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Fresno State football: 3 Keys to Defending the Oil Can

The Bulldogs were big favorites a year ago and narrowly avoided a devastating loss. How will Tim DeRuyter and company solve the Aztecs this time around?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

WEEK 6: San Diego State Aztecs (2-2, 1-0 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (2-3, 1-0)

WHEN: Friday, October 3 -- 7:00 PM, PST

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)

TV: CBS Sports Network

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will broadcast the game in English and Spanish, respectively. The Aztecs broadcast can be found in and around San Diego on 1090 AM or 105.7 FM.

SERIES RECORD: The Aztecs lead the series 27-22-4.  In the last meeting on October 26, 2013, the Bulldogs escaped an upset bid in overtime, 35-28.

WEB SITES:, Fresno State's official athletics site |, San Diego State's official athletics site

In the two full years that the Fresno State Bulldogs have been members of the Mountain West Conference, perhaps no team has given them more fits on the gridiron than the San Diego State Aztecs.  Perhaps Rocky Long's squad gave the 'Dogs fair warning, though, in their victory to end the 2011 season, since the two subsequent matchups have been wildly entertaining.

Last year, the Aztecs had Fresno dead to rights until Marcel Jensen gave the 'Dogs new life with a blocked field goal.  This year's matchup should look much different because of graduations and injuries, but rivalries have a way of making things unpredictable.

Three Reasons Why Fresno State Will Win

1. Now that the unquestioned starting quarterback has finally revealed himself, the Bulldogs must be pleased by Brian Burrell's progress in the last two weeks.  Slow starts continue to plague the offense, but without the threat of a quick hook Burrell has begun to look like a playmaker with his arm and his legs.  His completion percentage is 67.8% in the last two games, and he's averaging 5.2 yards per attempt on the ground in that same span.  For as athletic as the Aztecs are on defense, they'll need to be mindful of containment or else the Bulldogs could victimize them for a big play.

2. In last year's matchup, Derek Carr was asked to win the game virtually by himself but was flummoxed all evening by the 3-3-5 defense.  If the last couple weeks are any indication, however, offensive coordinator Dave Schramm has finally figured out how to play to this year's strengths.  The key?  Balance.

Fresno's running attack hasn't been this prolific since 2008, when the 'Dogs recorded back-to-back 300-yard efforts behind Anthony Harding, Lonyae Miller and Ryan Mathews.  Granted, Southern Utah and New Mexico haven't exactly covered themselves in glory with their run defense, but a commitment to Marteze Waller and the ground game will be crucial.  Under Tim DeRuyter, the Bulldogs are 12-2 when they have a 100-yard rusher and a perfect 10-0 when they have 200+ yards as a team.

3. Aztecs quarterback Quinn Kaehler had one of his best performances a year ago against Fresno State, but he will not be under center Friday due to injury.  True freshman Nick Bawden will get the start, and he can expect a hostile introduction into the college ranks because it would be a shock if defensive coordinator Nick Toth did not try to bring pressure all night.  Fresno State is 17-3 since the start of the 2012 season when recording multiple sacks, which means Terry Poole and Pearce Slater should have their hands full with Donavon Lewis, Ejiro Ederaine and the occasional corner blitz.

The last freshman QB to win at Bulldog Stadium was Nevada's David Neill back in 1998, and while SDSU's own Spencer Brinson (coincidentally enough) accomplished the same feat the year before, the fact remains that that the 'Dogs should have a decisive home-field advantage:  Fresno is 23-7 at home since 2009, trailing only Boise among MWC teams.

Three Reasons the Bulldogs Might Falter

1. One odd wrinkle to keep an eye on is whether or not the Bulldogs are able to score first.  During DeRuyter's tenure, Fresno is 16-2 when getting the lead first but just 6-7 when they fall behind early.  San Diego State is 16-8 under Rock Long when they score first.

2. Perhaps it's fitting that, when you consider the importance of special teams, the shoe is on the other foot in 2014. Bulldogs kicker Kody Kroening hasn't had any opportunity to put three points on the board since his ugly miss against Nebraska, and while the offense has been even more willing to go for it on fourth down as a result of kicking woes they haven't had last year's success in doing so.  A close-and-late situation might be the last thing Bulldogs fans want.

3. Though the defense might breath a sigh of relief that Ezell Ruffin is also out with an injury after his dynamic performance a year ago, the jury is still out on whether they can cover anybody in the secondary.  Southern Utah and New Mexico may have been overmatched athletically, but it's hard to ignore the fact that the defense has allowed over 10 yards per attempt in seven of the last nine games (going back to last season).  Eric Judge, Larry Clark and Jemond Hazely haven't yet made many highlight reels, but they just might if the defensive backfield hasn't fixed their issues.