After wrapping up its non-conference schedule with another victory, Fresno State hopes it can extend that success into WAC play.
The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs look to win their fourth straight conference opener on Saturday night when they match up against defending champion Hawaii, which is struggling under first-year coach Greg McMackin.
Fresno State (3-1) showed its resiliency by staying in the Top 25 with a pair of gritty victories after a tough home loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin on Sept. 13.
One week after a 55-54, double-overtime win at Toledo, the Bulldogs emerged with a 36-31 triumph at UCLA on Saturday.
Tom Brandstater completed 21-of-30 passes for a season-high 236 yards and three touchdowns, while Ryan Mathews - the WAC’s leading rusher and 10th nationally at 117.5 yards per game - rushed 21 times for 166 yards and a TD for the Bulldogs, who rolled up 443 yards in their best offensive effort thus far.
“I’m proud of this team. We’ve been on the road for three games this year and coming off two emotional games coming in here,” Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. “This was a good win and now we move on to the WAC schedule.”
Hill’s club hasn’t come away with a share of the conference crown since it tied Hawaii (1-3, 0-1) and TCU for the title in 1999. Hill is 4-7 all-time against Hawaii, and the Warriors have won the last two games—including a 37-30 victory Nov. 17 en route to the WAC title and a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
While Hawaii is the reigning WAC champion after going 8-0 in league play last year, McMackin has struggled from the outset after predecessor June Jones left for SMU. McMackin was defensive coordinator for the Warriors in both 1999 and 2007, but they have allowed 34.5 points per game thus far.
The Warriors also had a 15-game WAC winning streak end Saturday with a 20-17 home loss to San Jose State. Hawaii blew a 10-point halftime lead by committing five second-half turnovers in its first conference loss since falling to Boise State on Sept. 23, 2006.
Inoke Funaki went 16 for 27 with 173 yards, but also threw three interceptions and had a fumble. Tyler Graunke replaced him in the fourth quarter, and went 5 of 9 for 52 yards, but also threw an interception. Hawaii is averaging only 216.3 passing yards, a far cry from last year when Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan helped the Warriors amass 439.5 yards per game through the air - good for second among FBS teams.
Hawaii has not lost three straight since Oct. 21-Nov. 4, 2000, and has lost four of its last six at Fresno State. But the Warriors totaled 570 yards in a 68-37 victory there in 2006, the most points ever allowed by the Bulldogs at home.
“Fresno State is a top 20 team and this is Pat Hill’s year,” McMackin said. “It’s going to be a tough physical game. I know they are going to be waiting for us because we’ve beaten them the last two years. They’re a physical, well-balanced, good, solid football team so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”