It’s strange to say this about an FBS team going against the FCS, but Thursday night’s season opener was truly a massive game for San Jose State. After 2018’s debacle against UC Davis, SJSU needed a victory to solidify its spot in the Mountain West and to keep head coach Brent Brennan’s job secure.
To the relief of Spartan fans, their team delivered.
SJSU defeated Northern Colorado 35-18 behind an all-around team performance at the new-look CEFCU Stadium to open 2019.
Looking to avoid the mistakes of last season, the Spartans took the ball to open the game and capitalized with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Senior quarterback Josh Love was efficient and precise on the drive, going 6-6 with 65 yards passing, which included a big 32-yard gainer to Isaiah Hamilton.
Surprise starter Dejon Packer punched in on a one-yard score to give the Spartans their first lead of the game.
After Northern Colorado put together a solid drive of its own to put three points on the board, the Spartans did it again. This time, the drive ended with a 7-yard TD pass from Love to Jerma Braddock.
Spartan fans may have gotten a peek at the future in the second quarter.
When SJSU trotted out to the field, it was true freshman Nick Nash that came out under center, not Love.
Nash didn’t attempt a pass in his sole possession. Instead, he became the Spartans’ leading rusher of the game. With five carries in a wildcat-like offensive set, Nash torched the Bears defense, rushing for 67 yards. 49 of those yards came on a single electric run.
It wasn’t a fairy-tale ending for the true freshman. At the one-yard line, Nash dropped the ball and it rolled into the endzone, where a UNC defender jumped on it for a touchback.
Not to be outdone by a true freshman, Love added to his repertoire by adding a rushing TD to his already impressive statline on SJSU’s next drive.
SJSU took a 21-6 lead to the locker-room at the half.
Defensively, the Spartans bent but never broke in the second half.
UNC QB Jacob Knipp displayed his talent on the Bears first drive of the third quarter. Through a solid run game and efficient short passing, Knipp led the Bears on an impressive 16-play touchdown drive lasting over seven minutes.
It would be the last time the Bears sniffed the endzone all night.
Spartan senior linebacker Ethan Aguayo wasn’t going to let the Bears near it again. He finished with 20 tackles and a sack. It seem like Aguayo was involved in every tackle all game.
The Spartans tacked on two more touchdowns, and the Bears added a field goal and a safety to bring the final score to 35-18. It was an easy win for SJSU, something that the program desperately needed.
Here are some takeaways from the Spartan victory:
The O-line looked improved
Northern Colorado’s defensive front was undersized and obviously was not of FBS talent, so let’s get that out of the way. But it was the first time Josh Love had time to throw in what feels like an eternity. The pass protection was on point, and as Love’s 224 yards and 3 total TD’s can tell you, the sky’s the limit for him if he can stay on his feel.
The defense is undisciplined
Run defense is going to be an issue. The Bears rushed for 150 yards (if you exclude sacks), and a lot of those big runs came on third down. And this is a team with a weak offensive line. When SJSU takes on teams with a big rushing attack like San Diego State and Nevada, it might be a long game for the defense.
Another issue was penalties. There were many avoidable fouls, including a targeting penalty on Jesse Osuna in the final minutes of the game. He will now be suspended for the first half against Tulsa. Not a good look and this is something that the coaching staff should get locked down sooner than later.
The Spartans are confident
When you lose to an FCS squad in the first week of the season, it can ruin a team’s confidence. The Spartans started the season last year with the cards stacked against them because of a Week 1 miscue. Now, heading into a game against Tulsa, the Spartans may have a little more swagger than they would have had they lost to UNC. If SJSU gets off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1987, it could do wonders for the team mentally. (And yes, you read that right. 1987 was the last time SJSU was 2-0.)
Overall, it was a promising start. No, don’t expect a bowl birth or even five wins. But with a great QB and offensive weapons, this could be the team that finally gets SJSU back on track. With a big grass hill in the stadium replacing the seats serving as the backdrop to a season-opening win, the Spartans started putting the building blocks together on Thursday.
Let’s see if it continues on Saturday when SJSU hosts Tulsa at CEFCU Stadium.