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Film Study: San Jose State knocks off Arkansas

The Spartan defense picks off five Razorback passes

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2006, the San Jose State Spartans beat a Power Five opponent when they knocked off the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks, 31-24, last Saturday.

In this edition of the Mountain West Connection’s Film Study, we’ll detail how the Spartan defense and quarterback, Josh Love, were the main ingredients to the upset win.


San Jose State picked off Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel five times. Bobby Brown got two of them while Ethan Aguayo, Nehemiah Shelton and Jay Lenard all had one. It was a great day for the defense, which held Arkansas to 131 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. To do that to an SEC offense, even one which has struggled to win games like the Razorbacks’ has, it’s impressive.

Here’s the first interception from the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Aguayo in the below GIF. On this play, San Jose State sends five and drops six into coverage. Aguayo does his job in the zone defense and gets great depth along the hash mark. Starkel clearly doesn’t see him:

Two plays after Aguayo’s pick, the Spartans scored on this run from freshman Nick Nash. The 6-1, 184-pound Nash is an intriguing guy. Good runner. Smooth athlete. He showed it on this counter play where he follows the pulling guard and tight end before juking a linebacker:

Here’s the Spartans’ second interception. I don’t know if Starkel rushed this throw or what, because he had plenty of time to go elsewhere with the ball before the end of the half.

Instead, it seems like he knew where he was throwing the ball before the snap, and that was good news for Brown, the the 6-0, 180-pound safety who easily snatched the sailing throw in the prevent zone coverage:

On the Spartans’ third pick, this one from the 6-1, 207-pound safety Lenard, you can credit defensive end Cade Hall, because he’s the one that disrupted the pocket and got to Starkel as he let go of the ball. The twist that Hall and linebacker Jesse Osuna do together worked to perfection:

Starkel’s fourth interception went to the tall and lanky Spartan corner Shelton on the San Jose State 1, and the 6-2, 170-pounder brought it back to the 14. Again, Starkel looks like he’s already decided where he’s going with the ball. Look at the excellent break Shelton makes on it:

San Jose State’s fifth and final pick was similar to the one Starkel threw just before halftime. I have no idea why he’s rushing this throw. The Spartans are in a prevent zone defense, and his intended receiver is double covered — he’s not open at all.

Starkel has over a minute to work with and one timeout. Yet he unleashes this throw, which Brown easily picks off:

But we should also give some love to the Spartans’ front seven. They made some really strong stops against Arkansas in big moments. Like this one on fourth-and-1 at the 4. Watch how 6-6, 276-pound defensive end Christian Johnson stands up the tight end blocking him, grabs Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley’s legs, and waits for the finishing blow from linebacker Kyle Harmon:

And on this third-down stop, it’s all Lenard sprinting around the corner to take down the runner. Arkansas wound up turning the ball over on fourth after this stop from Lenard:

Quarterback Josh Love

The 6-2, 205-pound Love had a really nice game. He finished 32 of 49 for 402 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception. He showed off a strong arm and good decision making.

Check out the first play of the game, a 50-yard completion to Bailey Gaither. Gaither runs a simple go route, and the Arkansas safety and corner on the boundary are mixed up on who’s taking Gaither and who has the slot. They were yelling at each other after the play. Clear miscommunication:

Here’s Love’s first touchdown pass six plays later out of 11 personnel (one back and one tight end), a 3-yarder to JaQuan Blackwell. The ball is well-placed, low and away, and Blackwell does a great job of shielding off his corner on his slant route:

Here’s another throw that was impressive. Love fits this pass to Tre Walker in the middle of a Razorback zone for a first down on third-and-8. The Love-to-Walker connection killed Arkansas all night. Walker finished with 12 catches for 161 yards:

Walker was really feeling it Saturday. Enough so that he was able to pull this first-down off:

Here’s a throw from Love where he used patience to let the route develop. Like I said earlier, this guy really did a good job distributing the ball:

And when Arkansas made their comeback and tied the game at 24, Love came through late in the fourth with some solid throws.

Like this one, a back-shoulder to Walker, who makes the acrobatic grab even while losing his right cleat:

And this throw, where Love finds Blackwell for another first down:

Love’s arm and accuracy set up the game-winning touchdown run from DeJon Packer on an split inside zone run out of 12 personnel. Great blocks from everyone, and how can you not love Packer showing “peace out” with his left hand before crossing the goal line?: