Fresno State is set to play No. 1 Alabama on Saturday and Paul Pinegar has been there before, maybe not in Tuscaloosa, but in Norman, Okla., in 2003 and Los Angeles in 2005 when the Bulldogs also took on college football’s top-ranked teams.
Those were different teams, in different situations. In 2005, going to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Bulldogs knew they were in with a chance. They were riding a seven-game winning streak, ranked No. 16 in the nation and had just beaten nemesis Boise State. It was a senior-led team, including wideouts Jermaine Jamison and Adam Jennings and running back Wendell Mathis.
The Bulldogs this year are coming off a 1-11 season.
Everybody that figures out who I am, if they recognize me, that’s the game they talk about.
Former Fresno Statee quarterback Paul Pinegar
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But it’s still an opportunity, a big one.
His words for the Bulldogs, a 44-point underdog at Alabama: “Stay focused. Trust the game plan. Know your assignments.”
“That’s the best thing,” Pinegar said, “making sure you’re assignment perfect in the game. The score is going to happen, but you get graded on every play.
“You’re playing against potentially the best defense in college football, so go out there and have some success and hopefully put together a few drives where you go down the field and hopefully you’re getting in the end zone, but at least produce some points. That’s the key. And then, the defense, if the offense is having to punt, they have to step up and answer that. There may be turnovers. They may be put in some tough field positions and they’re going to have to bow up and slow them up.”
The Bulldogs’ preparation will be key, and playing in front of more than 100,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium they can’t let the game become too big for them.
The first two matchups in school history against No. 1 teams illustrate that. At Oklahoma, the Sooners scored on their first six possessions and had a 38-0 lead at halftime, cruising to a 52-28 victory. At USC, the Bulldogs forced USC to punt on its first possession and then drove 81 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 1-yard pass from Pinegar to Jamison. Fresno State had a chance the entire way, losing 50-42.
Stay focused. Trust the game plan. Know your assignments. That’s the best thing, making sure you’re assignment perfect in the game. The score is going to happen, but you get graded on every play.
Former Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar
“I’m looking at it from 30,000 feet,” Pinegar said. “I don’t know exactly how the locker room setting is now, but the huge part was the senior leadership of that team and understanding the opportunity we had playing on national television and playing the best team in the country. It’s definitely a way to leave a footprint.
“Maybe this Fresno State team is not the team that can accomplish something like knocking off a No. 1 team, but they can go out there and show what they can do and leave a strong message that, ‘Wow, Fresno State, it looks like they’re going in the right direction ….’ ”
In 12 years, there’s no telling where that might lead.
“Everybody that figures out who I am, if they recognize me, that’s the game they talk about,” said Pinegar, who still is No. 2 on the Bulldogs’ career passing touchdowns list with 84, sandwiched between Derek Carr (113) and David Carr (70).
“Unfortunately, people remember me because of a loss, which is frustrating in my mind. But obviously we played a heck of a game. They were the No. 1 offense in the nation, had like a 40-game win streak at that time. It was a great opportunity for us and I felt like we took advantage of that in every way we could and unfortunately fell short. But it’s a huge piece of what I have from my football experience, playing in that game and the success we had and watching the Fresno State fans get so excited behind that.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. NO. 1 ALABAMA
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. at Bryant–Denny Stadium (101,821) in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
- TV/radio: ESPN2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-0, Crimson Tide 1-0
Those 2005 Bulldogs
Fresno State’s 8-5 season in 2005 included a near-upset of No. 1 USC, as the Trojans held on at home for a 50-42 win. Here were the seniors on that experienced-laden Bulldogs team:
Paul Pinegar, quarterback
Wendell Mathis, running back
Dartangon Shack, tackle
Adam Jennings, wide receiver
Devyn McDonald, tight end
Garrett McIntyre, defensive end
Emanuel Sanchez, linebacker
Tyrone Culver, free safety
Jermaine Jamison, receiver
Bryson Sumlin, running back
Matt Rivera, running back
Kyle Goodman, linebacker
Awan Diles, strong safety
Ray Washington, cornerback
Jason Huss, free safety
Nick Neal, special teams