In-state rivalry showdown set for Friday

Nhat V. Meyer / McClatchy Tribune

Bulldogs are 36-33-3 all-time against the San Jose State Spartans

After being chosen as the preseason Western Athletic Conference (WAC) favorites, the football team finds itself heading into the final two games of the season behind five other teams in the conference.

However, last Saturday’s win over New Mexico State, 24-17, improved the Bulldogs’ record to 6-4 (3-3 WAC) making the ’Dogs bowl eligible for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

“It was a big win,” coach Pat Hill said. “They all are this time of year. We’re a battered team, but we played hard.”

The Bulldogs were only able to suit up 54 players for the game against the Aggies. Even though they were short-handed, the defense had a record-setting day. The ’Dogs held the Aggies to a school record minus-9 rushing yards in the game.

“I have to give a lot of credit to our defense and defensive coordinator Dan Brown,” Hill said. “Anytime you hold a team to minus nine yards is pretty darned good.”

With Bowl Championship Series (BCS) hopes long gone and a WAC title out of reach, Hill said there is still a lot to play for this season.

“We are bowl eligible, but may need another win to secure a bowl game,” Hill said. “Friday we have a big game against a very talented San Jose State team.”

Last season, the Bulldogs defeated the Spartans 30-0 at Bulldog Stadium. The Bulldogs have dominated the series of late winning 13 of the last 14 meetings, but the Spartans got the best of the ’Dogs in 2006 with a win at Spartan Stadium 24-14.

Hill said he remembers the ‘06 game very well.

“First of all, 2006 was just a bad season overall,” Hill said. “But we got down early in that game, and never really got into a rhythm.”

The Bulldogs were able to get back into that game in 2006, but Hill said they had a few things happen in that game that really hurt them.

“At the end of the half we had a running into the kicker penalty which gave them the ball back, which led to a score giving them momentum going into the half,” Hill said. “Then, we had a first and goal on the four, and had a motion call which backed us up, forcing us to throw which led to a turnover. Good teams can’t do that.”

With a short week to get ready, Hill is unsure who will be able to return from injury.

“I know it’s going to be a tough game, so hopefully we could get some guys back,” Hill said. “Right now I don’t know when we will get them back, so whoever puts on that red helmet better be ready to play.”

Hill said he was pleased with the effort in the game against the Aggies, and hopes it will carry over against the Spartans.

“Some guys tried to play hurt, like Lonyae Miller, but he wasn’t ready,” Hill said. “Tom Brandstater showed his toughness playing on his injured ankle, and Anthony Harding stepped up once again with our banged-up backfield.”

Harding had his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. The Bulldogs are 3-1 this season when a back runs for more than 100 yards in a game.

However, even with the win last weekend over the Aggies, the ’Dogs finished 2-3 at Bulldog Stadium this season. It’s the first losing record at home since 1994.

The Bulldogs finished the season with an average attendance of 37,864 on the year, better than last year’s total of 36,290 fans.

Harding said he wants to thank the fans for coming out.

“It may not be the season the fans were hoping for, but as a team we’re glad you are sticking with us,” Harding said. “Hopefully, we can finish this season on a high note, and set our fans up for another bowl game.”

The Bulldogs will look to improve their resume for a bowl game Friday in a rivalry game against the Spartans at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

San Jose State also has six wins and is 4-3 in conference play.

Getting to know the San Jose State Spartans…

2007 Record: 5-7 (4-4 in the WAC)

The story so far: San Jose State started the season on a hot streak and was even leading the WAC for a few weeks. The Spartans opened the season 5-2 and played Boise State in late October for first place in the conference. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they fell to the Broncos and have lost 2-of-3 since. The Spartans come into this game at 6-5 and fighting for a bowl birth.

Impact Players: Offense – Wide receiver David Richmond – The senior receiver has had a strong showing in his final season and is leading the Spartans in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Richmond, at 6-foot-4, has taken advantage of his height this season, pulling in 64 receptions for 734 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Spartans’ second-leading receiver, Terrance Williams, has only 22 receptions.

Defense – Linebacker Duke Ihenacho – Even though the sophomore linebacker is undersized at only 200 pounds, Ihenacho has played big this season for San Jose State. The linebacker has 62 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. Ihenacho has even intercepted five passes this season, returning two for touchdowns.

The Buzz: The Spartans and the Bulldogs come into this game in the same situation. Both teams have won their sixth game, making them eligible for a postseason bowl, but there may not be enough spots for all the eligible teams in the WAC. One team will walk away from Spartan Stadium Friday night with its seventh win and an almost certain bowl birth.

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