Man alive. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire. Fresno State travels to No. 6 Washington a week after getting gut-punched at No. 1 Alabama, 41-10. So yes, it’s just another road trip to take on another hyper-talented team that finished last season in the College Football Playoff. No biggie.
The Bulldogs must’ve peed the proverbial rug to warrant this kind of treatment in the scheduling department. Especially considering this is a team that suffered through a 1-11 record in 2016. This borders on inhumane treatment of animals. PETA are you paying attention?
At first blush, this Fresno-Washington matchup shouldn’t be much of a game, and it’s true. Although the Bulldogs feature 16 juniors or seniors in their projected starting lineup, new head coach Jeff Tedford inherited a team that just lacks the type of talent to make a viable push against a team like Washington. The best they can hope for is that the Huskies will be looking ahead to their Pac-12 opener at Colorado next week in Boulder and lose a little focus.
But let me step back for a second and say that all is not impossible for Fresno. In fact, compared to last year’s tank job the Bulldogs showed vast improvement in the 31-point loss at Bama seven days ago. Even Nick Saban crowed afterward about the Bulldogs, “This is a much, much improved team this year.”
Fresno State at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 9:30pm ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -33
Three Things to Watch
1. Don’t sleep on this Fresno State defense
There are no “moral victories” to Jeff Tedford and his staff, but against Alabama, the defense had many bright moments including two stops on goal-to-go situations which forced field goals. The Bulldogs also got pretty good pass coverage most of the game, which is why Jalen Hurts ended up tucking the ball and running it for 154 yards and two touchdowns on the day. Washington’s Jake Browning is a very mobile quarterback but he doesn’t have the running ability that Hurts does, so if Fresno has any chance at all it’ll need the defensive front four to get a good push and put pressure on Browning, hoping he rushes a couple of passes and makes a few bad decisions. Forcing a couple more third-and-longs also will help immensely.
2. Pettis the difference-maker
It’s not as if the Husky offense isn’t potent enough, but when it comes to fourth-and-long it would be wise for Fresno State to kick away from Washington return man Dante Pettis. The wideout-turned-track star now has seven career punt returns for a touchdown, one shy of the NCAA record held by Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma). Pettis has a return TD in each of the first two games this season, adding a 67-yard return to the house as part of the 63-7 rout of the Montana Grizzlies last week which set the Pac-12 career record. On the flip side of that, Bulldog punter Blake Cusack is averaging 42 yards per kick in the early going.
3. Familiarity helps
If any opponent this season knows the Washington Huskies, it’s got to be the Bulldogs. Head coach Jeff Tedford was an “offensive consultant” for the Huskies last season and is well-versed in their personnel, schemes and philosophy. Also, wide receivers coach Kirby Moore was a part of Chris Petersen’s staff at UW last season, helping them win 12 games and finishing in the final four. Okay sure, it doesn’t help the talent disparity between the two, but the Huskies definitely won’t be able to surprise the Bulldogs with anything they throw at them on Saturday.
As noted above, Fresno State actually played pretty well in spots at Alabama, especially discipline-wise with just one turnover, one penalty and surrendering just one sack vs. the Crimson Tide. If the Bulldogs can duplicate that here in Seattle, and get some playmaking from quarterback Chason Virgil, that should give them a puncher’s chance at making this a four-quarter ball game.
But in the end, the Huskies have way more talent all across the two-deep depth chart. There is a list of All-American candidates wearing purple in this game. (For example, we didn’t even mention guys like running back Myles Gaskin, nose guard Vita Vea and linebacker Azeem Victor in this preview). So anything short of a three-touchdown victory will be a surprise.
Prediction: Washington 42, Fresno State 20
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.