Coming off a win in the conference opener against Nevada, Fresno State is 2-2 and gearing up to face rival San Jose State on Saturday. The Spartans are 1-5, with their only win coming against Cal Poly. The Collegian spoke with Luke Johnson, the sports editor at San Jose State’s student-run newspaper, the Spartan Daily, to discuss the upcoming game.
DG: San Jose State has struggled so far this year with a 1-5 record. How would you assess the team’s first half?
LJ: The Spartans are getting blown out in every game that isn’t against an FCS team. The only thing the team has done consistently well is kick and punt.
DG: Former head coach Ron Caragher was fired the day after beating Fresno State last year, and Brent Brennan was hired shortly after. How tough of a job has Brennan had so far, and how does the road ahead look?
LJ: When a team isn’t doing well, people will initially point to the head coach as the problem. However, Brent Brennan gets a free pass this season. I firmly believe that great players make great coaches in college football, and Brennan is currently playing with the previous coach’s players. This isn’t the same situation as when Urban Meyer took over Ohio State, because he already had four- and five-star recruits at his disposal. This is San Jose State, and Brennan is dealing with mostly two-star recruits. It won’t be for another two or three years until his hand-selected players get most of the playing time. He has until then to prove that the program is performing at an adequate level.
DG: Fresno State also has a new head coach this year – Jeff Tedford. How would you compare the coaching situations?
LJ: Brennan and Tedford are almost polar opposites. Brennan is a first-time head coach and is trying to prove he has what it takes to run a successful program. Meanwhile, Tedford had moderate success in a previous leading role and is trying to prove that he hasn’t lost a step.
DG: The schools are rivals, and the winner gets the Valley trophy, which started in 2013. How would you assess the state of the rivalry right now?
LJ: I’m surprised it took 92 years and 76 meetings for this game to finally have a name and a trophy. However, it makes sense that the rivalry was first honored in its heyday of 2013 – aka the Derek Carr vs. David Fales era. The fact that Carr never beat SJSU is one of the program’s greatest accomplishments in recent history. Both teams are currently in the proverbial and cliche rebuilding stage, and I don’t expect the rivalry to reach those heights again for another 10 or 20 years.
DG: Senior defensive back Andre Chachere is from Fresno, but is a Spartan who has played in almost every game in his time at San Jose State. Is he the best player on defense?
LJ: Chachere was the best player on SJSU’s defense last year, but linebacker Frank Ginda, who leads the country in tackles per game (14.5), has been the team’s MVP this season. However, I do expect Chachere to have a breakout performance during the rest of conference play.
DG: Who are the impact players on offense?
LJ: The offense performs much more smoothly with redshirt-freshman gunslinger Montel Aaron behind center. He has a touchdown to interception ratio of 4-1, and the team has thrown 4-8 without him. Unfortunately for SJSU, he’s been out for the past two games with a right leg injury and isn’t expected to return for another two weeks at the earliest. Another guy who has played well is sophomore wide receiver Bailey Gaither. He has 21 receptions for 314 yards and four touchdowns through five games. However, he didn’t play last week either, due to injury, but he hasn’t been ruled out against Fresno State.
DG: What is your game prediction?
LJ: I rarely ever bet on my own school – especially as an underdog – but I will under these circumstances. The Spartans have nothing to lose. This is their Super Bowl. Crazy things tend to happen in rivalry games. Therefore, SJSU wins, 23-21.