Fresno State’s uphill climb for a conference championship continues Saturday when it hosts Mountain West rival San Jose State for Homecoming Weekend.
The Spartans (3-5, 2-2 MW) come into the game with just as many victories as the Bulldogs and stand one spot above them in the West Division standings.
“Anytime you play one of our sister California State universities, it’s always a big rivalry,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We have a long history of playing against San Jose State, and it’s been a storied rivalry for a long time. Between them and San Diego State, we recruit the same kids, and this game is obviously a big game because of that.
“But even beyond that, this is a big game for us because we have to start playing how we’re capable of playing.”
Behind first-year defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, DeRuyter has noticed that SJSU’s defense has improved from a year ago. The Spartans have played with efficiency particularly in the passing game, where they have held opposing Mountain West quarterbacks to under 100 passing yards each with the exception of Colorado State signal caller Garrett Grayson.
“They’re playing with a different energy and confidence,” DeRuyter said. “I think they have two excellent corners. They have linebacker Christian Tago, who is one of the better tacklers in the conference. Up front, they have some active guys, but I think the biggest thing is Coach Robinson. He’s a veteran coach that knows how to motivate a team.
“He has some schemes that can give people problems. They’re going to pressure you and give you different looks and be very sound. Each week, they’re getting better and getting more confident, so we know it’s going to be a challenge to go up against that defense because they have the best pass defense in our conference.”
Offensively, the Spartans were in the same predicament at the beginning of the year that the Bulldogs have been in all season with uncertainty at the position. After a tight preseason battle, fifth-year senior Blake Jurich earned the starting job and quarterbacked the first three games of the season before losing the starting spot to junior Joe Gray.
Since the Spartans’ Sept. 27 game against Nevada, Gray has taken ahold of the offense, racking up a total of 1,481 passing yards and eight scores in five games and surpassing 300 yards in three of those contests.
The Spartans offense also provides a stable run game behind junior Tyler Ervin who has over 800 all-purpose yards o the year and averages 6.1 yards per carry.
“We have to focus on stopping everything: the run, the pass and trick plays,” Bulldogs free safety Derron Smith said. “It doesn’t matter. We have to key in on everything. We can’t try to look to one spot because then other areas would get exposed.”
In 2013, the then nationally ranked and 10-0 Bulldogs were in the discussion for a BCS game before suffering a 62-52 upset loss on the road in late November to the Spartans. This year, the Bulldogs’ focus will not be to extract revenge. Instead they are more focused on getting a victory here to potentially turn their season around and get back in the MW race.
“Last year, when we played San Jose State, we played well on offense but played horrible on defense,” DeRuyter said. “However, we came back the next week for the championship game and had a remarkably different game from our defense. It’s going to take that kind of an effort and that kind of faith in our players and our coaching staff to turn this thing around.”
“We’re not really worried about that,” Smith said. “We’re more worried about this year than we are about last year.”
Game time at Bulldog Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m., and the game can also be seen live on the CBS Sports Network.