FRESNO STATE VS. NO 15 USC
4:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
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Bulldogs 0-0, Trojans 0-0
KMPH (26.1), KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)
85 degrees, sunny, light wind
USC leads 2-1
KEY TO SUCCESS
•For Fresno State:
Compete. USC will be more vulnerable now, early in the season, than later when it has played a few games in its new offensive and defensive schemes, and those talented freshmen settle in a bit. But if the Bulldogs come out timid, as they have against ranked Power Conference teams, they have no chance. Come out swinging hard this time -- you might connect.
Pressure the quarterback into mistakes. The Trojans had Derek Carr bailing from the pocket last year in the Las Vegas Bowl, took away the bubble screens and bullet passes and scuttled Fresno State's passing offense. The Bulldogs averaged a measly 3.9 yards per pass play. Would Brian Burrell or Brandon Connette react differently with pressure coming up the middle or off the edge?
The loss of Fresno State cornerback Corey Ferguson, who was dismissed from the team on Thursday for a violation of athletic department policy, will not have an impact on the starters at USC.
Bryan Harper, the Arizona transfer, will start on one side. Curtis Riley, who started 11 games last season, will get the call on the other side. Both have been taking the reps with the No. 1 defense through game week practices.
But Ferguson's dismissal could impact the use of strong safety Charles Washington, who also is the No. 1 nickel back and last week in practice started to take reps at cornerback.
"He's going to play nickel, he's going to play safety, and we'll see," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He'll have to be in the rotation, and we feel good about his knowledge playing all three positions."
Washington was moved to corner last season for the Mountain West Conference championship against Utah State and stayed there for the Las Vegas Bowl. But he went back to strong safety and picked up nickel during spring practices, the cornerback spot presumably behind him.
"I told the coaches the same thing as last year -- wherever they need me, I'll play," Washington said. "It was kind of a late adjustment last year. The week of the championship game, I had to learn a lot of new techniques for the cornerback position. It's kind of the same here in camp. But I think our cornerbacks are doing a good job of holding it down. Curt and Bryan are doing an outstanding job right now."
The reps at corner helped Washington with his overall knowledge of the defense, as well as his technique and coverage skills. Whether or not he plays at corner against the Trojans, he will be busy. Washington also is on three special teams units: punt, kickoff and the onside kick team.
"Coach (Jordan) Peterson, he asked me the other day if it was too much, but ... no," Washington said. "Three positions is not enough. ... I mean not too much for me."
•Stingy pass defense:
USC held the Bulldogs and Derek Carr to an average of 3.9 yards on their 55 pass plays in the Las Vegas Bowl. That was the lowest by Fresno State since a 51-0 loss at Boise State in 2010. In that game, Fresno State hit only 6 of 24 passes for 76 yards or 3.2 yards per attempt.
Senior Juice Quezada and junior Marteze Waller are on the two-deep at running back coming off a season in which they combined for 73.9% of the Bulldogs' rushing yards and scored 13 of their 21 rushing touchdowns. They also rank No. 2 and No. 3 among returning players in receptions with 51 and 23 catches, behind senior Josh Harper and his 79 for 1,011 yards. But it would not be a surprise to see redshirt freshman Dontel James get extended reps against the Trojans.
James has had a strong camp and at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds has a little more behind his pads.
"Any one of those three guys I feel real good with," DeRuyter said. "Juice has more experience, but Dontel has had a heck of a camp and he's a different sized back than what those other guys are and I think he brings something that maybe we don't have with those other guys."
•Young and ready:
USC is expected to start two true freshmen on the offensive line -- 370-pound Damien Mama at right guard and Toa Lobendahn at left guard.
If both start, it will mark the first time in the post-World War II era that the Trojans have had two true freshmen start an opener on the offensive line.
USC has had only three true freshmen offensive linemen start the opening game of a season: Brad Budde at guard in 1976 against Missouri, Travis Claridge at guard in 1996 against Penn State and Kristofer O'Dowd at center in 2007 against Idaho.
Fresno State has nine players on its two-deepwho could play in their first games, including true freshmen Aaron Mitchell at left guard and Xavier Ulutu at inside (Mike) linebacker.
There are four redshirt freshmen -- Allen Gonzalez at right guard, David Patterson at right tackle, Delvon Hardaway as an outside receiver and Nate Madsen at defensive end. And there are three junior college transfers -- Jacob Vazquez at center, Claudell Louis at defensive end and Stratton Brown at cornerback.
The Bulldogs were expected to travel about seven of their true freshmen.
"When you have that many young players, it means you either like them a lot or you're headed for a train wreck," DeRuyter joked. "I like our players a lot."
The Bulldogs have lost 16 consecutive games against ranked opponents, the last win coming against No. 18 Virginia in the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl.USC comes in ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Poll.
Senior wide out Josh Harper comes into the game tied for 10th place with Rashad Evans (2008-'12) and Henry Ellard (1979-'82) on Fresno State's career receptions list with 138 and can take a couple of steps up on the chart against the Trojans.
Marque Davis (1999-2003) is in ninth place with 139 career receptions and Larry Willis (1983-'84) is in eighth with 142.
The career leader is Davante Adams, who grabbed 233 passes in just two seasons.
Free safety Derron Smith, in seventh place on the Fresno State career interceptions list, enters the game just three behind all-time leader Rod Webster (1984-'87) with 17.
•Home opener tickets:
Nebraska returned 500 tickets for the Bulldogs' home opener on Sept. 13 against the Cornhuskers.
Those seats in the north end zone as well as a limited number throughout the season are for sale through www.gobulldogs.com, over the phone at (559) 278-DOGS or at the Fresno State ticket office.
THIS DATE IN BULLDOGS HISTORY
Aug. 30, 1997, vs. Portland State
For the first time in 19 years, Fresno State played a football game without Jim Sweeney as head coach.
And 17 years ago, Pat Hill came away with a resounding victory against Portland State -- but it was a debut that didn't quite go the way Hill had thought it would.
Veteran Bee reporter Andy Boogaard provided the details:
This wasn't included in Pat's Plan.
Never could Pat Hill have dreamed he would have to suspend his best player the night before his debut as Fresno State football coach.
The loss of senior tailback Michael Pittman didn't matter in the Bulldogs' 35-7 pasting of Division 1-AA Portland State Saturday night before 33,114 at Bulldog Stadium.
But next week could be a different story when Baylor of the Big 12 Conference follows the Vikings into town -- if Pittman remains suspended.
"We're going to need every threat against Baylor," said Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Billy Volek, who passed for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a solid debut.
Without Pittman (who was reinstated two days later), Hill turned to sophomore Joe Turner -- a McLane High grad known in his prep days as Joe Oliver and who played one season at Sacramento State as a defensive back before transferring as a walk-on to Fresno State.
"Well, I was really nervous going down that ramp because I had to suspend my best player the night before the game," Hill told Paul Loeffler, the Voice of Bulldogs football, on Thursday when they called the San Jose State-North Dakota game for ESPN3.com.
Turner responded in a big way, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
"That sort of relieved a lot of the pressure I felt going down that ramp," Hill said.
Learn more about the game -- and hear more from Hill, including about the Bulldogs' near-miss in their last visit to the Coliseum, in 2005 against the then No. 1-ranked Trojans -- while listening to Loeffler on "Gameday Live" on KFIG (AM 940) starting at 3 p.m. Saturday.