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Fresno State Has Its Backers, Too : Although UCLA Favored, Bulldogs Expect Lots of Support

September 19, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

According to the flyer sent to the many supporters of the Fresno State football program: "Thousands of Fresno State football fans will caravan down Highway 99 for the West Coast match-up you've been waiting for . . . our Fresno State Bulldogs against the Pac-10 powerhouse UCLA Bruins!"

Advance ticket sales passed the 7,000 mark at Fresno, and school officials are assuming that a lot more Red Wave fans will buy tickets at the gate for this afternoon's game at the Rose Bowl. One support group is doing some opportunistic fund-raising by selling red flags for all the cars and buses heading south.

As proof that this is one Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. team that is not accepting a Pacific 10 invitation simply for the guarantee check, Pat Ogle, director of the Bulldog Foundation, offered this interesting statistic: "At $16 a ticket, UCLA will make more on Fresno State fans than it will pay on the guarantee."

Fresno State is fast developing a reputation for its fan following. Remember the more than 5,000 fans in New York when Fresno State won the National Invitation Tournament in 1983?

And they're loyal fans, too. For the last several years, while the Bulldogs were selling out all their home football games, averaging about 34,000 a game, they were averaging about 25,000 season tickets. There was some concern that the number would drop this year with the loss of quarterback Kevin Sweeney, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s all-time passing leader (one of 11 Bulldogs picked in the '87 National Football League draft), but season ticket sales jumped to 27,000.

Fresno State Coach Jim Sweeney was thinking that maybe 20,000 Bulldog fans would make the trip, but he thinks the early loss to Washington State might have dampened enthusiasm a little. Still, he's pleased with the people who, as he puts it, "remain steadfast."

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue figures this game to be the biggest in the history of Fresno State football. Sweeney, who has a 6-2 record against Pac-10 teams since he's been at Fresno State, says it's a big game and it shows that the Bulldogs' record against the Pac-10 is "not too shabby," but he doesn't want to rank it above his conference's bowl game. He's calling it, "the biggest challenge."

The 60,000 expected at the Rose Bowl will be the biggest crowd Fresno State has ever played before. When the Bulldogs beat Arizona in 1984, there were 43,477 in the stands at Tucson.

And Sweeney had his son at quarterback and several other standouts who have gone on.

A lot of key players are gone from the team that finished 9-2 last season.

The quarterback facing UCLA today will be Eric Buechele, a sophomore who lost the starting job in the opener and won it back in helping the Bulldogs come from behind to beat Western Illinois. In the second game, Buechele completed 13 of 25 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown.

Fresno State running back Kelly Skipper has rushed for 167 yards in his first two games and has also caught 7 passes.

"They do a lot of different things," Donahue said. "They'll use I back, split back, single back formations Saturday. They'll also use several defensive fronts. . . .

"What I know about them is scary. They frighten me. They reflect their head coach, and he's a disciplined, hard-nosed, tough kind of coach. They'll keep pressure on our defense and pressure on our offense. This team will be as well-coached as any we'll play this year."

Of course, playing Fresno State is a lot different from playing No. 2-ranked Nebraska.

"There is a difference, but the difference is mainly in public perception," Donahue said. "The public perception of the difference in the two teams is much, much greater than the reality will be."

Donahue figures the psychological advantage to be all with Fresno State, which has to be fired up to play such a big game. As the underdog, Fresno State has everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Sweeney's looking at it another way: "I would rather be playing UCLA had they beaten Nebraska. I wish they had won and would be a little more relaxed. They'll probably bounce back in this game the way they did after their loss to Oklahoma last year." Advantage to UCLA?

After losing to Oklahoma last year, the Bruins beat San Diego State, 45-14.

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