This Saturday marks the 79th overall meeting of the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-2, 0-0 MWC) and San Jose State Spartans (1-2, 0-1 MWC), in a rivalry dating back to 1921. It is also the third official competition for the Valley Trophy.
Fresno State has a 40-35-1 lead in the series, having most recently won 38-24 at home on November 8, 2014 and promptly hauled the Valley Trophy from its inaugural winner. That win snapped San Jose State’s two-game winning streak in the series that included an upset win on November 29, 2013 over an undefeated, Top 25 Fresno State team in San Jose, 62-52.
Fun fact: When the rivalry began, San Jose State University was the State Teachers College at San Jose, and the sports teams were called...you guessed it...Teachers!
This week’s game: The basics
Site: Spartan Stadium (San Jose, Calif.; capacity 30,456)
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Pacific)
TV: CBS Sports Network.
Streaming video: None.
Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto). 90.5 KSJS, the student-run radio station of San Jose State University, provides its own radio broadcast of this game also. Those interested in listening to Fresno State’s radio broadcast can tune in to 940 KFIG, whose 50 kW signal out of Fresno is especially strong in the Bay Area after sunset.
Injuries: QB Kenny Potter (ankle) and RB Thomas Tucker (flu) are questionable.
Fresno State: An overview
Fresno State enters its fourth season both with head coach Tim DeRuyter and in the Mountain West Conference. With a 27-16 overall record under DeRuyter, Fresno State comes off a 6-8 season in 2014 that followed a 9-4 season in 2012 and 11-2 season in 2013. All three previous seasons have ended in bowl game losses. On DeRuyter’s staff are fourth-year offensive coordinator Dave Schramm and fourth-year defensive coordinator Nick Toth.
Like San Jose State, Fresno State faces uncertainty at the quarterback position coming into Saturday. Spartan starter Kenny Potter, a junior, is recovering from an ankle injury sustained during last Saturday’s game against Oregon State. Bulldog starter, true freshman Chason Virgil, suffered a season-ending injury last week against Utah. Redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee replaced Virgil and passed for 144 yards and three touchdowns in Fresno State’s 45-24 loss.
However, Greenlee was arrested not long after the game for public drunkenness. DeRuyter stated in his Monday press conference about the incident: “Discipline will be handled internally. [Greenlee] will practice this week, and [on] Saturday we’ll make another announcement on it.”
In case Greenlee is suspended for part or all of Saturday, Fresno State can call up third-string, walk-on, redshirt junior Ford Childress, who began his collegiate career at West Virginia with two starts in 2013. The following year, Childress attended a junior college, where he did see any game action. While none of the quarterbacks have faced any legal issues so far, San Jose State faces the possibility of having to play third-string quarterback Malik Watson, as Caragher benched Joe Gray following a pick-six against Oregon State.
The offense returns six of 11 starters from 2014, including senior, second-team All-MWC running back Marteze Waller and sophomore, honorable mention All-MWC tight end Chad Olsen. In three games in 2015, Waller has rushed for 307 yards and averages 4.7 yards per rush; he has yet to score a rushing touchdown. So far this season, Greenlee has passed for 313 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. Freshman receiver Jamire Jordan leads the team in receiving yards (146) and touchdowns (two), followed by junior wide receiver Da’Mari Scott (128 yards, 1 TD).
“They’re a very balanced attack. They are a true spread zone-read team.” commented San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher on the Spartan Sports Report television show.
Five starters return on defense, including senior inside linebacker Kyrie Wilson (6’2”, 243), who earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week honors in 2014 for his performance against San Jose State: six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception. The defense uses a 3-4 scheme that creates much pressure for quarterbacks.
“They do a nice package of three down [linemen] and a variety of blitzes that come with that,” said Caragher, adding that the previous two opponents had similar defensive schemes.
San Jose State: Keys to the game
The Spartans could not score a single point in the second half against Oregon State with either Joe Gray or Malik Watson at quarterback. Last year in Fresno, penalties and turnovers hurt the Spartan offense, and a 14-7 lead in the first quarter became a 28-14 deficit by halftime. To be competitive in this game, the offense needs to move the ball efficiently and score early and often. With a large, early lead, San Jose State can dare Fresno State to hurry up and pass the ball into the secondary that includes tough pass defenders like Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace. Offense should be the best defense, to ensure that the defense is sufficiently rested and to put the home team in a position to win.
Throughout his tenure as starting quarterback, Joe Gray has shown flashes of talent yet has made mistakes at inopportune times, like his pick-six last week against Oregon State and his two interceptions last year at Fresno State. Evidently, the pick-six annoyed Caragher to the point that he benched Gray immediately. Because of Kenny Potter’s injury, Caragher faces a pick-your-poison situation, between the experienced-yet-mistake-prone veteran in Gray and inexperienced Watson.
Caragher has said that both sides of the ball have improved in the past two games. Ultimately, the statistic that matters the most is points scored. Already, the offense has shown it can run smoothly without repeated penalties and dictate the tempo, based on the 21-14 halftime lead last week. That is only part of a winning recipe.
The way these two rivals are playing has caused them to have common ground in having this game be a crystal ball for the rest of the season.