November 10, 2023
San Jose State Spartans chasing bowl eligibility, end to losing streak vs. Fresno State in rivalry game Saturday
SAN JOSE — The wardrobe for San Jose State players just got a little smaller this week. The Spartans play Fresno State on Saturday night at CEFCU Stadium, which explains why red wasn’t worn by SJSU players or coaches around campus or the Football offices. It’s a tradition SJSU players embrace in preparation for the annual Battle for the Valley rivalry game. “It’s just something that we like to do to keep it aggressive and keep the tradition,” said safety Tre Jenkins. “It’s a rivalry and it just keeps those guys invested.” Motivation rarely is an issue when these teams play. But SJSU hasn’t defeated Fresno State since 2019, and there could be much more than taking back the Battle for the Valley Trophy on the line for the Spartans. SJSU (4-5, 3-2 Mountain West) must win two of its final three regular-season games to become bowl eligible for the second straight season and third time in the past four years. They enter Saturday night’s game riding a three-game winning streak and coming off their second bye week of the season. “I think it’s gonna be a great game,” said SJSU coach Brent Brennan. “I’m optimistic there will be a great crowd and a great environment for a really big important college football game.” The two programs have played each other 85 times since 1921, with the Bulldogs leading the series all-time with a 44-38-3 record. SJSU dominated the series for much of the 1970s and ’80s, winning 12 times in 15 meetings from 1973-87. But shortly after that, the Spartans lost 12 straight to the Bulldogs, finally BREAKING through in 2006. Brennan was the wide receivers coach on Dick Tomey’s staff for that game. “I remember the students rushing on the field because it’s been so long since we’ve beaten Fresno,” Brennan said this week. San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan is seen before an NCAA college football game against Hawaii, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)  The Spartans had beat the Bulldogs four times in five seasons from 2011-16, but otherwise, Fresno State has kept the upper hand for the better part of the past decade and a half, winning nine of the last 13 matchups. SJSU is 1-4 against Fresno State during the Brennan Era, the lone victory a 17-16 home win in 2019 to cap his third season. In 2020, when the Spartans had an undefeated regular season and won the Mountain West title, the game was canceled two days before kickoff because of contact tracing within the Fresno State program due to COVID-19. “It’s not a rivalry if it’s so one-sided,” Brennan said. “And right now this thing’s one sided. That’s up to us to play better football in these games to give us a chance to win.” Beating Fresno State (8-1, 4-1 MW) would go a long way in improving SJSU’s chances at returning to a bowl game. The Spartans’ final two games are at home against San Diego State (3-6, 1-4 MW) and at UNLV (7-2, 4-1 MW). But with a win over Fresno State, the Spartans would need just a split of the remaining games to become bowl eligible. The Bulldogs have a lot on the line in this game, too. Fresno and UNLV trail Air Force (8-1, 5-0 MW) by a game in the Mountain West standings and also have won three in a row since losing to Wyoming in October. The Bulldogs play New Mexico (3-6, 1-4 MW) next week and then end the regular season at home against San Diego State. SJSU players say they are not thinking about this game in terms of postseason implications. “It’s just like any other game for me,” said SJSU running back Quali Conley. “This is just another good team on the schedule.” Wide receiver Nick Nash added, “Obviously it’s a big game. “We understand that all games in November are pretty big games. But we’re still going to treat it as another game. Just another another day.” Opening up the passing game SJSU’s offense has leaned into the run game during its winning streak, but a potent passing attack could be the key against the Bulldogs. The Spartans have averaged 242.3 rushing yards and scored 10 touchdowns on the ground the past three games — all victories. Fresno State enters the game with the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the conference, allowing 126 yards per game. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro also is coming off one of his best games of the season, passing for 251 yards and two touchdowns in his 35-0 homecoming win at Hawaii. Related Articles College Sports | Mountain West power ratings: Fresno State on top after Air Force loss; HAWAII climbs (yes, Hawaii) College Sports | Women’s college basketball preview: The outlook for all six Bay Area teams College Sports | Bay Area men’s college basketball: Season previews for SCU, SJSU and USF College Sports | Stanford, San Jose State to renew football series in 2024 College Sports | MW power ratings: Unbeaten Air Force remains No. 1 as FSU, BSU rise “I think when you run the ball, it opens it up for the pass,” Nash said. We’ve been running the ball well, so we were able to get some play action and some things have popped loose in the passing game.” Stopping the playmakers Fresno State’s offense is what has made the Bulldogs one of the best teams in the conference this season. UCF transfer Mikey Keene is third in the conference in passing and has thrown 20 touchdowns this season. Running back Malik Sherrod had a big game last weekend in Fresno State’s win over Boise State, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown and returning a kickoff for a touchdown. “When the run game is going well and you’re trying to stop it, you’re gonna be more aggressive but we can’t do that against this team because they will see that and make you pay for it,” Jenkins said. Honoring the champs Saturday, SJSU will honor the 1990 Spartan team that won the Big West championship and defeated Central Michigan in the California Bowl under then head coach Terry Shea. Ten players on that team won all-conference honors, including former 49ers running back Sheldon Canley. — SJSU’s athletic department announced that Saturday’s game is trending towards a sellout, with only a limited amount of seats available to purchase. If the game does sell out, it would be SJSU’s second — the first being SJSU’s home opener against Oregon State.
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