Bulldogs hope to finally finish strong
SIXTH IN A SERIES » As usual, Fresno State was talented and deep at many positions in 2005, and psyched up to make a run at the big time. But the Bulldogs' habit of starting out fast and lead-ballooning it after a mishap, continued -- after the disheartening 50-42 loss at USC, FSU dropped its three remaining games to finish 8-5.
"We did not finish the way we wanted to," coach Pat Hill said. "We did a lot of great things, but we did not finish the job."
The same group of players is back to try it again, with a few notable exceptions.
The Fresno faithful weren't always sold on Paul Pinegar. But Hill, the man whose opinion mattered, knew who his quarterback was for four years.
Now, with Pinegar finally gone, he isn't so sure.
As of yesterday, Hill had yet to choose a quarterback from between the skilled 6-5 Tom Brandstater and the scrappy 5-11 Sean Norton.
The final choice might come down to whom Hill thinks will make fewer mistakes, because there is so much experience and talent throughout the rest of the offense.
That includes tailback, where Dwayne Wright comes back after nearly two years off with a knee injury. Wright rushed for 1,038 yards in 2003, but Hill is wary of over-using him.
"Can he handle the pressure of a 12-game season? He did it in 2003, but he hasn't been on the field since Kansas State in 2004," the coach said.
Clifton Smith is another talented runner, and might be able to spell Wright enough to keep him healthy.
The Bulldogs lose Wendell Mathis and Bryson Sumlin, who were both 1,000-yard rushers.
The common denominator for all these grand backs is fullback Roshon Vercher, who has led the way for Wright, Sumlin and Mathis since his freshman year.
The same can be said for center Kyle Young and right tackle Chris Denman. They've been starting on the offensive line since they were freshmen.
Ryan Wendell was the WAC's 2004 freshman of the year, and fellow guard Cole Popovich was a freshman All-American last year.
FSU's receivers complement each other well, and might be the best pair of wideouts in the league. Paul Williams led the WAC in yards per reception (17.0) last fall and Joe Fernandez paced the 'Dogs in catches (46) for the second season in a row.
Linebacker Dwayne Andrews is the featured defensive player, and yesterday he was named to the Butkus Award watch list. He plays the middle and is flanked by Alan Goodwin and Marcus Riley. Riley is coming off a serious knee injury and might not be at full effectiveness early in the season.
The Bulldogs will be hard to push up the middle with 330-pound tackles Louis Leonard and Jason Shirley. But the loss of end Garrett McIntyre, last year's senior leader on the defense, is huge.
Marcus McCauley has the size (6-1, 205) and skill to take over as the primary shutdown corner for Richard Marshall, who left early for the NFL. But the rest of the secondary will be inexperienced.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Pat Hill (72-43 in nine seasons at Fresno State)
Last meeting with UH:
Fresno State 27, Hawaii 13, Oct. 29, 2005, at Aloha Stadium
||at New Mexico State
||San Jose State
|* Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.
||at Utah State
||at Boise State
||New Mexico State
||at Louisiana Tech
||at San Jose State