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Bulldog Bytes: Battle for the Valley Trophy

One more game, one more rivalry trophy on the line

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 San Jose State at Fresno State Photo by Rick Dodd/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

WHO: Fresno State (8-3, 5-2 MWC) @ SJSU (5-6, 3-4 MWC)

WHEN: Thursday, November 25, 12:30PM PT

WHERE: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA

HOW TO WATCH: Game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1

It all comes down to this. The final game of Fresno State’s regular season, one more rivalry game, and a potential spot in the Mountain West Championship Game on the line. Fresno State will look to recapture the Valley Trophy against San Jose State on Thanksgiving Day, while the Spartans are looking to become bowl eligible for a second straight year. Let’s take a look at the game, and see what the Bulldogs need to do to make sure they are have a shot at winning the West Division.

The Spartans have had an up-and-down season in defense of their 2020 Mountain West title. Now, they hope to once again upset their rivals to the south to reach bowl eligibility. Most of their chances will be dictated by who is under center on Thursday. The offense moved efficiently with Nick Starkel running it, but he has been slowed by injuries this season, forcing Nick Nash to take over. They will have to hope more for 2020 Starkel and a strong performance by Derek Deese Jr if they want to keep pace with Fresno State’s high flying offense.

Outside of their most recent game against Utah State, the SJSU defense has been doing a good job of containing offenses, surrendering only 23 points per game on average. Now they face a Bulldog offense scoring 33 points per game and the conference’s leading passer in Jake Haener. Let’s see which version of the Spartan defense shows up- the one who held SDSU to only 6 points in regulation, or the one that got blown by Utah State last weekend.

On the other side, San Jose’s offense has been scoring on average 21 pointts, which is right in line with what Fresno’s defense gives up on average. Even down to yardage allowed, SJSU’s offense almost exactly matches Fresno’s defense, which should sound pretty good to Fresno fans on Thursday. Of course though, rivalry games have a tendency to get all sorts of weird, so this could all mean nothing.

For Fresno State, a Thanksgiving weekend game in San Jose can bring up some painful memories as well as some rivalry triumphs. They will have to focus on those successes and not the upset losses in the past if they want to bring the Valley Trophy home. The New Mexico game was turnover-free for the Fresno State offense, and they have to continue that for another week. The Spartans have forced a dozen turnovers on the year, and the Dogs have given the ball away on too many drives this season. They will have to play clean on Thursday to keep themselves alive in the West Division race.

The one area of concern for Fresno State may be injuries. They have been relatively okay from an injury standpoint this season, but defensive tackle Leonard Payne is listed as questionable for the game, which would mean that some mixture of Evan Bennett and Ryan Boehm will be next to Kevin Atkins on the D-Line. Senior linebacker Tyson Maeva was unable to play against New Mexico, and there hasn’t been an indication either way if he’ll be ready to play Thursday. Malachi Langley and Tyler Mello must be ready to step up if called upon to slow down and contain Derek Deese Jr.

Bula Schmidt is slated to return at the center position, with Braylen nelson returning to left tackle. The coaches have been continually experimenting with offensive line combinations, but whichever one they settle on, it will be challenged by a stout SJSU defensive line. That might require more of a commitment to the running game of Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims to alleviate pressure on Jake Haener. Both have proven that they have the ability to put the team onto their shoulders, and may be called upon one more time in the regular season.

Prediction Time:

Looking across the various sources, they seem pretty unanimous in Fresno State being the favorite on Thanksgiving. Vegas has currently set the line at 7.5 points in favor of the Bulldogs, predicting them to win 30-23. ESPN’s FPI gives the Dogs a 77.2% chance of victory, and Bill Connelly’s numbers have not been released for the week. This is a rivalry game, and SJSU would love nothing more than to take down another Fresno State season. A lot of it depends on which QB starts for the Spartans. I think if Nick Starkel starts, then the Bulldogs should win by about the Vegas line of one touchdown. If it’s Nick Nash, I think this can be a much more comfortable Fresno State win. For this one, I think that the Valley Trophy returns to Fresno by a score of-

Fresno State 34-21 San Jose State