After fighting tough weather, an ever-demanding finals schedule and the pressure of the team’s first postseason appearance in three years, the CSU Rams are ready to go bowling.
The Rams are set to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs in the third annual New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque Dec. 20. With bragging rights and a potential winning record on the line, the Rams are taking the match-up seriously.
Head coach Steve Fairchild, who is coaching in his first collegiate postseason game since the 2000 Liberty Bowl, explained that it is easy to compare the Rams and Bulldogs.
“Scheme-wise, we’re similar (on) both sides of the ball,” the first year CSU head coach said. “When you watch them it looks like us and when you watch us it looks like them. They are still a good football team but from a scheme point we’re not going against something drastically different.”
Tight end Kory Sperry agreed with Fairchild’s assessment, adding that playing a similar team is a mixed blessing for the Rams.
“We have a good idea what they run and it’s an advantage and a disadvantage both,” the 6-foot-6 senior said. “We’ll know some of their looks but I’m pretty sure they will come up with some different things. We can’t be set on what they’ve shown this year.”
Senior Mike Pagnotta said that Fresno State plays the type of offensive football the Rams match up best with. The senior is expected to return to CSU’s lineup to play against the Bulldogs after being sidelined with an injury since late October.
“The way they play football suits us best, especially defensively,” Pagnotta said. “They kind of want to line up and pound the ball at you and I think we respond well to that type of team. We’ll be ready for them.”
Fresno State enters the game at the end of a somewhat disappointing season. The Bulldogs were once expected to compete for a Western Athletic Conference title, but fell out of contention after dropping three of their final five games, including a 61-10 thumping by the Boise State Broncos to conclude the regular season.
Fairchild said he is expecting a different Fresno State team to show up Saturday in New Mexico. “I think they are still a confident team,” the San Diego native said. “They had a few injuries and that hurt them late in the year. But they are getting a lot of those guys back for this game and I’m sure we’ll see a very talented team.”
The Rams, on the other hand, travel to Albuquerque on a two-game winning streak, topping New Mexico and Wyoming the final two weeks of the season.
Wide Receiver Dion Morton said he isn’t thinking about how either team ended the regular season, and said the postseason brings a fresh start. The junior compared bowl games to rivalry games.
“A bowl game is special,” he said. “There is no telling who’s going to do good and who’s going to do badly. It’s one of those things where you could be the worst team on paper and still come out on top. I think they are going to be ready and I know we definitely are.”
The Rams are expected to fly out to Albuquerque on Wednesday and get a few practices in before facing Fresno on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 Saturday afternoon and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Football beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.