Fresno State Bulldogs Vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Game Preview
The Bulldogs’ reward for a rout in the season opener is a trip to Tuscaloosa and a crack at the number one team in the country.
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Can Fresno State survive a trip deep into SEC territory? Can the Bulldogs shock the world?
WEEK 2: Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0) vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (1-0)
WHEN: Saturday, September 9 — 12:30 PM PT
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium; Tuscaloosa, Alabama (101,821)
RADIO: The broadcast can be found in and around Fresno on the Central Valley’s local ESPN Radio affiliates: 940 (in English) and 1600 (in Spanish) AM. It can also be found on satellite radio, on Sirius Channel 138 and XM Channel 191.
SERIES RECORD: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Things are about to get very real.
After opening the 2017 season with a 66-0 win over Incarnate Word, a game that was even more lopsided than the final score suggests, Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs will get the program’s most difficult challenge in over a decade. The Alabama Crimson Tide fell mere seconds short of another national title back in January, and the preseason’s #1 team had to wait until last Saturday to take out their frustrations on a shockingly over-matched Florida State squad which had ranked in the top five.
It goes without saying, then, that Nick Saban’s men will be ready for Fresno State. Will the Bulldogs look better against top competition, however, than they often looked in the decline phase of Tim DeRuyter’s tenure, or will they make covering a 44-point spread look easy?
Three Keys to Watch
1. Is Chason Virgil ready for this? Any upset bid is going to hinge on whether Fresno State’s sophomore quarterback brings his “A” game to the field. You may recall Virgil holding his own in the first half against Nebraska last September, only getting derailed by a targeting penalty which resulted in an injured shoulder, so don’t let the detractors tell you it’s impossible.
More to the point, Virgil is simply going to have to be more accurate, especially if offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer continues to show a willingness to take shots downfield. If the offense is slow to gain traction, Virgil’s hold on the job may be more tenuous than previously thought since Marcus McMaryion looked sharp in mop-up duty last Saturday.
2. A defense which had thrived on creating turnovers was starved for them in 2016, but they looked revitalized against UIW and will need to take advantage of every potential break they get. This will probably mean forcing Jalen Hurts, who only threw nine interceptions in his freshman year, into bad throws, but that will only happen if they can keep the running game from taking over.
Four times last year, Hurts threw 20 passes or fewer with a completion percentage under 60 percent, but they averaged 5.4 yards or more per carry in three of those games (the lone exception being the LSU game). Stopping Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Najee Harris will be easier said than done, but Hurts struggled last year in more obvious passing situations and only had three first downs on 11 third-down attempts against the Seminoles.
3. Keesean Johnson will be a focal point for Alabama’s defense, so the Bulldogs will need a reliable second option to step up. The only other player with more than two catches in last week’s victory was true freshman running back Ronnie Rivers, and while the six combined catches by RBs was a welcome return to form, Derrion Grim and Da’Mari Scott and Jamire Jordan were relatively quiet.
Jordan, in particular, hasn’t lost his speed or hands or toughness, so it’ll be interesting to see how Tedford’s offense utilizes him against a secondary with a pair of elite safeties — Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison — and a sophomore corner, Trevon Diggs, who made his first start last week. Don’t be surprised if he springs himself for a long catch-and-run on a crossing route at some point, as he did have five catches of 40-plus yards in 2016.