Fresno State Preview: Defense and Special Teams

(Fresno State’s Logan Harrell makes a tackle)

Make sure to read my Fresno State Offense Preview as well so you know what to expect for tomorrow’s game.

Now let’s preview the defense.

Logan Harrell anchors an athletic defense that enjoyed a renaissance in 2010.

Defensive Line: Logan Harrell, a 6’3″ 280 pounder, is NFL-ready at defensive tackle. He possesses superior power and explosion and is probably the best defensive lineman in the WAC. The junior had 10.5 sacks last year.

Another 11 sacks, courtesy of Chris Carter, are gone. The job of replacing that production will falls to ends Matt Akers (6’2″, 245) and Donavaughn Pritchett (6’4″, 280). Akers isn’t as fast as Carter but is noted for playing til’ the whistle blows, and Pritchett has plenty of size. This end spot is unlikely to match 2010 but should be serviceable.

Opposite them is a pair of 240 pound pass rushers in Nat Harrison and Tristan Okpalaugo. These two have very limited gametime experience (12 appearances between the two of them), and will struggle against the pass.

Linebackers: Travis Brown, Kyle Hunt and Jeremiah Toma have plenty of experience and are expected to play well. They are big on size, though only Knox will surprise you with his speed.

More of the preview after the jump.

Defensive Backs: Philip Thomas headlines the unit, has great size (6’1″) and brings the wood. (Update*: He suffered an injury in practice and will not play against Cal). Behind Harrell, he is probably FSU’s best defensive player. Derron Smith will start alongside him at safety. Smith and the Bulldog corners, L.J. Jones and Isiah Green, have tons of speed and average size. Worth noting – former Cal commit Davon Dunn backs them up.

Special Teams: Kevin Goessling is solid at PK, hitting 15 of 16 last year (boy would that be nice…). Andrew Shapiro was okay, averaging a bit over 37 yards a punt (a number than makes you appreciate Anger) and showing an ability to place the ball where he wants. With the speed FSU’s backs and receivers possess, they have many options at returner.

Biggest Strength vs. Cal Offense: DBs vs Cal WRs. The speed of the defensive backs, combined with Maynard’s lack of experience, could give the Cal QB trouble. Harrell will also be a load for whatever offensive lineman draws that assignment.

Biggest Weakness vs Cal Offense: Offensive line vs FSU D-line (other than Harrell). FSU lacks size on their front and Cal’s offensive line – at least the starters – are bigger, more talented, and (hopefully) be a completely different set of guys this year courtesy of Coach M’s return.

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