FRESNO STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE, 7 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium
KEYS TO SUCCESS
FOR FRESNO STATE
The Bulldogs had a lot of trouble with the moving pieces in the Aztecs' 3-3-5 defense last season and need to get them blocked. The Aztecs can pressure -- they are third in the MWC in sacks -- and quarterback Derek Carr has not handled it well in losses at Oregon and Tulsa.
FOR SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs need to figure out what's going on with their pass defense after giving up 724 yards and eight touchdowns in their past two games, a victory over North Dakota and a loss to San Jose State. The Fighting Sioux and Spartans combined averaged 14.8 yards per completion.
Quarterback: Derek Carr
Backfield: Robbie Rouse, RB
Wide receivers: Josh Harper, Isaiah Burse, Rashad Evans, Davante Adams
Tight end: Marcel Jensen
Offensive line: Austin Wentworth, LT; Matt Hunt, LG; Lars Bramer, C; Richard Helepiko, RG; Cody Wichmann, RT
Defensive line: Anthony Williams, DE; Tyeler Davison, NG; Andy Jennings, DE
Linebackers: Tristan Okpalaugo, OLB; Travis Brown, MLB; Patrick Su'a, MLB; Donavon Lewis, OLB
Secondary: L.J. Jones, CB; Phillip Thomas, SS; Derron Smith, FS; Sean Alston, CB
Special teams: Quentin Breshears, PK; Garrett Swanson, KO; Andrew Shapiro, P; Chad Preacher, LS; Andrew Shapiro, PH; Isaiah Burse, KR or Milton Knox, KR; Isaiah Burse, PR or Rashad Evans, PR
SAN DIEGO STATE
Quarterback: Ryan Katz
Backfield: Adam Muema, RB; Chad Young, FB
Wide receivers: Ezell Ruffin, Colin Lockett
Tight end: Gavin Escobar
Offensive line: Bryce Quigley, LT; Japheth Gordon, LG; Alec Johnson, C; Nik Embernate, RG; Zach Dilley, RT
Defensive line: Dontrell Onuoha, DE; Sam Meredith, DT; Jordan Thomas, DE
Linebackers: Nick Tenhaeff, LB; Jake Fely, MLB; Vaness Harris, LB
Secondary: Leon McFadden, CB; Rene Siluano, S; Nat Berhe, S; Eric Pinkins, S; Josh Wade, CB
Special teams: Joe Alesi, P; Chance Marden, PK; Wes Feer, KO; Adam Dingwell, PH; Jeff Overbaugh, LS; Colin Lockett, KR and Ezell Ruffin, KR and Dwayne Garrett, KR; Tim Vizzi, PR
Bulldogs boosted by Evans return: Fresno State did not score an offensive touchdown in the final three quarters of its loss at Tulsa, but with the return of slot receiver Rashad Evans, the Bulldogs will be able to stretch the field the way they imagined when installing this up-tempo spread for the first time this season.
Evans, the only scholarship senior in the position group, had been declared ineligible by the NCAA for the first four games of the season. But the Bulldogs are expecting an immediate boost from Evans, who has 104 career receptions for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns.
Anthony Riggins and Dillon Root, a converted defensive back and a converted running back, had been lining up in the slot where Evans will be today against San Diego State. Riggins had two receptions for 7 yards in the first four games, while Root did not make a catch.
"It's great having Rashad out here," coach Tim DeRuyter said during the week. "He's brought some energy to it and, you know, the competition level when he's out there obviously goes up. Clearly you have much more experience. Guys that have been working since spring ball at that position, where early on we had some guys that were playing different positions and they're great teammates, they're doing what we ask of them, but they're not going to be as efficient as guys that have been doing it for a living. I feel good about where we are, especially the fact that it's our first league game, so you want to have all your weapons, and I think on offense we're finally at that point."
Rouse factor crucial: Fresno State is hoping there are at least 30,000 sets of eyes on running back Robbie Rouse every time he touches the football today, but there is sure to be one: In a matchup within the matchup, the Bulldogs' success will come down -- at least in some part -- to the 5-foot-7 back's ability to skirt the Aztecs free safety given the numbers San Diego State puts in the box in its 3-3-5 defense.
"If you can hurt them throwing the football and get one of those guys out of the box or get that safety a little bit deeper so you can have a chance to run the ball, that's what it comes down to," offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. "It's really Robbie Rouse and our running backs on their safety because that safety is always (coming) downhill and he's always unblocked. He's Brian Urlacher -- it's exactly what he did when he played (at New Mexico). You can't always block the guy, so you have to win at running back, and Robbie has been a really good player here at Fresno State, and we're going to rely on him to win a lot of those battles."
Tough trifecta attempt: San Diego State outside linebacker Nick Tenhaeff, who broke his right hand in the Aztecs' loss last week to San Jose State, is going to try to pull off a tough trifecta: He had surgery Monday, practiced Wednesday and is going to try to play against Fresno State, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Tenhaeff is second on the team in tackles with 21, is leading the Aztecs with five tackles for a loss and has forced one fumble. Coach Rocky Long said they would let the 6-foot-2 junior decide whether he can play today, but if he cannot, the Aztecs would start sophomore Derek Largent in his place and use a three-man rotation of Largent, Vaness Harris and Josh Gavert to cover the outside linebacker positions.
Quick hits: Fresno State had a 21-point lead on the Aztecs last season before losing 35-28, matching the largest comeback in San Diego State history since it started playing Division I football in 1969. ... San Diego State is one of only two bowl subdivision programs to have two players ranked in the top 60 in rushing yards per game (Adam Muema and Walter Kazee) and a third in the top 20 in passing efficiency (Ryan Katz), along with Louisiana Tech. ... The Bulldogs are leading the Mountain West Conference with 11 sacks, led by outside linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo with two for a minus-9 yards. San Diego State is ninth in the 10-team conference in sacks allowed with 12. ... Today's game marks the Bulldogs' first in the Mountain West. Fresno State won its first game in the Western Athletic Conference (52-21 over Colorado State in 1992), the Big West Conference (41-0 over New Mexico State in 1988) and the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (24-10 at Pacific in 1977).
This date in Bulldogs history -- Sept. 29, 1934: Fresno State earned its first victory against a USC team -- but it didn't come against the Trojans. The Bulldogs got a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown from Walt Byrd and a conversion kick from Bill Van Osdel in the fourth quarter to pull out a 7-6 victory against the USC Spartans -- the university's JV squad -- at Fresno State College Stadium. Byrd, who went on to coach football at Roosevelt High and was the AD there as well, twice reversed field on the punt return and twisted his way down the sideline to score standing up. He and the coach of the team, Leo Harris, are Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame members. Of course, Fresno State and USC announced earlier this week they'll open the 2014 season against each other at the L.A. Coliseum. The varsity series is tied 1-1. To learn more about the 1934 game, listen to Paul Loeffler on "Bulldog Live" on KMJ (580) starting at 5 p.m. today.