FRESNO, Calif. — It will be the old paradox of the irresistible force versus the immovable object when Fresno State and Utah State square off Saturday night (8 p.m. MST) at Bulldog Stadium for the Mountain West Conference championship.
The Bulldogs are the irresistible force with an offense that ranks at the top of the MWC and among the best in the nation, while the Aggies are the immovable object with a defense that ranks at the top of the MWC and among the best in the nation.
The potent Bulldogs rank No. 1 in the country in passing offense (410.3 ypg), No. 2 in total offense (580.6 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring offense (47.3 ppg).
Meanwhile, the stingy Aggies are No. 7 in scoring defense (16.8 ppg) No. 11 in total defense (321.4 ypg) and No. 11 in rushing defense (111.6 ypg).
The Aggies are also 23rd in passing yards allowed (209.8 ypg), which is where the defense is really going to be tested by Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, a projected first-round NFL draft pick.
“That will be a huge part of the game — the No. 1 offense in the Mountain West against the No. 1 defense,’’ said USU coach Matt Wells.
The prize is the outright MWC championship and a presumed spot in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21.
The Aggies will be taking on a team that was seemingly on its way to a likely BCS berth before getting derailed last week in a 62-52 loss at San Jose State. The Bulldogs have regrouped and say they’re excited to compete for the MWC championship and their first outright conference title since 1991.
“Understandably after Friday we were down and there was disappointment there,’’ said FSU coach Tim DeRuyter. “Our No. 1 goal is to win the Mountain West championship and we get an opportunity to do that in our stadium where we haven’t lost for two years. We have a chance to make amends for how we played last Friday and prove to ourselves that’s not who we were for most of the season.’’
Meanwhile, the Aggies have regrouped since a midseason injury to quarterback Chuckie Keeton, reeling off five straight victories to earn a spot in the inaugural MWC title game. The Aggies methodically played each opponent each week with the long-term goal of a MWC championship in mind, and they got their wish with the matchup against Fresno State.
Wells called the Fresno State offense “the Globetrotters on grass,'' saying, "They’ve got rhythm and timing and it’s pretty right now.
“We need to try to slow down that offensive machine,’’ he said. “Our defensive staff and players will relish that challenge. They’ve got great skill out on the perimeter. (Derek Carr) is the best quarterback I’ve seen in the last three years. Derek and his receivers are extremely talented.’’
The Aggie defense is anchored by senior linebacker Jake Doughty, who leads the team with 130 tackles, and junior linebacker Zach Vigil, who has 107 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Kyler Fackrell has 76 tackles and four sacks; senior safety Maurice Alexander has 75 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks; and senior cornerback Nevin Lawson has four interceptions and 13 pass breakups.
On offense, the Aggies will be more balanced than Fresno State with Joey DeMartino, who has 180 carries for 1,024 yards, doing most of the running and freshman quarterback Darell Garretson passing the ball. Garretson, who replaced Keeton after he went down with a knee injury, completed 97 of 154 passes for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Aggies have three reliable receivers in Bruce Natson, who has caught 52 passes; Travis Reynolds, who has 51 catches for 832 yards; and Travis Van Leeuwen, who has 44 receptions for 586 yards. Natson also has two punt returns for touchdowns.
GAME NOTES: The Bulldogs’ top rusher is Josh Quezada, who played two years at BYU before transferring to Fresno. He has 733 yards on 132 carries for six touchdowns. ... Saturday's game will be televised on CBS. It will mark USU's second appearance on a major network to go along with the game against USC on ABC. ... Fresno State is ranked No. 23 in the latest BCS standings after being ranked as high as No. 14. ... The Aggies have intercepted 14 passes, all in last eight games. ... Utah State is 2-12-1 in Fresno, with their last win coming in 1980 (14-0). The Aggies and Bulldogs played to a 24-24 tie in 1990.