San Jose State vs. Fresno State: Spartans Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
San Jose State/Fresno State Battle for the Valley Trophy in Fresno on Saturday night
Week 7: San Jose State Spartans (4-1, 2-0) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (1-4, 0-1)
When: Saturday, October 15th – 7:45 PST
Where: Valley Children’s Stadium; Fresno, CA
Odds: San Jose State -8.5 Over/Under 47
Fresh off of their most complete effort of the season, the San Jose State Spartans will make the short trip 150 miles east to Fresno, taking on the Bulldogs in a long-standing underrated regional rivalry. While the teams have met 84 times, they have played with the Valley Trophy at stake for the last 8 years, with those games split 4-4. Currently, the two teams could not be headed in more opposite directions. San Jose State is rolling, winning three straight, each in convincing fashion. Fresno State meanwhile, is spiraling, dropping four in a row since an opening night win over FCS opponent Cal Poly.
An old adage however, is to throw out the records when rivals get together, and you can be sure that Spartans boss Brent Brennan is stressing to his troops that the Bulldogs are much better than their 1-4 record indicates. Also, after a couple of discouraging road trips, Fresno State returns home for the first time in a month, for homecoming weekend as well, and therefore, San Jose State is likely to get the Bulldogs best shot, something echoed this week by Brennan.
One thing in the Spartans favor is the status of Fresno State’s star quarterback Jake Haener. Haener has been out of action since suffering an ankle injury back in week 3 versus USC. Head Coach Jeff Tedford said Monday that Haener would likely be out this week as well, though that does leave some wiggle room should his condition improve over the next few days. Regardless, backup Logan Fife will make his third consecutive start, and as can be expected the drop-off is massive. Haener is an all-conference talent and a pro prospect. Fife has struggled to run the offense in his two starts, and the numbers are poor–0 TD’s and 4 INT’s. And while last week’s trip to Boise State can be excused, as that is widely considered among the toughest places to play in the MWC, the same cannot be said of Fife’s first start. The Bulldogs managed less than 200 yards of total offense and 14 points in a loss to UConn, the Huskies first win against an FBS opponent since 2019 (yes you read that right). For context, Fresno State defeated UConn 45-0 last year with Haener under center. Tedford is hopeful that a home game will settle the young QB down and produce his best results to date.
The problem for Fife and the Bulldogs is that they are about to encounter one of the top statistical defenses in the Mountain West Conference, in both points allowed and yards surrendered. San Jose State has gotten excellent play from all three levels, starting with the defensive line, through to the linebackers and finishing off with the secondary. The tackling has been very solid, they have forced 8 turnovers in only 5 games played, and most importantly, the schemes of Defensive Coordinator Derrick Odum have been on point. There have been very few breakdowns, miscommunications, or blown coverages, all instrumental in keeping the number of explosive plays allowed extremely low. Although Fresno State has an experienced, capable RB1 in Jordan Mims, it’s hard to see a backup quarterback leading many lengthy drives against this rock solid defense.
To this point in the season, the defensive accolades belong to the entire unit. Kyle Harmon leads the group with 41 total tackles, and Tre Jenkins paces the roster with 23 solo tackles, but there is such balance throughout. Jordan Pollard was the standout against UNLV with 7 tackles. He is one of an amazing 19 Spartans with a tackle-for-loss on the season. He also is one of 6 different defenders to have an interception. Remarkable numbers only 5 games into a season. This is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If there is one area for improvement, it would be in getting to the quarterback. With only 9 sacks to date, San Jose State ranks in the bottom third of FBS schools. The day may come when a poised, veteran QB has too much time all game long, and can pick apart a pretty good, but thus far largely untested secondary. Saturday however, does not appear to be that day.
Speaking of poised, veteran quarterbacks–enter Chevan Cordeiro. Cordeiro just won his second consecutive Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week award after accounting for 4 TD’s in the romp over UNLV. He is doing it with his arm, his legs, and his brain, making all the right decisions. It helps that much like his defensive counterpart, Spartans Offensive Coordinator Kevin McGiven has called incredible games recently. The play-calling in the first half against the Rebels Friday night was an absolute masterclass, with virtually every play gaining multiple yards. Those San Jose State offseason coaching meetings have proven worth their weight in gold.
Another big reason for the increased productivity on that side of the ball is the improved play of the offensive line. After allowing 7 sacks and looking overmatched in the opener against Portland State, this group has really responded and stepped up their game. Tackles Fernando Carmona and James McNorton, Guards Jaime Navarro and Tyler Ostrum, and Center Anthony Pardue deserve recognition for becoming a cohesive unit in a really short amount of time. Wyoming and UNLV may not be top 20 nationally against the run, but UNLV was just outside that mark when the Spartans shredded them for over 200 yards last week, and Wyoming’s strength was considered their front seven, before San Jose State dominated the trenches in the second half of their win in Laramie. It should be a favorable matchup again this week, as Fresno State ranks in the bottom 10% of the country in rushing yards allowed per game.
The Bulldogs rank near the bottom of many statistical categories in not only the Mountain West Conference, but in the entire country, and the heat is on new Defensive Coordinator Kevin Coyle, as this was a top 25 unit a year ago. They have been below average against the run, below average defending the pass, and do not generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback. This seems like a recipe for Cordeiro and his band of skill position players to cook up a 5-star meal. Running back Kairee Robinson has, like the offensive line blocking for him, progressed each week. Against UNLV he looked shifty and elusive, turning nothing into something several times, gaining 61 yards and a TD on only 9 carries, before ceding snaps to Kenyon Sims and Shamar Garrett in the 2nd half.
When Cordeiro is playing at a high level it is beyond difficult to slow this offense down. As a defensive coordinator you are forced to pick your poison. If you choose to play man-to-man, and keep a spy on the dual-threat QB, very few teams can cover the talented wide receiving core. If you decide to double the explosive Elijah Cooks or Justin Lockhart, that’s fine, because Cordeiro will just check off and go underneath to starting tight end Sam Olson. Last week, Olson was unavailable, and all that his replacement Dominick Mazotti did was catch 7 balls for 100 yards and a TD; not bad as a fourth or fifth option. And now that Robinson and the running game is developing into a legitimate weapon, good luck putting the clamps on this unit.
There is a lot of football left to be played, and putting the cart before the horse has burned many before, in and out of sport. Still, if you look across the country right now, it’s fair to wonder how many Group of 5 teams are better than this San Jose State squad. Cincinnati for sure, but the Bearcats nearly fell to a wretched South Florida team last week. UCF might get some votes, as would Coastal Carolina and FBS newbie James Madison out of the Sun Belt. The list is not much longer than that though. Of course none of this matters to Brennan and his men; they are simply looking to go 1-0 this weekend.
What are the chances that happens? As noted above, expect a max effort from Fresno State; it’s nearing last call for this team to represent the West division in the Conference championship game, and they are quickly running out of losses to play with if they want to even qualify for a bowl. If you look at the scores in this series, though the records are nearly equal, when Fresno State wins it is often in a blowout. When San Jose State is the victor the games are usually very, very close. That’s reflective of the Bulldogs almost always having the more talented roster, sometimes by a wide margin. For once, especially given the injuries at play, that will not be the case on Saturday night. Playing at home, in a rivalry game, and desperate, gives Fresno State a puncher’s chance. It’s tough to see a result similar to the UNLV rout, and the Bulldogs will likely hang around well into the 2nd half. And yes this is starting to sound like a broken record, but it says here there is just too much Chevan Cordeiro and company, and the Spartans move to 5-1 and bring the Valley trophy back to Silicon Valley.
Prediction: San Jose State 31 Fresno State 13
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