Behind enemy lines: Fresno StateBy Matthew Speakman | 09/06/2017 11:45pm
Coming off a 24-7 win over Florida State, the Crimson Tide opens up its home schedule with Fresno State. The Bulldogs are a foreign opponent to the Crimson Tide, this being the first match up between the two teams. Fresno State is coming off of one of its worst seasons in school history. The Bulldogs went 1-11 with its only win being against an FCS team. This season, Fresno State opened up its season with a 66-0 win over Incarnate Word. To get more insight on Fresno State, we talked to Daniel Gligich, the sports editor of Fresno State's student newspaper, The Collegian.
Q: Fresno State obviously struggled last season, after watching the Bulldogs' first game, how much improvement do you expect this year?
A: I expect big improvement from last year, but I don’t think it will translate to many wins. Last year was by far the worst season in school history, with a 1-11 record. The only win came against Sacramento St., which is an FCS school. Fresno State was the only team in the country to not beat an FBS team. The Bulldogs’ schedule is very tough this year – besides Alabama, Fresno State plays Washington, BYU, Boise State and Wyoming, which has highly touted quarterback and potential No. 1 overall draft pick Josh Allen. I think the Bulldogs will win three to five games, but it all falls on the shoulders of starting quarterback Chason Virgil. Fresno State blew out FCS opponent Incarnate Word 66-0 in the first game, but not too much can be taken from that game. Virgil completed only 55 percent of his passes Week One, and he struggled much of last year. If the Bulldogs want to compete in the Mountain West, Virgil needs to take that next step, or Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion needs to beat Virgil out show why he was recruited to a Power 5 school.
Q: Nick Saban called Jeff Tedford "one of the best coaches offensively in the country." Do you agree with that? What is the feeling surrounding Tedford in Fresno?
A: Yes, I agree with that. Tedford’s experience and history speaks for itself. He was a quarterback at Fresno State from 1981-82. He was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Fresno State in the ‘90s, developing Trent Dilfer and David Carr. After that, he was the offensive coordinator at Oregon before becoming the head coach at UC Berkeley. He was very successful at Cal and was instrumental in developing Aaron Rodgers. Fresno loves Tedford. He is as tough and as gritty as they come, which is a good representation of Fresno as a whole. When former head coach Tim DeRuyter was fired during last year, Fresnans were practically begging the athletic department to hire Tedford. Fresno State has a history of tough coaches, from Jim Sweeney and Pat Hill to Tedford. The whole Central Valley got behind Sweeney and Hill, propelling them to national success, and seemingly everyone is ready to support Tedford in the same way, hoping that he can bring national notoriety back to Fresno.
Q: Derek Carr has already become one of the best QBs in the NFL. How much does his success mean to this program?
A: Carr’s success is huge for the program. Carr is from the Valley, and even though he played most of his high school football in Texas while David was playing for the Texans, he wanted to be a Bulldog and finish what his brother started. Carr threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns his senior year, which propelled him to the NFL. His success shows potential recruits that you can go to Fresno State and be a very successful NFL player. Coming from a mid-major school, Carr is a better quarterback in the NFL than many from big schools. He’s a better quarterback than any that have come from Power 5 schools in recent memory, such as USC, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, and even Alabama.
Q: What do you think is one area Fresno State can exploit and hurt Alabama?
A: KeeSean Johnson has the ability to take over games. He is reminiscent of former Fresno State receiver and current Green Bay Packer Davante Adams. As good as Alabama’s secondary is, and especially Minkah Fitzpatrick, Fresno State’s best hope will be through taking chances with Johnson with the hope that he can pull off a big play.
Q: Chason Virgil and Keesean Johnson were a lethal duo on Saturday in that win. How important is that combination going to be for Fresno State this season?
A: This combination has a chance to be the most important part of the team. Like I said earlier, Johnson has the ability to take over games, and I think he’s the best player on the team. Virgil and Johnson made for a great duo at times last year, albeit inconsistently. They have good chemistry, which should grow from last season. The Bulldogs’ offensive line is experienced, and is the most important unit currently, but the Virgil-Johnson duo will be tasked with picking apart opposing defenses and leading the team. There’s no guarantee the duo will be intact by the end of the year though. If Virgil struggles, he could easily be replaced by McMaryion or JC transfer Jorge Reyna.
Q: Who are some players Alabama fans should be on the lookout for outside of Virgil and Johnson?
A: Wide receiver Jamire Jordan is not as prolific as Johnson, but he’s a playmaker who has come up big for the Bulldogs plenty of times. True freshman running back Ronnie Rivers is an unknown in what to expect out of him, but he’s listed as the starter and has plenty of potential. He’s the son of former Bulldog great and NFL running back Ron Rivers. On defense, defensive back Juju Hughes was strong throughout Spring and Fall camp, and he has the ability to play across the field as either corner or safety.
Q: Finally, give us a score prediction.
A: If this game happened during the best years of Hill’s era, or when Derek Carr was a Bulldog, Fresno State would be very competitive and would have had a good shot at winning. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the last coaching staff tore the program to the ground, giving them very little hope for Saturday. I’ll say 48-10, Alabama.