Blake Jurich spent four years competing to become San Jose State's starting quarterback. On Thursday night, in his senior year, he finally got the call and made the most of it. Jurich passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns, completed 22/25, an 88% clip, and ran for another 20 yards and a score. An auspicious beginning to his starting quarterback role, leading the Spartans to a 42-10 victory over North Dakota.
Jurich's favorite target was dynamic sophomore receiver Tyler Winston, who had 10 grabs for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Winston continues to show tremendous hands, runs crisp routes, and is a large target who will be Jurich's main target all year. He looks bigger, stronger and more confident in his 2nd year of college ball.
The Spartan running game showed life rushing for 150 yards. Starting sophomore tailback Thomas Tucker carried the ball 20 times for 81 yards; freshman Brandon Monroe (getting more carries due to Jarrod Lawson's two game suspension) added 32 yards and a touchdown. Monroe adds good size (6'1" 220) to the backfield and has a smooth and powerful style of run which will add greatly to the Spartan backfield.
Other standouts offensively were sophomore fullback Shane Smith who caught a touchdown and opened holes both as a lead blocker and as a run blocker lining up at times in the tight end position. Junior wide receiver Hansel Wilson (4 catches 85 yards) looks to be a home run threat with great speed catching a 51 yard perfectly thrown bomb from Jurich early in the game. Junior slot receiver and return man Tyler Ervin, a threat to go the distance each time he touches it, was just tripped up on a 2nd half punt return after going 33 yards, but the next attempt he took it the distance going 40 yards for the score. Ervin adds the punt return score to three previous kick return scores (in less than two years of his injury-plagued career) and, if he remains healthy, is a difference maker for the 2014 Spartan squad.
Granted, against an FCS opponent, the 2014 Greg Robinson-led (defensive coordinator) defense looks to be much improved. A deep defensive line, led by senior Travis Raciti, showed great push and limited the North Dakota offense. Junior's Tony Popovich and Nate Falo played well inside, and on the ends, sophomores Eugene Taylor and Isiaah Irving look to be converting well to the 4-3.
Senior linebacker Vince Buhagiar and sophomore Christian Tago were flying around the field making plays. Buhagiar, a 5th year senior who missed all of last year with an injury, looked to be back to health and was excited to be back leading the defense.
The defensive backfield has received a real shot in the arm with University of Washington transfer Cleveland Wallace. Wallace had an interception and showed great ball and coverage skills; he and senior Dashien Frierson manned the corners well, granted it was against an FCS opponent, not all that adept in the passing game.
It was evident from the opening whistle that San Jose State was the superior team and North Dakota will take some time adjusting to their new coach and offensive philosophy (power run game). But the dominance up front on both sides of the ball was very evident and encouraging. While the roles and dominance could be reversed in week two against the Auburn Tigers, it appears San Jose State is a better team up front this year, and with a variety of playmakers the Spartans will enter the game to shock the world. That said, week three against the Minnesota Golden Gophers will most likely reveal whether San Jose State is a pretender or contender, and will be a huge test and opportunity outside of conference play for Jurich and the 2014 Spartans.