Its been awhile since we've had a segment of five questions, but it returns this week. James Graben, sports editor for Fresno State's student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, has joined us to answer five questions about the Bulldogs:
ATQ: Dwayne Wright was so much a part of the offense last year, but he's playing in the NFL. It seems that there has been a four man rotation at running back thus far this year. How have these backs looked thus far this season?
James Graben: Losing Dwayne Wright was a huge blow to the Bulldog offense. The running game still has some maturing to do for it to take form. The slated starter right now is sophomore Lonyae Miller. Miller was Wright's backup last season and gained 287 yards on the ground. Thus far this season he has shown some signs of potential but overall nothing too spectacular. He pulled a hamstring last weekend against A&M but will start against the Ducks. Backing up Miller is senior, converted cornerback, Clifton Smith. This guy was at one time an elite punt returner. But in 2005 (at Oregon by the way) he tore his ACL and has not had the same success. This season he has shown bursts of his former self, but has had trouble hanging onto the ball. Sophomore Anthony Harding has been doing all the short-yardage running for the Bulldogs this season. He is a punishing back that Pat Hill likes to use on key third-down conversions and in the red zone. The stud of the running back corps though has to be true freshman Ryan Mathews. This kid is electric. Mathews was an All-American in his senior year at West High School (Bakersfield, CA). He is currently the Bulldogs' leading rusher and has shown potential to be as good, if not better, than Wright.
ATQ: Tom Brandstater looked very good in the A&M game, but looked very horrible last season. Has Brandstater turner a corner, or are there signs that problems are still there?
James Graben: Well, ask around our campus and you won't find much love for quarterback Tom Brandstater. But I do believe he has matured a lot this past year. Last weekend against Texas A&M he led a comeback from 19 down to put the game to overtime. His drive that he put together with under two minutes last week was superb. Last season he would not have made those plays. If not for a stupid play from his receiver he would have won the game. Brandstater is not a great quarterback, as of right now, but he is definitely showing signs of improvement from last season.
ATQ: Tell me about the Fresno defense. On paper, it looks like a unit that will struggle, especially against good passing games. How have they looked thus far.
James Graben: Defensively the Bulldogs are solid thus far. They have held opponents to a mere 138 passing yards this season. The secondary was picked apart last season, but in two games thus far, the defensive backs have looked solid. Additionally the Bulldogs' starting nose tackle Jason Shirley will be back this week after serving a two-game suspension. The linebackers have played outstanding defense and with Shirley back on the line, the linemen should have increased success.
ATQ: Coming off a very disappointing year, what are the expectations for the football team around the FSU campus?
James Graben: Last season was obviously very disappointing for many Bulldog fans. Our worst record since the 1970s? I mean come on. People around campus are expecting the Bulldogs to regain respect. A lot of the student body is just trying to forget about last season. Another sub-.500 season could lead to plea for Pat Hill's resignation.
ATQ: FSU has played Oregon close the last five meetings, but has yet to pull out the win. Do Duck fans have reason to believe that this year could be different?
James Graben: This season's contest could turn into a nail-biter or a blowout. It all depends on how the defense responds to Dennis Dixon. To me it seems that the Bulldogs are not fazed by hostile environment, and let me just say that Autzen Stadium will be way louder than Kyle Field. But playing on the big stage seems to light a fire under Fresno State. I see this game going down to the wire, but that's why they play the game.
Thanks for joining us, James. Here's to a great game on Saturday.