San Jose Preview

Louisiana Tech's Bulldogs got back to .500. They stayed on track for bowl eligibility, too.

Both came courtesy of a stirring second half against Fresno State where the team seemed to discover some well of inner strength to win -- and, in so doing, perhaps find itself.

Last week's critical 38-35 victory in Ruston meant Derek Dooley's squad has now taken two of its last three, and every game so far at The Joe.

"I was proud of our effort in the second half, especially running the ball," said Dooley, as Tech moved into a tie for fourth place in the Western Athletic Conference. "I felt like we took the game over running the ball, then our defense made some really timely stops. We stopped the run and made them one dimensional. Anytime you can do that with a team as balanced as Fresno, it helps."

Tech only gave up 63 rushing yards on 26 Fresno attempts, stifling the talented Ryan Mathews, who had just eight yards on five attempts.

Antonio Baker made 10 stops, picked off a pass by Tom Brandstater (who had an otherwise impressive night with 296 yards and four TDs) and blocked a kick. The Bulldogs defender has piled up 78 tackles in eight games.

Deon Young, the now-injured Quin Harris and D'Anthony Smith have also been critical components as Tech faces a series of terrific rushers across the WAC slate.

"We've done a pretty good job all year against run," Dooley said. "Not many have knocked a hole in us. That starts up front with D'Anthony Smith; he's been very disruptive, and he's hard to block."

Tech has surged to No. 3 in the conference against the rush, in a statistical dead heat with this week's opponent, second-place San Jose State. That effort has pushed the Bulldogs' total defensive ranking to the middle of the WAC pack, after starting this season in the cellar. "Defensively, they are very stout," said San Jose State coach Dick Tomey. "Smith is really a force inside. Their linebackers run well. They are just a really good football team."

Last week's winning mix of stout run stopping and a pounding ground attack could open a path to the postseason for Tech. But first, the Bulldogs will have to contend with Tomey and San Jose, one of the league's most surprising success stories.

San Jose is 4-1 in WAC play for the first time since joining the conference in 1996. Over Tomey's first three seasons, the Spartans had already won the 2006 New Mexico Bowl and notched 17 victories -- more than any three-season span at the university since 1990-92. San Jose won its fourth game in five tries last week at Idaho, 30-24. The Spartans only loss is to Boise State two weeks ago.

"Looking ahead, we can't celebrate that long," Dooley said. "We are playing probably the most improved team in the WAC, a team that's pulling themselves away from the others. San Jose is a great football team, phenomenal on defense, very good on special teams and it looks like they found some answers on offense as well."

New starter Myles Eden could pose problems for an inconsistent Tech pass defense. He tossed a pair of touchdowns to David Richmond as the Spartans slipped past Idaho last week -- and is again likely to play a key role on Saturday, since tailback Yonus Davis is questionable with an ankle injury. Defensively, San Jose is led by the Ihenacho brothers, linebacker Duke and defensive end Carl.

Their primary focus will be on Daniel Porter, who has switched every-down back roles with Patrick Jackson for the Bulldogs this season. Tech quarterback Ross Jenkins is still rounding into shape after taking over for Taylor Bennett, and as a result the offense remains last in the WAC and 104th in the country in passing.

"Porter has really been our bell cow on offense," Dooley said. "We're going to feed it to the hot hand, and he's been that guy." Porter, third in the league with 86 rushing yards per game, is coming off a career-high 189-yard night against Fresno -- a performance that earned him WAC offensive player of the year honors. Special-teams ace Phillip Livas provided an early-game spark, too, surging to league player of the week honors as well with 255-yards of total offense. Jackson added 59 rushing yards, a score on the ground, 30 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.

Louisiana Tech (4-4) at San Jose State (6-3) 7 p.m. Central, Saturday, Spartans Stadium, San Jose, Calif.

Radio: 107.5 FM; z1075fm.com Gametracker: latechsports.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/gameday.html

Notes: San Jose State has won four of the last five games. … The Spartans lead the series by a game at 4-3, but the most recent victory went to Tech a year ago, 27-23. … The home team has won the last five meetings between these two teams.

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