Fresno RB takes aim at Wyoming in New Mexico Bowl
AP Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews led the nation in rushing yards per game but wasn’t invited to the Heisman Trophy award ceremony in New York City.
He’ll have to settle for the New Mexico Bowl instead.
Mathews and the Bulldogs (8-4) are going first on the bowl lineup, playing against Wyoming (6-6) on Saturday.
“He’s a very good football player and I think a lot of people will be watching this game just to watch him,” said Fresno State coach Pat Hill, whose team started 1-3 but won seven of its last eight to reach a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
Mathews averaged 151.3 yards per game – almost 7 yards better than Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart of Stanford. He runs over defenders as easily as he zips around them. Hill said Mathews typically gets the ball on 40 percent of Fresno State’s snaps.
“He’s the horse we ride,” Hill said Friday.
Mathews had a season-high 235 yards rushing against Boise State and logged at least 150 yards in games against Illinois, Wisconsin and Cincinnati. He’s always a big-play threat, leading the nation with seven runs of at least 50 yards.
He had touchdown runs of 69, 68 and 60 yards in a loss to Boise State.
“You won’t shut him down, but you can’t give up the 60- or 70-yard runs that he’s been having,” said Wyoming defensive tackle John Fletcher. “He’s a real patient back, but he’s also a big guy that runs hard. You’re going to have to hit him in the legs, not take him out up top.”
For a time this fall, there was even talk of Mathews making a Heisman Trophy run. But Mathews, a junior, said he never expected to be invited to the Big Apple for the award show, sharing the stage with Gerhart and Heisman winner Mark Ingram of Alabama.
“All that stuff is politics, what school you go to, things like that,” Mathews said. “Those guys who went are wonderful running backs, but I think I deserved to be up there with the best of them. It’s fine. It gives me more to prove, more to work for.”
Mathews was reluctant to elaborate on the Heisman politics stacked against a player at a mid-major program like Fresno State, but his center didn’t hold back.
Joe Bernardi said unless a mid-major team goes unbeaten and makes a bid for a BCS bowl game, it’s difficult for a standout player to mount a Heisman campaign.
“We understand that,” Bernardi said. “If we would have been undefeated this season, Ryan probably would have had a shot at being there in New York.”
Bernardi insisted Mathews is just as good than those better-known players.
“We know deep down that he’s one of the top two or three running backs in the country,” Bernardi said. “Put the stats up there. Put the film on. Ryan’s right up there with Ingram and Gerhart, no doubt.”
Mathews could have suited up for a higher-profile program. Coming out of high school in Bakersfield, Calif., he was recruited by Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and Washington but picked the Bulldogs to play for Hill and so his mother, Tricia, could watch.
“My mom goes to all the games. She hasn’t missed one yet,” he said.
Wyoming is back in the postseason for the first time since 2004 under first-year coach Dave Christensen.
The Cowboys are led by quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, the Mountain West’s freshman of the year. He started the last nine games, winning his first three to ignite Wyoming’s bowl run, and threw for 1,752 yards while completing 59 percent of his attempts.
Fresno State’s coaching staff is familiar with Carta-Samuels, who last season was playing high school football in San Jose, Calif.
“His greatest strength is his toughness and ability to make plays when things break down,” Hill said. “He does a great job. He’s a tough guy, and I admire, more than anything, toughness in a football player. I don’t think you can rattle him. You have to contain him.”