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Missed opportunities: SJSU unable to put it all together in loss to Tulsa

The Spartans fail to start 2-0

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Tulsa at San Jose State Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking to pull off its first 2-0 start in over 30 years, San Jose State fell well short Saturday night against Tulsa in a 34-16 loss.

The game was summed up best by SJSU head coach Brent Brennan, who was clearly frustrated following the loss.

“There was just too many missed opportunities,” he said. “Whether they were missed tackles, dropped passes, missed blocks ... It’s disappointing.”

The loss was on all of the above and more.

Tulsa made its gameplay clear from the get-go. It was going to run the ball down the Spartans’ throat. Despite a horrific -73-yard rushing performance a week prior against Michigan State, the Golden Hurricane was confident in its run game.

On the opening 14-play 75-yard touchdown drive, the Golden Hurricane ran the ball 13 times, with the one pass going for 21 yards. Shamari Brooks would eventually punch in a 9-yard score.

That drive was a sign of what was to come.

In the first quarter alone, Tulsa rushed for 84 yards. It also threw for 58 on just two pass attempts. That’s as efficient as it gets.

After another Tulsa TD and a SJSU field goal, the Spartans responded in the second quarter with an impressive drive of their own. They covered 80 yards in just nine plays thanks to a crucial pass-interference call, a 30-yard connection from Josh Love to Bailey Gaither and finally a 20-yard TD reception from Jerma Braddock.

At the half, the Spartans were within striking distance. If you had offered them a 17-10 halftime deficit before the game, they likely would’ve taken it.

They just didn’t show up in the final 30 minutes.

In its first four possessions of the second half, SJSU punted each time. It couldn’t put a drive longer than five plays together.

Tulsa on the other hand came out to play.

After a punt on their first possession of Q3, the Golden Hurricane punished the Spartans for their offensive struggles. Tulsa scored 17 unanswered, effectively closing the door on the Spartans.

SJSU displayed a promising drive at the end of the game for fans to hang their hats on.

Josh Love was roughed up on a third down and with the game almost out-of-hand, coach Brennan handed the keys to true freshman Nick Nash. Nash of course put together a solid drive a week prior against Northern Colorado, which ultimately ended with a fumble at the one yard-line.

Nash made up for it Saturday. He was impressive throwing the ball, going 5-7 for 44 yards. He also showed what he can do with his legs, rushing for 48 yards and a 20-yard touchdown scamper.

Is there a QB controversy brewing in San Jose? No. But if Love goes down for good, the Spartans are in good hands.

Nash’s touchdown brought the score to 34-16, where it would remain for good.

Analysis:

SJSU’s defense is a major issue.

Everyone knew what Tulsa’s offensive game plan would be coming into this matchup. It was going to run the ball at least 30 times and force the Spartans to make it throw.

The Spartans couldn’t stop it. The Golden Hurricane ran the ball 54 times for 256 yards. It’s not like those yards were piled up on a few long runs. Their longest rush was for 17 yards (which they did twice). They consistently gained yards at an average of 4.7 per play.

Shamari Brooks led the way. A week after being the team’s leading rusher with 6 carries for 0 yards, he rebounded in a major way. Brooks torched the Spartans for 140 yards on 29 carries.

Freshman T.K. Wilkerson nearly doubled his career yardage. On 15 attempts, Wilkerson gained 92 yards and rushed for two touchdowns. Coming into the game, he had 95 career rushing yards and no TD’s.

Tulsa’s running attack was brutal and SJSU had no answer for it.

It also opened up the passing game for QB Zach Smith. The Baylor transfer was beyond impressive. After attempting two passes in the first two drives, the Spartans stacked the box to stop the run and Smith exploited that.

He’d finish with 21 completions in 28 attempts for 283 yards and a TD. He spread the ball around to seven different receivers, who did a terrific job.

SJSU’s secondary was probably it’s best defensive unit. Tulsa’s receivers and QB just made plays. Smith’s pinpoint accuracy paired with astute sideline awareness provided a deadly combination for any defensive back to deal with.

Tulsa’s Sam Crawford Jr. was incredible with nine receptions and 137 yards.

This is going to be a major problem for SJSU going forward. The Spartans face plenty of dynamic offenses this season like Boise State, Hawaii and Army, just to name a few. Those games will get ugly.

Love needs to be protected better

Love exhibited the same traits that excited Spartan fans in their season opener — patience, accuracy and a beautiful deep ball. He just couldn’t stay on his feet.

Tulsa officially had just one sack, but it did an excellent job of pressuring Love and the SJSU offense. The Spartans rushing attack was rendered ineffective as the Golden Hurricane front -seven swarmed the ball on seemingly every play.

It all came to a head in the fourth quarter when Love was knocked out of the game after a big hit. He would be fine, but it reminded Spartan fans of 2018. Love played well, but was injured often because of the sheer brutality of the hits he would receive. He needs to be protected or it might be another season of pain for Love.