Formerly unbeaten, formerly nationally ranked Fresno State found out last Saturday it couldn't cope defensively with the wishbone offense and couldn't cope offensively with the Midwestern winds that have nothing to stop them but withered cornfields. Playing in barren DeKalb, Ill., the Bulldogs were annihilated - Coach Jim Sweeney's word - 73-18 by unranked Northern Illinois, now 3-3.
"We have never, ever been beaten up like that by anybody," said Sweeney. "I don't know how we could have underestimated (NIU quarterback) Stacey Robinson, but we did. Man, he turned and went down the sidelines, and all I saw was his spikes coming back up."Robinson set an NCAA record for quarterbacks, scoring five times and rushing 22 times for 308 yards.
"We didn't have the speed to deal with them on the Astroturf," Sweeney said.
Now, though, it's back to the natural grass of sunken Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, where the winds don't blow because they can't get in, so quarterback Mark Barsotti can throw again, and back to the more conventional Big West-style offense of the Utah State Aggies and Coach Chuck Shelton. "I don't think Chuck has time to put in the veer, so I'm not going to worry about it any more," Sweeney said.
Translation: The two-time defending Big West-champion Bulldogs expect to be back to normal Saturday when they take on the 1-3 Aggies at 8 p.m. MDT.
The Aggies expect the Bulldogs to be better than normal, in fact."We feel we're going to play a highly motivated Fresno team, a team that is not going to take what happened to them too lightly," says Shelton.
Before venturing into DeKalb, Fresno was second in the nation in rushing defense, yielding 88 yards a game. Big names on defense are end Nick Ruggeroli and linebacker Erick Tanuvasa, along with free safety Marquez Pope.
Offensively, Barsotti, a junior, holds a 26-4 career won-lost record and still ranks ninth nationally in total offense, averaging 265.8 yards a game. He threw for a career-high 334 yards two weeks ago at Utah, and totaled 301 against New Mexico State and 281 against Eastern Michigan. He was 22-for-40 passing for 199 yards in the wind at NIU, and has 110-for-197-for-1,469-yard totals for the season.
Additionally, says Shelton, "Barsotti is a very good scrambling quarterback. He could be a starting running back in this league.
"He knows where everybody is, and he knows what to do. Every time you give him a crack, he takes advantage of it."
Senior tailback Aaron Craver ranks 10th nationally in scoring at 10.0 points a game, has run for 175 yards in one game and 591 yards for the season.
Fresno is going for a league-record 18th-straight Big West victory. Its last league loss was to Utah State, Nov. 14, 1987. Last year, Fresno ripped Utah State 34-7 in Logan on homecoming for the Bulldogs' 13th-straight victory, the second-longest win streak in the county at the time.