Idaho vs. Fresno State: Three Keys to a Bulldogs Win
Can the Bulldogs roll in their season opener for the second straight year against an FCS foe? Here’s how Fresno State can beat Idaho.
Fresno State expects a big win.
WEEK 1: Idaho Vandals vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
WHEN: Saturday, September 1 — 7:00 PM PT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, California (40,727)
TV: The game will be available through Facebook, via Stadium.
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can can be found in and around the San Joaquin Valley on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM. The Spanish-language broadcast can be found on 1600 AM.
SERIES RECORD: Fresno State currently leads the series 11-4. In the last meeting on October 5, 2013, the Bulldogs rolled to a 63-14 victory in the Kibbie Dome.
What a difference one year can make. Heading into Saturday’s season opener, the expectations surrounding the Fresno State Bulldogs have become sky high, which means that posting a big win over an FCS team might be a modest footnote on the way to bigger and better things.
Idaho, however, may have left the FBS behind but remain at least a cut above the likes of Sacramento State and Incarnate Word, the beaten FCS opponents of past home openers, for now.
Here’s what Fresno State can do to get 2018 off on the right foot and beat Idaho.
Three Keys for Fresno State
Get the revamped defensive line to the quarterback.
The Vandals should be a decent litmus test for perhaps the biggest question to follow Fresno State this offseason. They have a guard, Noah Johnson, who was a second-team all-Sun Belt selection last year and has earned a couple of FCS all-American nods more recently, and all three starters (Johnson, Conner Vrba, and Sean Tulette) back on the line’s interior.
They are, however, replacing both tackles, and the revamped Bulldogs line could feast on the edges. Most notably, it’ll be interesting to see how much they throw at true freshman Logan Floyd who, at 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds, who certainly has a size advantage on the likes of Mykal Walker and Emeka Ndoh. Last year’s Vandal o-line gave up 14 sacks when returning quarterback Colton Richardson was under center, a staggering 18.2% sack rate, and ended up ranked 128th nationally in Adjusted Sack Rate, so chances are the resistance won’t be too great.
Don’t let the ground game get bogged down.
Even if the Bulldogs running game takes a week or two to find its explosiveness, head coach Jeff Tedford should be more than happy if the trio of Jordan Mims, Josh Hokit and Dejonte O’Neal can maintain last year’s efficiency, but the Vandals do have a solid front seven to oppose them. Rahsaan Crawford brings some size at defensive tackle and most of the key linebackers return to a unit which ranked 4th nationally in Havoc Rate (percentage of plays with a tackle for loss, forced fumble, or pass defended) a year ago.
Kaden Elliss, who led all returning Vandal defenders in TFLs and sacks last year, is the big name to watch, but his brother Christian and senior Ed Hall might have a hand in preventing big plays from the middle of the defense, as well. Fresno State had an elite stuff rate, however, and was well above the national average in Power Success Rate (short-yardage situations), so despite two new starters on the right side, the fact that the projected starting five now averages 313 pounds should mean a long night for the undersized Vandals.
Get better at moving the chains on third downs (especially through the air).
One of the weirdest quirks within last year’s turnaround was that the Bulldogs were actually better at converting third downs during 2016’s collapse (38%) than they were in 2017 (35.6%). You could pin some of that on the constraints of running a limited offense, but there’s no question a lot of that drop-off fell upon Marcus McMaryion: Fresno State’s running game managed 31 first downs on 69 third-down attempts, a 44.9% rate, while McMaryion completed just 41.4% of his passes and had just 22 successful conversions, a 22.2% rate.
Over the course of the season, this is likely to regress to the mean, anyway, but it would be quite an assurance if the senior quarterback showed that particular struggle was behind him sooner rather than later.