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Hawaii Bowl 2014: Key Matchups for Fresno State

Three Key Match-ups to ensure a Fresno State victory over Rice in the Hawaii Bowl

Josh Harper's first bowl game will be his last as a Bulldog
Josh Harper's first bowl game will be his last as a Bulldog
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Fresno State won a bowl game former Colorado State HC and current Florida HC Jim McElwain was the Offensive Coordinator. Maybe that's why he's so revered in Fresno. Since then the Bulldogs have lost five bowl games in six years. These are three keys to make sure it won't be six straight in seven years.

Key Match-up Number One: Bring the Intensity

In the years since Fresno State's last bowl victory, a 40-28 win over Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl, the Bulldogs lost three bowls under former head coach Pat Hill and two under current head coach Tim DeRuyter.

During each of these losses...

  • 40-35 loss to Colorado State in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl
  • 35-28 loss to Wyoming in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl
  • 40-17 loss to Northern Illinois in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl
  • 43-10 loss to SMU in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl
  • 45-20 loss to USC in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl

...the common theme has seemed to be a lack of intensity for 60 minutes. More times than not, the Bulldogs have seemed like a team that's just happy to be there or maybe disinterested because they believe they're too good to be there. Whatever the case, this year it needs to change.

At 6-7, believe it or not, this bowl win would be not only a positive way to cap what seemed to be a hopeless season less than two months ago, give the Bulldogs their first bowl victory in seven years and give Coach DeRuyter his first bowl win as head coach of the Bulldogs. This is their Super Bowl. They need to bring the intensity and play like it is.

Key Match-up Number Two: Josh Harper

Josh Harper will be playing his first bowl game as well as his last game as a Bulldog. The senior wideout has endured a shaky quarterback position where he has caught balls from three different signal callers and still put up enough stats to receive an invitation for the prestigious Senior Bowl.

He ranks second across the board in receptions, yards and touchdowns in the Mountain West Conference and in the top 20 in receptions and yards in all of college football. Harper has proven that regardless of who's throwing him the ball, he has the ability to make plays.

With some late season continuity with cemented Bulldog signal caller Brian Burrell at the helm and a Rice pass defense that has given up more touchdown passes than 115 FBS teams, expect Burrell to find Harper early and often if the Bulldogs are to have success against the Owls.

Key Match-up Number Three: Make Driphus Jackson Uncomfortable

Rice has allowed 26 sacks on the season. Fresno State has 28 sacks on the season. The Bulldogs took a big blow when they announced that starting Junior Defensive End Maurice Poyadue was suspended for violating a team policy, because it's going to be important for them to contain Driphus Jackson who is just 116 yards from becoming the third Owl in Rice history to throw for over 3,000 yards.

It will take a team defensive effort, but if the Bulldogs can get to Jackson or make him uncomfortable in the pocket it could lead to it being a long day for Rice on offense and would give Fresno State a much needed boost to find their way to the long eluded bowl victory.

The Bulldog defense has vastly improved the past four games in which they've had 10 of their 28 sacks on the season. If they can continue this trend on Christmas Eve, the Red Wave will be able have a much more joyful time around the holidays this year.