Fresno State bounced back from a three-game losing skid with a 24-21 win over Hawaii. Under new defensive coordinator, Tim Skipper, the Bulldogs defense matched a season-best, holding the Warriors to 21 points. The Fresno State defense gave up over 37 points per game entering the contest. Senior defensive tackle Logan Harrell says Skipper’s impact was a big reason in the unit’s success.
“It all came together last week,” said Harrell. “With Coach [Skipper] taking over. It was a totally different mentality going into practice and having more of a unity feeling as a defense as a whole. We built off that all week in practice and came out and put in on display against Hawaii.”
The win wasn’t just a confidence builder for the defense, but for the team as a whole. The Bulldogs had lost three straight, including the first loss to New Mexico State in school history. A victory against Hawaii gives the team some momentum heading into the final two games of the season versus in-state rivals. Senior offensive lineman Leslie Cooper says the trip to the Island helped the team improve.
“It was real big,” said Cooper. “It’s hard, but we did it. We’re starting to play as a team, more as a unit than individualize.”
Along with the defensive performance, the Bulldogs’ offensive line now finally has some stability. The unit faced several injuries early, and just as the unit was healthy as a whole, two starting lineman were suspended. Leslie Cooper has had to rotate positions and commented on the reemergence of the line at full strength.
“It’s been good,” said Cooper. “We have our chemistry that we’ve been working with since spring fall. It’s fun; it’s good playing guard again.”
This week, the Fresno State Bulldogs have turned their focus to rival San Jose State. Although the Spartans won just three games in the previous two seasons, second-year head coach Mike McIntyre has SJSU at a 4-7 record heading into the game.
San Jose State is 3-4 in the WAC, but the Spartans have lost their four games by an average of 4.5 points. The Bulldogs seniors say they can see the difference in this year’s Spartans compared to years past.
“They seem a lot more confident in the way they play,” said Harrell. “I think that’s kind of what they’ve been building off all season. Their record doesn’t really show it, but you can see when they play they’re a lot more confident.”
Fifth year senior, wide receiver, Devon Wylie says despite similar personnel, the Spartans are a much-improved team.
“Their secondary is pretty the same as last year,” said Wylie. “But their team accumulatively is a lot more aggressive, a lot more competitive, and a lot hungrier. We’ve just got to match that and outplay them.”
SJSU comes off a 27-24 win versus Navy. The Spartan defense, however, had to spend the last week preparing for Navy’s triple-option offense. The Bulldog passing game led by quarterback Derek Carr could have an early advantage through the air. Wylie says the ‘Dogs will stick with what they do best.
“I think we always have an advantage with our passing game because of how good Derek [Carr] is, and how good our receiving corps is,” said Wylie. “We like to establish our running game first, but we’ll see if we can come out and hit them with some pass and run and keep them guessing.”
Fresno State’s 15 seniors will close out their career against their CSU rival that has not won in Fresno since 1987. Cooper says the seniors are very motivated to close their career at Bulldog Stadium with a win.
“It’d be great,” Cooper said. “It’d be awesome. Like Coach Hill says, ‘The games you remember are the games in November,’ and you definitely remember your last one. So, I want to go out having good memories.”
For the seniors, it will be the last time they walk down the ramp onto Jim Sweeney Field. It will be a bittersweet moment for most of the seniors.
“It’s sad, but exciting,” said Wylie. “It’s been a long career here. It’s been fun, just hoping to go out with a bang.”
“It’s my last go-around,” said Cooper. “I’ve got to put on a show. It’s my last time walking down [the ramp] in a Bulldog uniform. I’m going to have on my mind that I’ve got to give it my all, leave everything out there.”
For one Bulldog senior, there will be an opportunity to leave Bulldog Stadium atop the record books.
Senior kicker Kevin Goessling enters Saturday’s game just one point away from the school record for all-time scoring. At 363 points, Goessling has made 183 extra points, and has made 60-of-78 career field goal attempts. He has also made 5-of-10 attempts from 50 or more yards.
It is also to be noted that every snap has come from the hands of long-snapper, and fellow senior, Bobby Shepard. The senior kicker commented on the likely possibility of becoming Fresno State’s all-time scoring leader.
“This school has a lot of tradition and has had a lot of people come before me and do great things, and I’m sure there will be plenty after me that do the same. So to be considered one of those types of plays is a real honor. It’s definitely something I’ve worked hard to do and I’m going to keep doing that with my last couple games.”
Not only will Goessling have a chance to break the record, he will get the opportunity to do it in Bulldog Stadium on senior night.
“That’d be awesome,” Goessling said. “There’d be nothing better than to do it on senior night, last game in Bulldog Stadium, and do it in front of a home crowd that’s been very supportive throughout my five years here.”
Out of all his 363 points, none is more memorable than a 58-yard, record setting, and game winning field goal at Utah State in 2008. The win was a definite difference maker, as the Bulldogs finished just above .500, going 7-6.
“The Utah State game will always remain dear to my heart,” said Goessling. “Not only setting the school record in distance, but also the situation that it called for, as far as a game winning field goal. And then my first game winner inside Bulldog Stadium against Louisiana Tech.”
Saturday will be the 15th time Fresno State Head Coach Pat Hill sends a class out on senior day. Goessling says he has had a good experience with playing under Hill in Fresno.
“I’m really happy with my decision to come to Fresno State, five years later looking back on it. I wouldn’t have wanted to play for anyone else besides Coach Hill…he just is a genuinely good person and someone you look forward to emulating in your life.”
“Coach Hill is one of those guys that when you’re playing for him, you really want to play and perform well, because you know he puts his heart and soul in the program and you want to do the same for him. You don’t want to disappoint him.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 5 p.m. PT. It will not be televised.
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