Kevin Armstrong, SI.com
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Prior to his team's Labor Day battle with Rutgers, Fresno State's A.J. Jefferson rushed onto the field wielding a sledge hammer.
Ostensibly at home in Rutgers Stadium, where construction is underway on the south end zone expansion, Jefferson and Fresno State brought their hard hats and went to work. Unable to push past the Scarlet Knights in the first half, the blue-collar Bulldogs pounded away, finally blasting through holes in the Rutgers defensive line and throwing over their secondary for 24 second-half points. "I feel really good about traveling 3,000 miles and putting it on someone from the east," said coach Pat Hill, whose defense intercepted two passes in the 24-7 win.
Building on its hard-earned reputation for challenging "Anybody, anytime, anywhere", Fresno State flew back west from Jersey with its 13th win over a BCS conference school since 2000. Whether it was jet lag or season-opening jitters, the WAC team started lethargic but finished with a lop-sided victory over its Big East opponent. "I think the little guys are tired of being little guys and the big guys are getting fat," said Fresno State quarterback Tom Brandstater, when asked if he felt his team's win was a further sign of parity in college football.
Though not a breakthrough win for a team that does not consider itself at a disadvantage traveling cross country and playing against the Big East, Hill saw his team, which suits only 12 seniors, withstand several gut checks. Twice Rutgers lined up for field goals in the first half and twice freshman kicker San San Te missed. Twice Rutgers went for it on fourth down and twice they were denied. "There was a lot of bending but no breaking out there tonight," Hill said.
What broke Rutgers' back was an inability to finish in the red zone and move the ball in the second half. Learning to operate in an offense devoid of last year's star tailback Ray Rice, quarterback Mike Teel proved his arm would not be the Achilles' heel. The fifth-year senior, whose passing accuracy has been questioned in previous seasons, threw for 263 yards on 20 of 39 passing with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Handing off to Kordell Young, he watched the youthful runner gain 110 yards on 26 carries. "Some days you have a bad day," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, whose motivational tool of his choice is the axe. "We just didn't play very well today. We didn't coach very well today, and we didn't do any of the things you need to do to win."
By the time Brandstater took a knee at the end, the Rutgers faithful had made their way for the parking lot and Route 18, leaving Fresno to enjoy its win. Next up is Wisconsin at home on September 13, another chance for Hill and his Bulldogs to take a bite out of a BCS opponent. "I'm proud of East Carolina for beating Virginia Tech and Utah in Michigan," Hill said. "I think it's a lot closer than anyone thinks."