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Preview: SJSU’s bowl hopes in balance in tango with Lobos

The Spartans have a rare mid-season must win against UNM.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Where: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA

When: Friday, October 4th, 7 p.m. PST

Watch: CBS Sports Network

The game:

San Jose State’s matchup with New Mexico Friday night is something the Spartans haven’t had in years — a meaningful fifth game. And to say this game is meaningful might even be an understatement. It’s the biggest conference game SJSU has played in a long time.

With a win, the Spartans would find themselves square into bowl-contention — something that not even the most optimistic of fans would’ve expected at this point in the season.

Both teams come into the duel at 2-2. The thing is, we still don’t really know what kind of team SJSU is quite yet. It won a game it should have won, and pulled off a shocking upset at Arkansas. It’s also fallen to a couple of clearly superior teams in Tulsa and Air Force.

This game falls into the former category. On paper, the Spartans should win this game. The question is whether Arkansas-game SJSU shows up, or Air Force-game SJSU shows up. Let’s take a look at why SJSU should be halfway to a bowl appearance.

Josh Love has proven himself. Can the rest of the offense keep up?

After writing about how Josh Love is the key to SJSU’s success every week, I realized that isn’t even true anymore. Love is going to show up and ball out every single week this season. He’s made it clear. He’s the best and most important player on this football team and it’s not particularly close.

But he can only be as effective as his receivers and protection. In the two Spartan losses, Love didn’t have much time to pass and his receivers didn’t do much to help him out.

The running game might be a lost cause at this point. SJSU couldn’t crack 100 net yards on the ground on 31 rushes against Air Force, and the Spartans remain last in the conference in rushing.

But the Lobos are last in the MW against the pass. So maybe it works out for Love and the offense gets back on track.

Nick Nash is for real. Seriously.

Love isn’t the only Spartan QB that has proven himself. Nick Nash is still the leading rusher for SJSU. As bonkers as it is for a backup QB to lead a team in rushing through four games, Nash is the real deal, and coach Brent Brennan knows it.

Nash is slowly getting more snaps at running back and receiver. He’s become a utility player for the Spartans, and somebody that opposing defenses have to account for. Nash is really the only player that can pop off a big run at any moment on the team. The Lobos already struggle against the run. Having a double-threat like Nash can only work to SJSU’s favor.

And by the way, Nash went five-for-seven with 82 yards and two touchdowns through the air against the Falcons last week. Just saying.

The defense has stepped up

Let’s pretend the Air Force game didn’t happen for a second. The triple option offense is a bit on an anomaly.

SJSU fans have likely been surprised by the defensive effort this season from the Spartans. The Arkansas game obviously comes to mind. The Spartans have proven that they can hold good rushing teams to little success on the ground, and that they can dominate quarterbacks.

The Spartans thus far have struggled against big, menacing and physical backs. Luckily for them, Ahmari Davis is not one. He’s a terrific player that averages over 5 yards per carry. But the Spartans have the speed on defense to counter that against a smaller back. They should be able to contain him just enough to survive.

Prediction:

It will be a close game. These are two teams that play similar styles and have a lot in common.

It’s going to come down to whichever defense can contain the other team’s best player the most. If the Lobos can put pressure on Josh Love and have solid coverage on Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither, they’ll likely pull it off on the road. If the Spartans can slow down Ahmari Davis, they’re halfway to a bowl game. I’ll take the Spartans in this one.

SJSU 31, UNM 28