With week one out of the way with a blow out win over FCS Idaho State, we now turn our attention to a more formidable foe, week two opponent Fresno State. The Bulldogs were one of the best teams outside the Power 5 last season, finishing 11-2, and were Mountain West Champions. They were led by their offense, which put up nearly 550 yards and over 43 points per game. Since Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter is a defensive minded coach, the offense will be handled by former Utah offensive coordinator Dave Schramm, who is in this third season at Fresno State. Facing the former Ute coach does not concern Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, "It's pretty much like any other week. [Schramm] has been gone for a few years. We've changed quite a bit offensively over the last couple years. He's evolved offensively, so I really don't see that as an advantage either way, him knowing us or us knowing him. It's a complete non-factor."
Yes, Fresno State was very effective on offense last season, but how will they be this season? They have to replace NFL first round draft pick (and Oakland Raiders rookie starting quarterback) Derek Carr (5,082 passing yards and 50 touchdowns last season), and NFL second round draft pick Davante Adams (1,718 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns last season). Replacing all of that talent in an offense that attempted 675 passes last season will be no small task for Schramm. FSU also loses Isaiah Burse, their number two receiver, tight end Marcel Jenson (second team-All Mountain West Conference), and left tackle Austin Wentworth (two-time first team-All Mountain West Conference). With all of the losses of weapons in the passing game, I expect Fresno State to take a step back offensively this season.
Brian Burrell, the junior quarterback, was the starter in the Bulldog's first game, but he struggled, going 11-of-19 for 92 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. The offense also tried Duke transfer Brandon Connette, who struggled even more, only going 7-for-17 for 68 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Total passing stats for the two quarterbacks combined were 18-for-36 for 160 yards (4.4 yards per attempt), with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. DeRuyter has said that both quarterbacks will likely play against Utah. "[We are preparing this week] for both [quarterbacks]. [Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette] are still listed as `OR' [co-starters on the depth chart]. Neither of them had a whole lot of success throwing the ball. The numbers weren't necessarily indicative of how good of players they are. The USC secondary is really active and the front is really tough. That's a tough matchup for most teams in the country. We expect to see both and we'll prepare accordingly." Whittingham said. I expect the quarterback play will be better for FSU this week against Utah than it was in week one against USC, but I feel a lot better about Utah's secondary facing Burrell/Connette than Carr.
Running backs will have to step up to make life easier for the new quarterback, whomever it is. Most of the production will come from Martez Waller and former BYU transfer Josh Quezada. The two combined for 1,416 rushing yards, 463 receiving yards, and 14 total touchdowns last season. Waller tallied 97 yards on 16 carries (6.1 yards per carry), with two touchdowns plus three receptions for 25 yards in the week one loss to USC. Quezada did not recording any stats in the game (cannot find any reasons why he did not play). DeRuyter stated he was happy with the running game against USC, which totaled 157 yards with a respectable 4.8 yards per carry. The offensive line not only did a nice job opening running lanes, but they also limited the talented USC front seven to only one sack on the day.
I think it will be key that the Utah defense does not let the Fresno State offense get into a groove, by applying pressure to the quarterback and stuffing the running game. I do not like Fresno State's chances of winning if they have to rely on their quarterback. The old adage holds true, "if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have one." However, if the Bulldogs can establish the running game especially on early downs and protect the quarterback, that could allow the offense to get in a rhythm and pick apart a potentially suspect Utah secondary.