On the very first play of the fourth quarter of San Jose State’s 34-29 win against Army, Bailey Gaither made a play emblematic of his squad’s entire season thus far.
Draped with an opposing corner, Gaither reached out his arms, popped the ball in the air, kept his eyes on the ball, and snatched it in the corner of the end zone, getting both knees on the ground for six points despite blatant pass interference on the defense. The touchdown and impending two-point conversion gave the Spartans a 13-point lead and halted any momentum the Black Knights gained in the third quarter.
No matter what the circumstances, the difficulty of the schedule or the momentum, this team simply finds a way to make plays when it needs them the most.
The stunning win, which avenged a 52-3 thrashing by the Black Knights over the Spartans last season, puts SJSU at an even 4-4 with four more to go. It needs a two game split to put its name in the bowl eligibility pool, and after Saturday’s win it’s getting difficult to picture the Spartans staying home in December, a far-cry from the expectations of the team before the season.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
The Spartans have completely abandoned the run-game, and honestly, that’s okay
If it ain’t broke don't fix it, right? Well at this point in the season, it’s clear the the ground game is broke. And there ain’t no way to fix it.
So what do the Spartans do? Rely on one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Josh Love put up a statistically mild performance Saturday compared to some of the figures he’s put up this season.
It was still remarkable. He completed 20/31 pass attempts for 314 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. He was beyond efficient, and carried the offense to a win.
It wasn’t without its troubles. The Spartans were limited to a field goal within the Army red-zone four times Saturday. Those issues have persisted throughout the year and need to be fixed when the Spartans take on more opportunistic teams like Boise State and Hawai’i. But the fact that Love continues to perform like this without any semblance of a run game is astounding.
Love is playing his way into the NFL Draft conversation, and the Spartans are taking advantage.
In case there was any doubt, Ethan Aguayo is the heart and soul of this defense
After missing the last three games with an apparent shoulder injury, senior linebacker Ethan Aguayo returned and made a gigantic difference in this game.
He totaled up 11 tackles and was instrumental in stopping Army’s elusive triple option offensive attack. His leadership was clearly missed in his absence, as the defense looked more coordinated and disciplined.
However, he wasn’t alone in his outstanding efforts...
Jesse Osuna was outstanding. But he needs to play smarter at the end of games.
Aguayo wasn’t the only critical Spartan linebacker returning from injury.
After sitting out against San Diego State with an undisclosed injury, Jesse Osuna returned to action and simply dominated. He finished with two sacks, despite the run-heavy offense of the Black Knights.
He had 14 tackles total, leading the game for both teams. He needs to play like this again for SJSU to have a shot at the Boise State Broncos next week.
Problem is, they’re only going to have him for half of that game. With just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, Osuna was ejected for targeting after a hit on the Army QB. It was a controversial call, but per the rule book, it was the correct call. Since the foul occurred in the second half, Osuna is required to sit in the first half of next week’s game against the Broncos.
It’s the second time this has happened to Osuna this season. He was also ejected and suspended for a half in the season opener against Northern Colorado. This cannot happen. He’s a fantastic player, but he needs to have better judgement on plays like this.
Finally, SJSU has a solid chance of going bowling this year
This wasn’t the path that was anticipated for this team, but here we are. The Spartans need to split its last four games to have a chance to play a bowl game in December.
Those four remaining games:
Vs. Boise State
Vs. Fresno State
Take your pick. I’d give mine, but this team is seemingly unpredictable. It could beat any team, or lose to any, and it wouldn’t really surprise me at this point. Just like a ball being juggled in the end zone by a certain senior wide receiver, it really could go either way.