Fresno State inside linebacker Xavier Ulutu (30) and offensive lineman Art Gomez (56) prepare to block Southern Utah defenders during the ‘Dogs’ 56-16 victory on Sept. 20. The Bulldogs will host the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday in the first home conference game of the season. Photo by Darlene Wendels/The Collegian
The Fresno State football team will have its eyes set on racking up its third straight win and retaining the Oil Can this Friday, when it square off against the conference in-state rival San Diego State Aztecs.
Fresno State (2-3, 1-0 Mountain West) and SDSU (2-2, 1-0) are currently tied with Nevada in the conference’s West Division. In the preseason, the Bulldogs and Aztecs were picked to finish first and second in the division, respectively.
“[San Diego State head] coach Rocky Long and his staff do a tremendous job,” Fresno State head coach DeRuyter said. “They have a very, very talented team. Offensively, Coach [Bob] Toledo does a great job running the pro-style offense.”
Running back Donnel Pumphrey, a sophomore, headlines the Aztec offense. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound backs’ season statistics consist of 467 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, including a 167-yard and four-touchdown performance last Saturday versus UNLV. He is regarded as one of the more playmaking running backs in the Mountain West Conference by many including coach DeRuyter.
“He’s a really explosive runner, and I think he’s one of the top guys in the conference,” DeRuyter said. “And they have skill all around him, so when you do load the box play, action pass-wise they can put some stress on you.”
Brian Burrell will be making his sixth start for the Bulldogs Friday. The junior quarterback had a record performance last week against New Mexico and looks to ride that as momentum going into this week. Burrell also said he is aware of the challenges that SDSU’s defense poses, as he witnessed first hand how last year’s offense struggled to move the ball at times against their complicated scheme.
“They have a really good front six,” Burrell said. “They blitz a lot and they disguise well so they make it tough to tell where they’re coming from.”
Senior captain Josh Harper, who will be facing the Aztecs for the fourth time, admits there are issues they’ve encountered facing the 3-3 scheme, but feels there is a way to work around it. The Bulldogs’ top wideout believes the Bulldogs can counter SDSU’s defense and keep it on its heels using their up-tempo approach.
“They move around and blitz a lot, so we have to use our tempo to wear them out,” Harper said. “They do a good job of bringing pressure, so we have to throw them off using our tempo.”
On the other side, true freshman quarterback Nick Bawden will be making his first collegiate start for the Aztecs. The signal caller from Los Gatos, California, is taking over for senior Quinn Kaehler, who suffered a shoulder injury late in the game last week against UNLV.
San Diego State boasts an exotic, physical defense that DeRuyter said can be overwhelming for an inexperienced quarterback. The physicality and unpredictability of the group was demonstrated in last year’s game, where they pressured Derek Carr and held the Fresno State offense in check in the first half — allowing just seven points.
“Defensively, Rocky’s 3-3 scheme is very difficult for an inexperienced quarterback to figure out, and they can create a ton of problems that way,” DeRuyter said. “We know we have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited about the challenge and excited about the opportunity to hopefully hang onto the Oil Can.”
Last year’s contest between the two went into overtime, with the Bulldogs prevailing for the 35-28 nail-biting victory.
Friday’s Mountain West matchup is labeled the “Night in Navy” game in which the Bulldogs will wear brand new navy uniforms and chrome helmets. It also marks the 1,000th game in program history for the Bulldogs.
“I think this game is going to be huge for a number of reasons,” DeRuyter said. “We’re West Division rivals, and we have the ‘Night in Navy’ going on, where we’ll be wearing navy. It’s also the only home game that the Red Wave can come watch us in October.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere with it being a CBS Sports Network game and playing against a very, very tough San Diego State team. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had two great games against them. Both of them were nail-biters, they went back-and-forth and we expect nothing different this Friday night.”