Who: Fresno State (8-2, 5-1 MWC) v. San Diego State (7-3, 4-2 MWC)
Where: Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA (Capacity, 39,042)
When: Saturday, November 17, 7:30 PM PT
How to Watch: Game is broadcast on CBS Sports Network
I don’t know why I expected differently. Fresno State with all the momentum in the world, nationally televised game, with a path to the NY6 still visible if they can beat Boise on the blue turf. Well, we all should have seen that coming. Fresno State continues being absolutely snakebit against Boise, and collapsed down the stretch to lose their ranking and NY6 potential last Friday. Now they return home for a pivotal West Division showdown against an Aztecs team also looking for a bounceback.
After starting strong against the Broncos, Fresno State lost 24-17, and now have to win this week’s game if they still want to end up in the MWC Championship Game. Although, that path to the title game looks a bit clearer than it did after that demoralizing loss. On Saturday night, SDSU’s defense went completely asleep and fell to the UNLV Rebels 27-24 in San Diego. This is the same UNLV team that got absolutely blasted by both Fresno State and San Jose State in back to back weeks. Now, all Fresno State has to do is win one of their last two games, but a win Saturday night will clinch the division a week early. Not to mention it will be a great bounceback for a team looking for another double-digit win season and retaining the Oil Can trophy after losing the Milk Can to Boise. The last time the Bulldogs won double-digit games in back to back seasons, none of the current players were alive, and Jim Sweeney was patrolling the sidelines in 88 and 89.
For anyone looking for an offensive track meet, you won’t find one this week when the Aztecs visit Bulldog Stadium. This is going to be a defensive game, as both teams are ranked in the Top 25 in defense, especially with SDSU’s exotic 3-3-5 defense always causing problems for opposing offenses. Where things really differ though is on the offensive side of the ball. We’re used to seeing a solid ground attack from the Aztecs, but that just hasn’t materialized the same way as it has in prior years. Yes, injuries play a role in that, and Juwuan Washington has been banged up for awhile. But the rest of the offense has been wildly inconsistent, and the Aztecs haven’t scored more than 31 points all season, and are at an incredibly pedestrian 22 points per game. Injuries again play a role, as Christian Chapman went down an MCL injury, forcing Ryan Agnew into the starting role. Although Chapman started last week’s game, only to get benched for Agnew as SDSU tried to come back against the Rebels.
If you’re Kalen DeBoer and the offensive staff, you probably know that the rushing game will not be your star Saturday night. The Aztec defense is fantastic against the run, ranking 9th in the country, and completely shutting down super-back Bryce Love back in Week 1. But being that dominant against the run leaves them a bit more open to exploitation in the passing game, and they’re about to face a dynamic passing attack. Marcus McMaryion is still hitting on more than 70% of his passes, Keesean Johnson is now the all-time leader in receptions, and seems destined to clear 1,000 yards on the season, and Michiah Quick is now back from injury. The Fresno State passing attack currently ranks 15th in S&P+, 4th in passing efficiency, and 1st in completion percentage. Even with a player like Parker Baldwin in the SDSU secondary, don’t think there’s a way they can cover all of the options the Bulldogs have on offense.
I’m sure Rocky Long knows that his passing game isn’t great, and will want to establish the run against Fresno’s front, but that looks to be quite a tall task. While the Aztec defense is 9th against the run, Fresno’s is 4th. And honestly, the running game is the heart and soul of the Aztec attack. If they can’t run the ball, you’re going to force Ryan Agnew/Christian Chapman to throw into the teeth of an incredibly experienced secondary currently leading the country in passes defended. Tank Kelly is No.1 in the country in passes defended, and the secondary as a whole has collected 11INTs so far this year. Definitely not what you want if you’re the SDSU offensive staff, and I’m sure the Bulldog defensive crew knows that making San Diego one-dimensional will be key to shutting them down.
The weather for game night looks like a fine November night, with temperatures in the 50s at kickoff, dipping into the 40s by the time it’s all done. Bit chillier than San Diego is used to , and it looks like the terrible smoke will not create too many problems in Fresno. The biggest question is if fans will pack the stadium for the team, and ticket sales seem to be tracking very well. While past Fresno State teams have folded after a tough loss to Boise, this team definitely seems poised for a bounceback, and to make a statement while locking up their division for the 2nd straight year.
Predicting a score on this game is going to be tough to do. Yes, the Aztecs offense isn’t good. Yes, both defenses are going to be good against the run. Yes, the Dogs are at home, where they’re undefeated this year. But Rocky Long teams just don’t get blown out. Their biggest loss was to Stanford the first week of the season, and every game since Week 3 has been decided by 10 points or less. Vegas has set the line at 13, which means they think Fresno State’s defense can shut down SDSU, and their offense can put up more than enough points to put the title away. ESPN’s FPI gives Fresno State a 91% chance to take this one at home, with S&P+ sitting at 77% and a 12 point margin. I’m thinking this game could be a lot like last year’s game, where there aren’t a ton of points, but Fresno State wins comfortably. Probably somewhere around 24-3, or 28-7.
Also, we better not get those refs from last week. Bunch of amateurs on that game. Terrible spots, terrible penalty calls, and one of the worst measurements we’ve seen in a long time. And of course the conference can’t admit a mistake and punish the refs. Thanks again Craig Thompson. You suck.