FRESNO STATE VS. HAWAII
4 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
Bulldogs 5-6, 4-3 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 4-8, 3-4
Mountain West Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
64 degrees, chance of showers
Fresno State leads 24-21-1
KEYS TO THE GAME
For Fresno State: Win outside. The Bulldogs dropped 11 passes in last week’s win at Nevada, crazy high when Brian Burrell was 25 of 46 for 313 yards. A repeat Saturday might not cost them a win, but will cost them chances vs. a defense that puts a lot on the corners and safeties and has been susceptible to the big play through the air. Fresno State has to take advantage of their matchups and catch the football.
For Hawaii: Score on downfield shots. Hawaii has hit 48.6% of its passes and is 124th of 128 in the bowl subdivision in efficiency at 101.99, but is in a three-way tie in the Mountain West with San Jose State and Utah State with 34 explosive pass plays of 20-plus yards. They have hit some plays, and the Bulldogs obviously have given up quite a few in the passing game.
Fresno State will have 19 seniors participating in their final games at Bulldog Stadium and with a chance still to win a third consecutive conference championship for the program.
There have been eight classes in school history that have won three conference titles in a four-year span, most recently the one first recruited in 1991 that played a role in a Big West championship in 1991 and Western Athletic Conference crowns in 1992-93 under coach Jim Sweeney.
The seniors on offense are tight end Riley Barnes, running back Darryl Cash, quarterback Brandon Connette, wideout Josh Haprer, tight end Jerin McClendon, running back Juice Quezada, left guard Sean Rubalcava, offensive tackle Josh Tremblay, wideout Greg Watson, right guard Cody Wichmann and wideout LeKendrick Williams. Those on defense are nose guard Tyeler Davison, linebacker Adam DeCosta, outside linebacker Donavon Lewis, safety Rodney Mathews, inside linebacker Karl Mickelsen, cornerback Curtis Riley, nose guard Ioane Sagapolu and free safety Derron Smith.
In addition cornerback Sean Alston, who suffered a career-ending injury in spring practice before the 2013 season and this season has been a student assistant coach, will be honored.
•Yellow on red:
Hawaii is leading the Mountain West in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 76.6% of their opportunities, which is a bit misleading.
That success rate is more a function of numbers. The Rainbow Warriors have allowed opponents into the red zone 47 times, ranking eighth in the conference, and have allowed 30 touchdowns, tied for eighth with San Jose State and Wyoming.
The Bulldogs have started a season 0-3 just 10 times in 93 seasons. And in those first nine, they never recovered enough to finish with a winning record or even get to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. If they can beat Hawaii, they will hit those heights for the first time.
Back in September, the odds were against.
There have been 496 FBS teas that started 0-3 since 1980 — 31 finishing with a winning record and 19 ending their seasons in a bowl.
Hawaii has scored six second-half touchdowns in its past six games, three last week in a 37-35 victory over UNLV. The winner was a 20-yard pass with no time remaining.
•Join the club:
Fresno State running back Marteze Waller has 1,132 rushing yards this season and Josh Harper is close to the 1,000-yard receiving club with 858. They would be the 16th such duo in conference history.
Colorado State with running back Dee Hart (1,139) and receiver Rashard Higgins (1,447) are there this season, and Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV did it last season.
The Bulldogs had a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in their first season in the Mountain West. Robbie Rouse ran for 1,490 yards and Davante Adams racked up 1,312 through the air.
They had three 1,000-yard receivers last season in Adams (1,718), Isaiah Burse (1,026) and Harper (1,011), but leading rusher Josh Quezada finished with 807 yards.
•No road Warriors:
Hawaii is 1-4 on the road, the victory coming Nov. 13 at San Jose State to snap a 17-game losing streak away from home.
The Rainbow Warriors have struggled to score in those games, averaging 14.2 points in losses at Colorado (21-12), Rice (28-14), San Diego State (20-10) and Colorado State (49-22) and the victory over the Spartans (13-0).
The Bulldogs’ offense and quarterback Brian Burrell have taken solid steps the past two weeks, but long term have to continue to improve. There aren’t a lot of check marks there from the first 11 games of the season and even in the past two, wins over San Jose State and at Nevada, they were able to hit only one in each game. “We still have a lot of work to do,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
But on Saturday, with the division championship at stake, the only line that matters on the board where they chart game-to-game goals is the top one: Win.
“You know what, we have goals each game within ourselves, but we just want to win,” said Burrell, who has hit on 62.5% of his passes in the past two games after completing only 56.2% in the first nine games.
THIS DATE IN BULLDOGS HISTORY
Nov. 29, 1942, at Loyola
Fresno State was dreaming of a bowl bid 72 years ago Saturday, only then it was talk of a Sun Bowl berth and also unlike the scenario for the 2014 Bulldogs there were no guarantees even after roughing up Loyola 27-6 in a game at Gilmore Stadium in Hollywood.
The Bulldogs of 1942 did indeed prove their worth in this one, winning for the second time in 72 hours after a victory just days earlier over San Jose State.
Jackie Fellows threw of a pair of touchdowns to give him 21 for the season, breaking the national record set by TCU’s Davey O’Brien in 1937 and matched by Columbia’s Paul Governali in 1942.
Fellows was otherwise unspectacular in the passing game, completing 5 of 13 for 58 yards against a Loyola defense that game-planned to stop him. But the Bulldogs’ defense more than matched that, allowing the Lions just four first downs, 59 yards rushing and 57 yards passing — while picking off six passes. And the Fresno State running game plowed ahead for 229 yards.
The ground game paved the way for an opening drive that covered 63 yards in nine plays over the first 41/2 minutes. Mickey Masini carried for the final 4 yards, and it would be 14-0 by halftime. Loyola had its lone big play to open the final period, a 47-yard run to set up a score from the 1, but Fellows passed to Rex Schroeder and Dirk Garver ran 17 yards to account for the Bulldogs’ fourth-quarter insurance TDs.
Alas, there would be no bowl despite going 9-1 — the loss a 33-13 stumble (while Fresno State boasted the program’s first Associated Press national ranking at No. 18) against a University of San Francisco team that lost to Loyola 7-2. The Sun Bowl took Hardin-Simmons and the Second Army Air Force team from Spokane, Wash. — the nation’s only two undefeated squads.
The following season, Fresno State suspended the program with players called away to war. The team was back in 1944, but not manage another nine-win campaign until 1955.
Learn more while listening to Paul Loeffler on “Gameday Live” beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday on KFIG (AM 940).
— The Fresno Bee