The numbers are similar, year over year. The Fresno State defense through its first nine games this season had allowed 5.1 yards per play, and it allowed 5.1 when winning a Mountain West Conference championship in 2022. It had allowed 6.7 yards per passing attempt after allowing 6.1 a year ago, but it had defended the run with more success, allowing 3.6 yards per rush after allowing 4.3 last season.
But a 42-18 loss at San José State at CEFCU Stadium confirmed any festering suspicions that the Bulldogs were not quite at the same level.
Fresno State was simply beaten up on both sides of the football, losing starting quarterback Mikey Keene and its top two left tackles in Jacob Spomer and Toreon Penright with injuries. But before any of the three went down, Fresno State (8-2, 4-2 in the MW) was in deep, with the Spartans dominating the line of scrimmage with simple counter plays, scoring touchdowns on their first four series.
That certainly changed the dynamic for the Fresno State offense, not that it had much success with Keene or backup Logan Fife in the game.
“We got beat by a better team,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “They out-executed us in every phase of the game and ran the ball. We couldn’t stop the run. They were a better team tonight. You have to give them credit for that.”
The Spartans’ Kairee Robinson rolled up a career-high 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries, averaging 10.5 yards per play. Quali Conley, the Central High grad, rushed for 93 yards on 15 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per play.
San José State, which is leading the Mountain West Conference in rushing yards per play, rolled up 313 yards on the ground at 7.3 yards per pop.
It had 12 runs of 10 or more yards, and the Bulldogs had allowed only 38 in its first nine games, tied with Boise State for second in the conference.
San José State had four runs of 20 or more yards, and Fresno State had allowed only five all season, again, second in the Mountain West.
“As we looked at (the Fresno State run defense) we thought it was going to be a challenge to run the football because they’re playing, a majority of their scheme, they’re a lot of single high (safety) so they’re having a lot of people in the box,” said San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, who called it the best victory the Spartans have had in his seven-year tenure.
“You weren’t sure how that’s going to go. But I think out offensive line has done a fantastic job. They continue to work. They continue to kind of play for each other. It’s a really good group of dudes.”
Robinson, who set a career high with the 200 rushing yards, is the first Spartans running back to hit that number since Tyler Ervin went for 263 in a victory over New Mexico in 2015. On too many plays, he blasted through the line untouched, the Bulldogs unable to get off blocks and in chase mode play after play.
Fresno State didn’t have much success against the pass, either. San José State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro attempted only 18 passes, but hit nine for 146 yards and touchdowns of 25, seven and 14 yards.
Fresno State still in conference title race
It also could have been worse. San José State, which has won four games in a row to put itself in contention to play in the conference championship game, had the ball at the Fresno State 5-yard line with 2:23 remaining and after running one play took a knee on its next three snaps and took a turnover on downs.
Fresno State remains in contention for a return trip to the Mountain West championship game, as well. But its chances of ending the season in a New Year’s Six bowl game as the highest ranked champion from a Group of Five conference are kaput.
The Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 25 in the AFCA coaches poll, may in fact have the easiest schedule the final two weeks of the season among any of the conference title contenders.
Fresno State plays its final home game on Saturday against New Mexico and ends the regular season at San Diego State and both are just 3-7 and 1-5 in conference.
Air Force, which took its first conference loss on Saturday in losing at Hawaii, is tied for first in the Mountain West and plays UNLV (8-2, 5-1) and then at Boise State (5-5, 4-2).
UNLV, also tied for first, plays at Air Force (8-2, 5-1) and ends at home with San José State (5-5. 4-2).
Boise State, tied for second, remains in with a long shot chance and plays at Utah State (5-5, 3-3) and Air Force (8-2, 5-1). The Spartans, tied for second, ends the regular season against San Diego State (3-7, 1-5) and at UNLV (8-2, 5-1).
The Bulldogs also hold head-to-head tiebreakers over UNLV and Boise State, having beaten the Rebels and Broncos before they were dismantled by San José State.
By the numbers
1: Fresno State moved into the top spot in Group of Five attendance while playing on the road. South Florida went into the weekend leading at 41,861 per game, but drew only 30,938 for a victory over Temple to drop its average to 39,676. Fresno State, which plays its final home game Saturday against New Mexico, is averaging 40,249.
21: Points for San José State in the first quarter. The Bulldogs had allowed just 20 points combined in the first quarter of their first five conference games.
10: Tackles for Bulldogs’ safety Kosi Agina, a career-high. Agina, a Sanger High grad, was in on 14 tackles in the first nine games.
5: Sacks by the Spartans. Fresno State was ninth in the Mountain West, allowing 2.4 sacks per game.
11: Tackles for loss by San José State, with 2.0 by defensive end Noah Lavulo and 1.5 by nose tackles Jay Kakiva and Soane Toia and end Tre Smith.
14: Points off turnovers for the Spartans, one of the touchdowns coming on a 98-yard interception return by cornerback Michael Dansby that ended the Bulldogs only shot to get back into the game. The Pick Six came on the first series of the second half, when Fresno State trailed 28-10. It also was the second-longest interception return in school history - Gerald Jones had a 99-yard return for a touchdown in 2003 against Nevada.
12: Red zone field goals for the Bulldogs this season after Dylan Lynch hit one from 31 yards out on their opening series. Fresno State continues to struggle to get into the end zone when inside the 20 - the 12 field goals are second most in the Mountain West.
2.7: Yards per rush for Fresno State, the fourth time in 10 games they have failed to muster even 3.0 yards per carry. The Bulldogs averaged 2.0 in a win at at Arizona State, 1.9 in a loss at Wyoming and 2.8 in a victory over UNLV.
24: Margin of victory for San Jose State. It was the Spartans most lopsided victory in the series since 1990 when the Spartans beat Fresno State 42-7.
10: Years since San José State beat a ranked team. The Bulldogs were its most recent victim, as well. The Spartans had beaten No. 16 Fresno State 63-53 on Nov. 29, 2013.