Entering his 14th season with Fresno State, coach Pat Hill has established a certain style for the Bulldogs -- tough running attack, physical defense and standout special teams. Changing personnel, however, could leave the Bulldogs with a bit of a different look in 2010.
Star running back Ryan Mathews and solid reserves Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding are gone, all possibly to the NFL, leaving a void in the backfield that the Bulldogs will need to replace. Hill hinted at additional formations with a greater number of wide receivers on the field as the Bulldogs added two solid wide-outs in their recruiting class and return capable performers at that spot.
Defensively, the Bulldogs struggled in 2009, and the hope for a turnaround rests with the same players that were on the field last season. The Bulldogs return their entire front seven and nine of 11 starters overall. Fresno State is seeking a tougher run defense after allowing 214 yards per game on the ground. That placed the Bulldogs 111th nationally.
And then there is the matter of special teams, one of Fresno State's great advantages over the years. The Bulldogs lost special teams coordinator John Baxter, an original member of Hill's staff, to USC in the off-season. In 13 seasons under Baxter, the Bulldogs have blocked 83 kicks. Fresno State has an NCAA-best 48 blocks since 2002.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Fresno State must reload at the skill positions, especially running back and wide receiver this spring.
The Bulldogs will need to find a starting running back, now that Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding are gone. Sophomore Robbie Rouse had several solid outings last year and he will get a crack at a larger role.
At wide receiver, Devon Wylie and Jamel Hamler, who became a key part of the offense late in his freshman year, will be counted on to play bigger roles this year as the Bulldogs adjust to life without Seyi Ajirotutu, Marlon Moore and Chastain West.
Quarterback Ryan Colburn played solidly during his first season as the starter, but sophomore Derek Carr could push him in the spring.
The defense struggled last season allowing more than 400 yards per game. Fresno State's numbers dipped across the board defensively from 2008, notably in rushing defense. The Bulldogs return nine starters on defense, including the entire front seven.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Bulldogs will have to retool their offense and defense during spring ball -- their offense because of changing personnel and their defense because of poor play. Coach Pat Hill indicated around signing day that the program will consider more spread formations in order to get more playmakers on the field. While he is not abandoning the power running game that Fresno State is known for, the addition of several wide receivers and loss of several running backs makes it likely that the Bulldogs will retool.
Defensively, the Bulldogs need better play from their returning starters. Fresno State loses safety Moses Harris and cornerback A.J. Jefferson from last year's starting unit, but needs more production from its defensive line and linebackers, especially against the run.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He put his heart and soul and everything he had into this program. (USC) offered him the job four times, and he turned them down every time. Then they finally made an offer he just couldn't refuse." -- punter Robert Malone to the Fresno Bee after special teams coach John Baxter told the team he was leaving the program for USC.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: It is a typical Fresno State schedule in 2010 with non-conference games against Cincinnati, Mississippi and Illinois. Cincinnati and Illinois visit Fresno. The Bulldogs face a rebuilding year on offense as star running back Ryan Mathews departed for the NFL early. Quarterback Ryan Colburn showed toughness and heart as the Bulldogs' starter, but Fresno State needs more plays out of its passing attack this year.
P Matt Darr -- Punter Robert Malone was a senior last year, leaving the Bulldogs searching for a replacement. Expect Darr to win the job. He was considered the No. 1 punter in the country. Darr had committed to USC but re-opened the recruiting process after Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks.
WR Davon Dunn -- The son of a former Fresno State receiver David Dunn, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder originally committed to Cal before choosing the Bulldogs. Rivals.com calls him a four-star recruit. With the loss of four senior wide receivers and an emphasis on improving the passing game, the Bulldogs signed five receivers in the class. Dunn could step in right away to challenge for playing time.
WR Josh Harper -- The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder originally committed to California, but opted for Fresno State and said it was a better fit for him. With Fresno State losing four senior wide receivers, there is room on the roster for receivers to quickly make an impact for Harper.
S Edward Dillihunt -- The 5-foot-10, 194-pounder is among the players Fresno State targeted to help the Bulldogs contend with the increasing number of spread teams it plays. "We need more players who are able to play both man and zone coverage. We need players who can play in space," Hill told the Fresno Bee. Hill called Dillihunt a "heat-seeking missile." The Bulldogs must replace starting safety Moses Harris and reserve Marvin Haynes.
--John Baxter, who has been on the Fresno State staff since Pat Hill took over 13 seasons ago, left for USC earlier this month. Baxter is considered one of the best special teams coaches in the country and has turned down several opportunities to coach elsewhere. Baxter also played a key role in the Bulldogs' academic success. He authored the program's "Academic Gameplan."
--Pat Hill still has not signed his contract extension.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010