Fresno State vs. USC: Game Preview, Kick Time, TV & Radio Schedule, Livestream, Prediction
The Fresno State Bulldogs begin 2019 on the road against the USC Trojans. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.
The defending MWC champs face against a familiar opponent.
WEEK 1: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. USC Trojans
WHEN: Saturday, August 31 — 7:30 PM PT/8:30 PM MT
WHERE: United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Los Angeles, California (78,467)
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found around the Central Valley on ESPN 940 AM. The USC broadcast can be found in and around Los Angeles on KABC 790 AM, as well as on the Trojan Radio Network in Barstow (1230 AM), Palm Springs (1010 AM), and Las Vegas (1100 AM). It can also be found on satellite radio, too, on Sirius channel 146 and XM channel 198.
SERIES RECORD: USC leads the series 2-1, though the Trojans’ win in 2005 was officially vacated by the NCAA. In the last meeting on August 30, 2014, USC defeated Fresno State 52-13.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Fresno State +13.5
FEI Projection: USC by 5.7
2018 STAT PROFILES: link
Finally, David gets another crack at Goliath.
The 2019 Fresno State Bulldogs are no ordinary David, however, fresh off a 12-win campaign that went down as one of the best in program history. The 2019 USC Trojans are an extraordinary Goliath, too, though not in the way anyone associated with the program likes: After winning just five games in 2018 — the team’s first losing season since 2000 — the pressure is on head coach Clay Helton, new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and company to turn things around and contend for a Pac-12 title.
Here’s how the Bulldogs can win at the Coliseum for the first time ever.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Don’t cough up too many chunk plays through the air.
This was an obvious strength for the Bulldogs last fall. Bert Watts’s defense gave up just 29 passing plays of 20 or more yards, which ranked 15th nationally, but with a pair of new athletes stepping into the starting lineup against a clearly talented group of receivers, keeping up that level of performance will be easier said than done in Week 1.
Michael Pittman Jr., in particular, will be a player to watch. Though he had just 41 catches in 2018, he tied for the Pac-12 lead with ten catches of 30-plus yards. Whether that comes down to sure tackling in the secondary or scheming to keep the 6-foot-4 senior in front of them, he’s likely to be the focal point of Graham Harrell’s pass-first offense. Considering J.T. Daniels already threw the ball 33 times per game in 2018, that’s really saying something.
2. Create breaks on defense.
It’s probably not a coincidence that USC’s carelessness with the football last fall coincided with a lot of close games that didn’t go their way. Their -10 turnover margin was far and away the worst such figure since 2009 and they struggled to move the ball, period, against tough defenses like Cal and Utah.
Fresno State, of course, led the Mountain West with 84 passes defended. That statistic tends to strongly correlate with year-to-year success, but it will be a tall task for Wylan Free, Chris Gaston, and company to immediately replace the production lost in the departures of Mike Bell and Tank Kelly. Better fumble luck, perhaps spurred by a more experienced defensive line, may offset this: Bulldogs opponents had just 12 fumbles in 2018, tied for the fewest in the conference.
3. Stay balanced on offense.
USC’s defense, for all of its talent, struggled most last year when teams could assert themselves with a strong ground game and complement that with a solid passing attack. The Utah backfield of Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley went off against the Trojans, as did Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin and UCLA’s Joshua Kelley, but Huntley, Manny Wilkins and Wilton Speight also did their part to spur strong Success Rates far above what USC allowed on the season.
The one potential catch for Fresno State is that they may want to avoid overworking Ronnie Rivers with a suddenly thin running back depth chart behind him. Saevion Johnson, who averaged 6.2 YPC and a 54% Opportunity Rate in a small sample of 21 carries last fall, could be the key complement the Bulldogs need, while a lot of 12 personnel looks would prevent USC from keying too much on either the run or the pass thanks not only to Jared Rice, but new tight ends Juan Rodriguez and Raymond Pauwels.
USC will carry a clear talent advantage over just about anyone they face in 2019, but Jeff Tedford’s coaching acumen seems likely to turn this game into a cat-and-mouse affair. This won’t be the first time the Bulldogs have seen an Air Raid offense, after all, though perhaps they haven’t seen one with so many potential NFL draft picks in a while.
Taking Fresno State and the points looks like some of the easiest money to be made all season long, but betting on so many new contributors to topple the Trojans right off the bat, even off a down year, seems like a dicey proposition. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten a better-than-.500 Power 5 team (which USC seems likely to be) on the road since 2009 and will probably need one more year to break that slide. USC 27, Fresno State 24