Fresno State Bulldogs · Sports

DeBoer readies Bulldogs for rare Thanksgiving tilt against rival San Jose St.

Coming off the bye week, Fresno State has a short final week of the season ahead of a trip to San Jose to face the rival Spartans on Thanksgiving. 

A Thanksgiving matchup is a rare sight for the Bulldogs and Head Coach Kalen DeBoer. At his weekly press conference on Monday, DeBoer could not recall a time that he has coached a game on Thanksgiving. 

And while the Bulldogs and Spartans have met 82 times – with the Bulldogs holding the 42-38-3 advantage – the last time the rivals met on Thanksgiving was 1956. 

“Pretty exciting when you think about it,” DeBoer said. “When you look at how many games are going to be on TV, and I talked with the guys a week ago about the exposure that you get. A lot of people have the day off and they’re sitting around eating some food. And what do they do? Click on the TV and watch some football.” 

The only other collegiate game on Thursday is Ole Miss at Mississippi State, but that rivalry matchup is set for 4:30 p.m., well later than the ‘Dogs’ 12:30 p.m. start time. 

The only football games the Bulldogs will compete with for exposure will come from the NFL. Fresno State will have to compete with the end of the morning game between Chicago and Detroit, and former Fresno State star Derek Carr will lead the Raiders against the Cowboys at 1:30 p.m. 

Other than that, the Bulldogs will have a prime opportunity Thursday to show their worth in front of a national audience. 

In lieu of a team celebration on Thursday for the holiday, the Bulldogs will have a turkey lunch after practice Tuesday and travel to the Bay Area on Wednesday.

DeBoer said the program will give players the option to remain in San Jose Thursday night to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families if they attend the game and would like to stay instead of immediately heading back to Fresno. 

“We talk about being thankful every single week,” DeBoer said. “A lot of that message is just who we are as a football program. We’re thankful for the opportunity to get to play another game together and to get to be around each other. A lot of that message isn’t something new just for this week, it’s something that we talk about from Day 1, starting last January.” 

Bulldogs preparing for dual QB attack from Spartans

Fresno State’s Jake Haener has been one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this season, but San Jose State’s Nick Starkel has the pedigree to go toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs. 

Starkel returned from injury last week after missing five games, which allowed backup Nick Nash – a dual-threat quarterback – to see the field. 

The duo split time in the 27-24 loss to Nevada, but Starkel is slated to be the starter and see the majority of the reps on Thursday, even though Nash figures to come in for certain situations. 

Starkel was one of the best players in the conference last season as he led the Spartans to their first Mountain West Championship. He threw for 2,174 yards and 17 touchdowns in the shortened eight-game season. 

When he’s been healthy this year, though, he hasn’t quite matched his 2020 performance. Starkel has averaged 232.3 yards per game to go along with 9 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions. 

Nash, on the other hand, has thrown for 971 yards and has gained 375 yards on the ground. 

“You have to get ready for both quarterbacks, there’s no question, because they are very different. Obviously they won the conference championship with Nick and very capable of just watching last year’s season and seeing what he did, just so consistent, especially what he did to enhance the passing game. It’s a big deal when he’s out there,” DeBoer said. 

“The other end of it is Nash and what he brings running wise. He’s really a home run threat when he has the ball in his hands as a runner and very capable passer. I think the key with both of them is still trying to get some pressure on them. It’s just a matter of one of them, you’ve got to be extra aware of the escape part and not let Nash break contain and not just move the chains, but make big plays with his legs. 

“Starkel will definitely move the chains, a lot like Jake. Heady guy, keeps his eyes down field, keeps plays alive, but looking to throw, and he does a really good job of that. He’s got a lot of years of experience under his belt. Seems like he’s a very confident team leader for them and can generate a lot of excitement with him being back, we certainly are expecting that.” 

Maeva possibly out for the season

Bulldogs linebacker and team captain Tyson Maeva will miss the San Jose State game as well as the Mountain West Championship game, if the ‘Dogs make it. 

DeBoer said Maeva had surgery after dealing with an injury for much of the season. He declined to disclose the the specifics of the injury and surgery. 

“You guys have seen it,” DeBoer said. “He’s every week picked himself up off the thurf for over half the season. It’s an injury that was just getting harder to recover from each week, so we will not have him.” 

Maeva might be available for a bowl game, depending on the date. 

In his stead, sophomore Malachi Langley has been tasked with stepping up several times this season. Langley has played in all 11 games and is third on the team with 47 tackles. 

Sophomore Tyler Mello – who defensive coordinator called the “ice cream man” last season due to his Hanford roots – is also listed on the depth chart alongside Langley. 

Photo: Fresno State Athletics

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.