Following a disappointing 34-19 loss to Hawaii at home last Saturday, Oct. 24, the Fresno State Bulldogs are looking to right the ship in their second game of the season. There will be another head coaching debut Thursday night: Steve Addazio – formerly the head coach at Boston College – will lead the Rams for the first time, drawing the Bulldogs as his first opponent.
The Rams will try to take advantage of Fresno State’s short week of practice, despite their own disadvantage of not seeing the field yet in 2020. The cancellation of their home opener against New Mexico – due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Bernalillo County – means Colorado State’s first taste of action will be at Bulldog Stadium.
Yet the lack of a Rams’ season opener has put Fresno State at a disadvantage, as well: it means a lack of game tape for Bulldogs coaches to gameplan for.
On top of that, the Bulldogs did not know who Colorado State’s starting quarterback would be 24 hours prior to kickoff.
The low-down on the Colorado State Rams:
Addazio has the luxury – or curse, one could also call it – of choosing between two dependable options at quarterback. Returning starting QB Patrick O’Brien is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer who passed for 2,803 yards (4th in Mountain West) and 13 touchdowns last season. Temple graduate transfer Todd Centeio is a 6-foot-1 mobile quarterback who served as a backup for the Owls from 2018-19. Centeio passed for 613 yards and seven touchdowns, along with 235 rushing yards, in 24 games at Temple.
It was reported Thursday morning by Coloradoan reporter Kevin Lytle that Centeio will get the start, but it’s possible Colorado State uses a combination of both quarterbacks against Fresno State. Addazio has already stated his unwillingness to take away reps from either quarterback.
The running back situation at Colorado State is much more clearer: Senior Marcus McElroy returns in the starting RB spot, after assuming the role halfway through the 2019 season. McElroy is welcoming a return to the Bulldog Stadium turf, where he rumbled for 117 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 win over Fresno State last year.
After seeing Fresno State surrender 323 rushing yards against Hawaii last week, Addazio will likely want to highlight McElroy in his offense, especially after what the 6 foot, 235-pound back did against the ‘Dogs last season.
Another Ram who haunted Fresno State in last year’s matchup – wide receiver Warren Jackson – will not play for Colorado State this season. Instead, sophomore receiver/punt returner Dante Wright and junior tight end Trey McBride will be the two talented pass catchers to watch out for. Wright (805 yards) and McBride (560 yards) finished second and third on the team in receiving, respectively, behind Jackson in 2019.
Wright became the first true freshman Ram to start every game at wide receiver since 2013, and landed on the Paul Hornung Award watch list (awarded to the nation’s most versatile player).
McBride is an NFL prospect for Colorado State, following a breakout sophomore campaign where he was named first team All-Mountain West. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound McBride has been lauded by NFL scouts for his size, pass catching ability and blocking.
Defensively, the Colorado State secondary is experienced, returning three starters from last year’s unit that ranked first in the Mountain West in pass defense. Safety Logan Stewart and cornerbacks Rashard Ajayi and Marshaun Cameron start on Colorado State’s depth chart; the trio brings back 37 total starts combined in their careers. An interesting battle Thursday will be the Colorado State secondary’s experience against the relative inexperience of Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, who will make his second career start.
The low-down on the Fresno State Bulldogs:
On the topic of Jake Haener, the Bulldog quarterback wants to bounce back from his four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) last week. Head coach Kalen Deboer said that Haener took the mistakes especially hard on himself, and that he looks for Haener to bounce back in a big way Thursday.
Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Cropper will play a big part if Haener turns things around in Game 2. Cropper came away with only two catches for 21 yards in Game 1, and DeBoer admitted his ankle was bothering him during the game. DeBoer said he wants to increase Cropper’s usage against Colorado State, while rotating in other playmakers such as Keric Wheatfall and Josh Kelly at receiver.
One pass catcher Jake Haener will miss for the rest of 2020 is senior tight end Juan Rodriguez. The Butte College transfer will require season-ending surgery on a knee injury suffered late in the Hawaii game. Rodriguez caught the first touchdown pass of the DeBoer era, an 18-yard strike from Haener. Redshirt junior Raymond Pauwels Jr. moves up the depth chart to the starting tight end position.
Ronnie Rivers will enjoy this upcoming matchup against a Colorado State defense that ranked ninth in the Mountain West in run defense in 2019. He enjoyed it last season, when he burned the Rams for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
In order for a big game for Rivers, Fresno State will need to commit to the run more than they did against Hawaii: Rivers had twelve carries for 66 yards and a TD in the first half, but only six carries for 13 yards after halftime.
Coach DeBoer wants his team to improve on stringing plays together, and that’s especially true on defense. Fresno State struggled getting off the field on third down, allowing the Warriors to convert 11-of-16 third downs. The extended time of possession for Hawaii led to tired legs on defense for Fresno State. Defensive end Kwami Jones recorded three sacks in the first quarter, but missed much of the second half due to cramps. By focusing on stopping Colorado State’s third down chances, the Bulldogs can keep their 4-2-5 defense fresh.
A bright spot in the Bulldog secondary is walk-on redshirt freshman Bralyn Lux. Lux knocked away a long third down pass in the second quarter, forced a fumble, and led the Bulldogs in tackles with eight. He’s a bright young star in the making, and it’s evident why coaches raved about him in fall camp.
Series history and game time:
Colorado State owns a 10-5 record against Fresno State and won the schools’ three most recent matchups, the last one being the Rams’ 41-31 win on Fresno State’s Homecoming.