Juan Villa / The Collegian
Fresno State takes on Hawaii in WAC opener
With the first four games wrapped up, Pat Hill and the rest of the Bulldogs are preparing for their next challenge â€” conference play.
Fresno State returns to Bulldog Stadium with their Western Athletic Conference (WAC) opener against last seasonâ€™s WAC champion, the Hawaii Warriors on Saturday night.
â€œWeâ€™ll get tested this week,â€ Hill said. â€œThis is a team weâ€™ve had a real difficult time with in my tenure here. This is a big game for us.â€
The Bulldogs have lost two in a row against the Warriors, and Pat Hill is always reminded about those two losses against Hawaii.
â€œI hear it all the time,â€ Hill said. â€œItâ€™s the truth though. Hawaiiâ€™s beaten us the last two times out. We had a very tough loss last year and they put a shellacking on us two years ago at our stadium. And we all remember it well.â€
This year, Hawaii has 12 returning starters from the team that made it to the Sugar Bowl last season.
What it doesnâ€™t have is coach June Jones roaming the sidelines. Nor does it have the â€œdread headsâ€ racking up the yards for the Warriors on the receiving end or Colt Brennan putting the ball in the air.
Hawaii is considered a younger team with first-year coach Greg McMackin and junior Inoke Funaki replacing Colt Brennan at quarterback.
Unlike Brennan, Funaki is considered a running quarterback for the Warriors.
It will be up to Bulldog linebacker Ben Jacobs to deal with Funaki, the first quarterback on the Bulldogsâ€™ schedule not considered a pocket passer.
â€œItâ€™s a little different from what weâ€™ve seen,â€ Jacobs said. â€œMy eyes have to be really good and be able to squeeze blocks.â€
David Baker / Ka Leo O Hawaii
The Warriors have a record opposite of the Bulldogs at 1-3, which includes their WAC- opener loss to San Jose State last week at home.
Hill, however, is convincing his players, such as center Joe Bernardi to take this as another game and forget about the record.
â€œPersonally itâ€™s a big game for all of us,â€ Bernardi said. â€œIâ€™m excited, but we canâ€™t get too much into it. We just got to do what we do and try to come out and play a good ballgame.â€
Hawaii will be facing off against a Bulldog team which has scored a combined 91 points against Toledo and UCLA in back-to-back weeks.
Tight end Bear Pascoe has been a key reason why the offense has flourished the last couple of weeks.
â€œWeâ€™ve gotten more in tune with each other and everyone started to hit on all cylinders and weâ€™ve been playing good together,â€ said Pascoe, who leads the team in receptions so far with 16 and is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions.
Bernardi has also seen how much the offense has improved.
â€œItâ€™s a good day at the office when youâ€™re running the ball for over 200 yards and Tommy [Brandstater] throws for three touchdowns one week and four in the other,â€ Bernardi said. â€œSo itâ€™s definitely showing improvement of the offense.â€
Pascoe and the rest of the Bulldog offense will be dealing with a Hawaii defense known for having speed.
â€œTheyâ€™re quick and they rally to the ball,â€ Pascoe said.
The Warriors are also known for having big defensive linemen, who this year average around 285 pounds. Joe Bernardi and the rest of the offensive line will contend with Hawaiiâ€™s four-man front.
â€œEvery team has big defensive linemen, itâ€™s a personal challenge for us,â€ Bernardi said. â€œWe got to go out there, establish the run game, and protect the quarterback; itâ€™s the same as every week.â€
The Bulldogs moved up to No.22 in the nation after holding off UCLA in a 36-31 victory at the Rose Bowl last Saturday.
Hill is expecting a tough contest against their WAC rival.
â€œThis will be a good football game,â€ Hill said. â€œThis is going to be a very physical game. It always is with Hawaii.â€
Getting to know the Hawaii Warriors…
2007 Record: 12-1 (8-0 in WAC play)
The story so far: The Warriors had an excellent season in 2007, finishing the regular season 12-0 and earning a Sugar Bowl birth. The 2008 season has not been so kind to Hawaii. The Warriors lost quarterback Colt Brennan, four starting receivers and head coach June Jones. In its first four games, Hawaii lost to Florida, Oregon State and San Jose State and has only one win on the season against Football Championship Series(FCS) team Weber State. The Warriors have a new coach, Greg McMackin and cannot decide on a starting quarterback, playing four different quarterbacks so far this season.
Impact Players: Offense – Quarterback Inoke Funaki – The Warriors have had trouble deciding on a signal-caller this year, but it looks like they may have settled on Funaki. The junior quarterback has completed 58 percent of his passes for 406 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.
Defense – Linebacker Solomon Elimimian – The senior linebacker is the key player for the Warrior defense. Elimimian has already racked up 25 tackles this season as well as four pass break ups.
The Buzz: The Bulldogs have played three of their first four games this season on the road and coach Pat Hill has said that he is ready to be back at Bulldog Stadium. Fresno State is currently ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll and has not given up on all BCS hopes, so every game is still critical as the season goes on. The game still has tickets available, but following the win at UCLA, the Bulldogs could have their second straight sellout. The Warriors come in on a down year, but they will never be out. This is a rivalry that goes back to 1938 and Fresno State leads the series 20-19-1, but the Bulldogs may have a little extra to play for. Hawaii has won the last two games in the series, including its 68-37 win in 2006.