Who: Fresno State Bulldogs (6-1, 3-0 MWC) v. Hawai’i Warriors (6-3, 3-1 MWC)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity 40,727)
When: Saturday, October 27, 7:30PM PT
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast on ESPN2
A week after climbing to the top of the West Division with another elite defensive showing against New Mexico, the Bulldogs return home to face the Warriors of Hawai’i in what has become known as the Golden Screwdriver game. Now, we can’t convince either school to create a trophy for us, but to those Fresno and Hawai’i fans that have been around for awhile definitely know the lore of the Golden Screwdriver, and why this game matters to both programs. The two teams have faced off 50 times in their history, with Fresno holding a 27-22-1 lead in the series; (The tie in 1985 kept Fresno State from a perfect season, and the only undefeated team that year).
For those of you that aren’t up on your minor Mountain West rivalries, the story of the Golden Screwdriver tracks back to the incredibly heated matchups between Fresno State and Hawaii at the turn of the millennium. Hawaii was beginning to make real noise under June Jones, and Pat Hill’s Bulldogs were trying to be the first BCS buster. The #18 Bulldogs had suffered their first loss to Boise State, but were still in the running for a major bowl before a trip to a feisty Hawai’i team on the islands. June Jones and his run and shoot offense would be too much for the Bulldogs, and they ended Fresno’s BCS dreams with a 38-34 loss. The next year, the game came back to Bulldog Stadium, and the Dogs were looking for revenge. Hawai’i would take this game, their first in Fresno, 31-21. As the game concluded, the legend goes that a screwdriver came flying out of the stands, and hit the ground near the Warrior bench. No one can corroborate this story, and no screwdriver was found in the grass, but the story quickly became legend between the two teams. So instead of a Golden Screwdriver being something sorority girls chug in Cancun for Spring Break made of orange juice and Goldshlager, it’s a fun rivalry game.
In the last decade, the series has tilted far more in favor of Fresno State than Hawai’i, with the only Warrior win being on a block field goal against the abysmal 2016 squad. These games always have a tendency to get really funky between the two teams, even the incredible 2013 team had to hold on for dear life for a 5 point win against a 1-win team on the islands. Now the teams meet in Bulldog Stadium with not only a division lead on the line, but a potential NY6 berth for Fresno, and a bowl berth period for Hawai’i.
The Warriors got off to a lightning start in 2018, with the run and shoot performing as advertised with Cole McDonald under center. They scored an incredible 42 points per game in the first 6 en route to a 5-1 record. Since then though, they seem to have stalled out on multiple fronts. After losing McDonald for a game, they squeaked back Wyoming in a defensive showcase 17-13, then got blitzed in back to back games by BYU and Nevada. The Nevada loss bumped them from the division lead, but they are only 1 game behind Fresno State and San Diego State. Hawai’i’s offense has still been Top 40 in the country, sitting at 37th in Offensive S&P+, with their passing efficiency all the way up to 18th. This will definitely be the best passing attack that Fresno State has seen up to this date, but Hawai’i hasn’t seen a defense anywhere near Fresno’s either.
While the Warriors have been fantastic on offense, their defense has been the polar opposite, with even more bad news coming into this week. They’ve been sitting at 121st in Defensive S&P+, and now they’ll be without Jahlani Tavai, the one bright spot on that defense. So now an already porous defense will face one of the most efficient offenses in the country, and one that ranks even better than McDonald and Co. in most metrics. FPI has them at 19th, S&P+ has them at 36, and they’re one of the best at passing the ball efficiently. This has the potential to get very ugly, very fast if Fresno can pass the ball with impunity. Add this to a hopefully raucous Homecoming crowd in Bulldog Stadium, and this could be the statement win the Dogs have been looking for if they want to get ranked.
One of the best stories this season has been the absolutely elite way Fresno State has been playing defense. After losing 4 D-Linemen and their defensive coordinator, everyone expected the Bulldogs to take a step back on that side of the ball. Apparently someone forgot to tell Bert Watts and his players, as they’ve surged from 13th in defensive S&P+ last year to 8th so far this year, with the No.1 scoring defense in the country. They’re allowing only 12.6 points per game, and are also No.1 in red zone defense, and passing defensive efficiency. They’re anchored by an incredibly efficient back 7 that’s mixed elite tackling ability with a ball-hawking skill that most of us haven’t seen since 2004 at least. Jeff Allison is the best linebacker not being talked about, and he’s flanked by two phenomenal seniors in George Helmuth and James Bailey. And past them is the conference’s best secondary with Tank Kelly, Jaron Bryant, Mike Bell, and Juju Hughes averaging 3 turnovers a game. This looks to be a long evening for the Hawai’i offense against this elite defense.
Fresno State needs a statement win if they want to be in the running for the NY6 bowl berth. This weekend having the game on ESPN2 gives them a great chance to do that. Hawaii has the best record of a team they’ve played so far, and could remove a player from the divisional race with a showdown against SDSU still to come in November. Look for Marcus McMaryion and the receivers to take advantage against the porous Warrior defense, and the Bulldog defense to flex their muscles against a fading Hawai’i team. The current spread is 24.5 in favor of Fresno State, with FPI giving them a 98% chance to win. S&P+ gives them a 94% chance to win, with a projected margin of 26 points. Everyone seems to believe in the Bulldogs, and I’m going to go along with them. This is going to be a statement win for Fresno State, and set them on a crash course with Boise and SDSU in November.