Location: Valley Children’s Stadium – Fresno, CA
Date/Time: Saturday, October 15th @ 7:45 PM PDT
Head-to-head history: Over the last 100 years, Fresno State (1-4, 0-1 MW) and San Jose State (4-1, 2-0 MW) have played 84 games. The Bulldogs are 43-38-3 over the Spartans. Head coach Brent Brennan’s teams are 1-3 vs. Fresno State and the Valley Trophy series that started in 2013 is all even at 4-4.
The fight for the Valley Trophy first really meant something in the Brennan era on a cold rainy November day in 2019.
A then 5-7 San Jose State team led by QB Josh Love (currently with the USFL Michigan Panthers) pulled off a scrappy last minute 17-16 upset over the Bulldogs.
Brennan believed in the importance of that season ending win catapulting into the next season for his young program. In retrospect, it indeed was a prelude to a historic 2020 championship run for the Spartans.
“The rivalry is such a neat thing,” said Brennan. “It’s such a historical event even to this day when I talk to fans and alums. There’s so much cross-over between our areas and fans which makes for a game with added intensity and excitement.”
Brennan is also quick to note that the difference between each teams’ records, statistics or challenges can mean nothing, especially in such a rivalry game.
Or it could mean a whole lot.
Last season, Fresno State inflicted a 40-9 drubbing led by Bulldog QB Jake Haener’s four touchdown passes. Fresno State touted a 10-win season then, while the Spartans’ 5-7 record was a stark contrast to their remarkable 2020 championship season.
In the bi-polar Mountain West this year, momentum has greatly and quickly shifted again. Fresno State is struggling to the surprise of many, while San Jose State is looking like a championship contender, also to the surprise of many, except to those closer in.
“All that other stuff in the past is in the rearview. It doesn’t matter,” said Brennan. “What’s ahead is what matters. We only get to play one game this week and ‘It’ is the most important game of the year.”
Bottom line to Brennan:
“Playing down there is a different experience and they’ve got such a great crowd. We’ve had some epic battles and some games where they got after us. We’re preparing our team for that kind of environment and to play a really good football team.”
The Bulldog struggle many are expecting
From the number crunchers, the over/under is about 50 with the Spartans about a touchdown favorite - best possible score prediction for Fresno is about a 30-20 loss.
The probability is clearly leaning to SJS for the win, which in part is based on a Fresno lineup without perennial stars QB Jake Haener (ankle) and safety Evan Williams (knee).
Even with the likelihood of Haener being ready would seem to not be a good move for such an NFL prospect. So, dual-threat Logan Fife is expected to make his third start.
The Bulldog offense hasn’t reached 300 total yards the last two games with Fife struggling since taking over in the third quarter against USC two-and-half games ago (Fife overall: 41-59, 431 yards, four interceptions, one rushing touchdown).
Defensively, Fresno gave up over 300 yards rushing to Boise State last week in a 40-20 loss.
But all said, Fresno is certainly still talented all-around and capable to pull off a win even with the uncharacteristic numbers, and especially with an expected sellout home crowd with the rivalry dynamics.
The Spartans many are expecting
“The beauty of it for anyone that’s in it right now is we’ve played only five games,” said Brennan on the practical reality of it all. “We still have seven games left and we’re not even halfway through the season.”
Looking at how and where Mountain West teams have struggled or benefited beyond the portal effects is rooted in a culture and philosophy that extends as deeply off the field as it does on it. Or not.
How Brennan views life and relationships is the gravity that pulls it all together. It’s only through winning on the field that people see it. Otherwise, gravity is invisible and incomprehensible to the rest of us.
“What is the opportunity right in front of you; looking backwards does nothing for you,” said Brennan. “We talk about that a lot with the team. We look out the windshield and not the rearview, because it doesn’t serve us. We can only move forward.”
“That’s where our headspace is.”
For the win
Offensively for the Spartans, all eyes are on QB Chevan Cordiero leading the way to start anything and everything.
The back-to-back conference player of the week is key to 28.8 ppg, 115.2 yards on the ground, zero interceptions and the top passing offense in the conference. The Spartans are also sixth in the country in turnover margin (+7).
The run game is primarily instigated by Cordiero either with his run threat or quick passes to the flat to open a run game for the likes of RB Kairee Robinson (though Robinson was not playing in the second half last week after a great first half).
The anticipation of what Cordiero could do far preceded his arrival to SJS and the culture match has been a win-win a couple times over:
- Cordiero’s “business decision” to transfer looks solid
- The hard work and program culture is at equilibrium on the field, so far
Brennan added, “He’s also a great representative of our team and the university.”
“I did think that Chevan being a part of us was going to be an incredible addition not just because of his football talent, but because of who he is, how competitive he is, and how good he is with everybody.” said Brennan right after Cordiero committed to SJS.
“Everybody who meets Chevan likes him. He’s got a great way about him.”
Now, if there’s a way to talk about the entirety of the Spartan defense that way, it’s the epitome of a group effort that plays like one swarming organism.
San Jose State has the 16th best defense in the entire country (Boise State is 4th). The Spartans are allowing 14 ppg and 288 total yard average against.
One thing is for sure for a mature veteran defense - the Spartan defensive energy will show up and will not be affected by a hostile crowd at a rivalry game.
Asked what else could/should be improved to continue the dominant three-game win streak, Brennan smiled and smirked all at once.
“There are so many parts of every game we’re trying to get more efficient and get better at,” said Brennan. “Like last week we had a couple selfish penalties that hurt us and that’s not giving us a chance to play good clean football.”
“Our special teams coach calls it a race for maturity.”
Win or lose, the races never end for Brennan - naturally so.
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