Josh Harper vividly remembers last year’s game at San Jose State, a blurred blend of a high and low all on one play.
Basically his only play.
The Fresno State receiver made a one-handed catch for a touchdown on the Bulldogs’ first drive.
But he also got hurt on the play and was forced to watch the rest of the way from the sideline, at times cringing in pain.
It would only get more painful for Harper and his teammates as the Bulldogs went on to lose 62-52 in the regular-season finale, ending a run at a perfect season and a potential BCS bowl berth.
“It was hard, real hard for me,” Harper said. “Being a part of that offense the whole year, being a big part of that offense and then not being able to go out there and perform with them. It was hard for me to see and watch that.”
A big money postseason bid won’t be on the line in Saturday’s rematch, but Fresno State’s hopes of reaching a bowl will be at stake when San Jose State (3-5, 2-2) visits Bulldog Stadium in a Mountain West matchup.
Fresno State (3-6, 2-3), which has lost three straight, must win its final three games to become bowl eligible. Saturday’s game also will be the senior Harper’s final shot in the longtime rivalry between the two California State University schools.
“I’m ready to play them again,” said Harper, the main man in the receiving corps this year after often being the third option behind fellow 1,000-yard receivers and future NFL players Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse in 2013. “Not so much cause of last year. Really, because we’re trying to get this taste out of our mouth from this last game. So that’s what’s really getting me up for this game.”
Some, including Spartans coach Ron Caragher, believe Harper’s exit a year ago greatly impacted the outcome.
Harper tore his groin while awkwardly extending to catch a 27-yard touchdown pass with 12:05 left in the first quarter.
“Josh Harper is one of the elite wide receivers in the conference,” Caragher said. “That hurt them a year ago. I think that hurt them because he was pretty special. And he still is. So we’ll have our hands full with Josh and their passing attack.”
Fellow receiver Greg Watson believes Harper will be highly motivated to play well. Harper has caught 55 passes for 726 yards and four touchdowns this year in a passing game still trying to rediscover some of its high-powered magic from the previous two seasons.
Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee are back in competition for the starting quarterback job after Greenlee sputtered a week ago in his first career start. Burrell’s own ineffectiveness was what prompted the coaching staff to give Greenlee a shot.
The offensive struggles not only have cut into Harper’s numbers but also potentially could affect his draft stock. Harper was rated the No. 8 NFL prospect at his position for the 2015 draft, according to early rankings by NFLDraftScout.com.
“With Harp back this year, I know he’s taking revenge out because he got hurt last time,” Watson said. “I know he wants to have a big game this year. Harp doesn’t really talk about. But you know he wants to get it done and win any way possible.”