WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Bryant-Jon Anteola, who covers Fresno State football for the Fresno Bee about Saturday night’s game with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Follow on Twitter: @Banteola_TheBee
Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.
Quarterback Derek Carr became the school’s career passing leader last week. How good is Carr and how does he compare to some of the other great ones at Fresno State — notably his brother, David — and how has he flourished on coach Tim DeRuyter’s spread scheme?
Statistically, it’s turning out that Fresno State fans currently are watching the best quarterback ever in school history. Derek Carr holds 17 Fresno State records, including the most career passing yards (10,821) and touchdowns (91) and the highest career completion percentage (66.4) in school history. Nationally this season, Carr ranks second in both passing yards per game (382.6) and touchdowns (28) and enters Saturday’s game at Wyoming with 183 straight pass attempts without an interception. So, he’s obviously doing things that no player has ever done before at Fresno State. Ex-coach Pat Hill, who coached both Derek and David Carr, said from the get-go that Derek arrived at Fresno State more polished than his older brother, but because David had been tutoring and grooming Derek throughout his life. Both have a quick release and keep their bodies compact in their delivery, which allows them to maintain accuracy even as the pocket shrinks.
Derek probably won’t be drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL as David was by the Houston Texans in 2002. But should Derek lead Fresno State to a BCS Bowl this season, Derek will truly be the greatest Bulldog of all-time both statistically and team-production wise. DeRuyter, who took over the program in 2012, has helped Carr blossom with a no-huddle, spread attack that takes advantage of Carr’s quick release and his ability to quickly identify the Bulldogs’ most advantageous matchups based on pre-snap formations and coverage tendencies learned from film studies. Carr also has three very dynamic receivers, including top target Davante Adams, as well as a pretty good tight end in Marcel Jensen. There’s just so many weapons surrounding Carr, that it makes sense for Fresno State to want to run as many offensive plays as possible in the Bulldogs’ scheme and take advantage of the team’s greatest strength.
The offense is more than just Carr. Who are some of the other offensive stars and have the emergence of any of these guys been a surprise this season?
Adams, a sophomore, is Carr’s primary target and you’re not going to find a better receiver in the Mountain West, that’s for sure. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Adams is just so aggressive when the ball comes his way, leaping high to snag balls in the air and fighting off physical cornerbacks but still able to make catches. Less than two full seasons in his career and Adams already owns the school’s career touchdown record with 28 and counting. Junior Josh Harper, who plays opposite of Adams, would be the star receiver on most other teams if not for Adams. A former Cal recruit who de-committed to come to Fresno State, Harper is a smooth receiver who knows how to slip by receivers and has good hands. He just set the school’s single-game record last week with 17 catches during Fresno State’s 41-23 win against Nevada. The Wolf Pack wanted to focus their coverage more on Adams, perhaps rightfully so. But Harper made them pay and amassed 253 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, slot receiver Isaiah Burse is the most elusive of the trio of receivers, doing a good job of getting behind the coverage to make downfield catches and turning short, bullet passes into 5-7 yard gains consistently. As shown throughout this year, it’s really tough for defenses to shut down all three receivers when Carr has time to throw. The 6-foot-6 Jensen also has shown to have reliable hands and made a handful of key catches on third and fourth downs. Carr probably hasn’t thrown to the tight end as much as he should considering how often Jensen has been left wide open.
Fresno State’s defense isn’t among the nation’s best when you look at the numbers, but it appears to be an aggressive and opportunistic group. How would you describe this group, and what are its strengths?
When DeRuyter got here, his biggest impact was quickly rebuilding Fresno State’s defense. DeRuyter, after all, was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M prior to taking over his first head coaching job with Fresno State. And immediately, the Bulldogs became one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. The unit hasn’t forced as many turnovers this year, generating 15, which ties the Bulldogs for 44th in the nation. But Fresno State gotten better at getting to the quarterback, ranking second in the country with an average of 3.38 sacks per game (27 sacks in 8 games). You’ll often find Fresno State blitzing its defensive backs and getting outside pressure from linebackers Ejiro Ederaine (eight sacks) and Donavon Lewis (2). Nose guard Tyeler Davis might be the best interior defensive linemen in the conference, with two sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage despite facing constant double teams.
What are the biggest challenges that Wyoming poses in this game, and do you think its change in defensive coordinators last week is a big concern for Fresno State?
The fact that Wyoming was on a bye last week and will have had two weeks to prepare for Fresno State is not good for the Bulldogs. San Diego State had 16 days to prepare for Fresno State, showed blitzing schemes and power run plays the Bulldogs hadn’t from the Aztecs all year and challenged Fresno State until the very end before the Bulldogs escaped with a 35-28 win in overtime. So it’ll depend how much the Cowboys take advantage of implementing new looks and executing the plays. Because it sometimes takes a while for Fresno State to make the proper adjustments. Wyoming’s Brett Smith is probably the most mobile quarterback the Bulldogs will face this season. And Wyoming likely will attack Fresno State’s young secondary, which could lead to a high scoring affair. The fact that Wyoming has changed defensive coordinators and hired former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young as a consultant also presents challenges for Fresno State. The Bulldogs aren’t quite sure what the Cowboys will run and how much change Wyoming will make. Fresno State mostly can just study Wyoming’s personnel and types of schemes, coverages and blitzes that have caused the Bulldogs most problems. With only two weeks to make changes, it’s doubtful Wyoming could successful overhaul its entire scheme and begin running completely new ones.
How do you see this game playing out, and do you think the altitude and cold will any way effect Fresno State in this game?
Fresno State went 2-0 in cold weather games (below 40 degrees) last year, winning at Colorado State 28-7 and at Nevada 52-36. But Wyoming plays in the highest elevation among all FBS programs. So altitude could work against Fresno State, especially with some of its bigger players. We’ll see. Fresno State likes to play fast, but will the Bulldogs offensive linemen be able to keep up with the pace in the cold and at the high elevation? Wyoming is 3-1 at home this year, but the Cowboys were 1-5 at home last year, which included a 24-22 loss to Cal Poly in September and a 42-28 loss to San Diego State in late November. So that makes me think that the elevation and cold isn’t as big of an advantage for Wyoming as it may seem. But if Wyoming’s offense produces to its season averages of 516.2 total yards and 36.5 points per game, it should be another close game for the Bulldogs. Fresno State has had four games decided by a touchdown or less, with three games not determined until the very last play. Saturday could be Fresno State’s toughest road game of the season. It just depends on whether Wyoming’s offense can keep up with Fresno State’s offense.
Bonus question: With Fresno State still undefeated and in the hunt for a BCS bowl appearance, how has the team handled that type of pressure week in and week out?
The Bulldogs have been pretty good about simply taking things one week at a time, the old cliché approach. But they’ve also embraced the BCS goals rather than completing ignoring it, as say Boise State often did under coach Chris Petersen. Then again, the BCS run is all the Fresno community has wanted to talk about since ex-coach Pat Hill planted that dream dating back to 2001 when Fresno State started 6-0 and got ranked as high as No. 8 in the country before those dreams were halted. This Fresno State team is the first to start 8-0 since 1989 and as long as the Bulldogs win out, they should get an automatic bid into a BCS bowl.
Cowboys game day
Game: No. 17 Fresno State (8-0 overall, 5-0 MW) at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2)
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium, Laramie
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KOWB (1290 AM) Laramie
Tickets: Brown & Gold Outlet, 1802 Dell Range Blvd.; gowyo.com; UW Athletics Ticket Office, 877-996-3261.