sr.
    8. QB Zack Greenlee, Soph.
    9. P Garrett Swanson, Sr.
    10. DE Todd Hunt, Sr.

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