With only a few weeks practice under their belts, the San Jose State Spartans came into Saturday night’s game with an excellent game plan and ready to play. After giving up 396 yards rushing to the Falcons last year, and after watching the Falcons come up with 391 yards rushing against Navy, the Spartans knew the game depended on them stopping the run, and stacked the box knowing that Air Force’s passing attack is less formidable than it was last year, and knowing that the Falcons were missing starting guards Nolan Laufenberg and Kyle Krepsz. The Falcons did manage to get 206 yards on the ground, but were often stymied on early downs and didn’t manage many explosive plays.
The big moment of the game came after a long Air Force drive took them to the Spartan 1 yard line with less than 2 minutes left in the first half of a scoreless game. Naturally, the Falcons called for the quarterback sneak, which was an automatic touchdown for them last year and in the first game this year. But the combination of a stout front seven for the Spartans and the absence of the two outstanding guards for the Falcons, the Spartans came up big on three attempts, denying the touchdown. The first attempt appeared to be in the end zone, but it was not to be, and the half ended in a scoreless tie.
The Spartans came out in the second half fired up from their defense’s performance in the first half and stopped the Falcons on their first drive in 5 plays. On the next drive, the Spartans came up with the first score of the game on a 9 play, 92 yard drive. The big play on the drive came when Bailey Gaither got behind the Falcon secondary for a 52 yard gain.
The next score came late in the third period when Timothy Jackson fumbled the ball on Air Force’s own 14 yard line. Three plays later, Nick Starkel hit Derrick Deese on a tightrope catch in the end zone to make it 14-0.
The Falcons were able to get their first score on the next drive when Haziiq Daniels hit tight end Kyle Patterson for 34 yard touchdown pass, the first touchdown pass of Daniel’s career and the first touchdown for Patterson.
The Falcons by this time were suffering from a severely depleted roster. Besides Laufenberg and Krepsz, the Falcons also had backup tailback Josh Stoner and starting defensive tackle Kaleb Nunez were out for contact tracing, and starting tailback Kade Remsberg, starting linebacker Will Trawick, and starting center Nick Noyen were out with injuries. And that’s not even mentioning the 35-40 turnbacks not in school and the status of Donald Hammond. The final score of the game came on a field goal by the Spartans to make the final score 17-6.
Still, it was an outstanding effort by the Spartans to overcome all the obstacles this fall and exhibit such a good defense. It seems they can be a force to be reckoned with in the remaining Mountain West season. Brent Brennan has done a great job shaping them into a tough opponent in Mountain West play.
For the Falcons, they will need to continue working toward establishing a more potent passing attack to keep defenses from creeping up to the line to stop the run. Brandon Lewis and Kyle Patterson appear to be very capable receivers. Toward the end of the game, Haaziq Daniels started to show better accuracy and awareness.
On defense, I’m now more comfortable knowing this group can perform at a high enough level to win. The tackling was good, and coverage adequate. The pass rush was not at the level it was against Navy, but the Spartans did a very good job protecting Starkel. I was impressed with Elisha Palm’s effort. He had the lone interception of the game, and took a “good” penalty when Gaither got behind him and looked like he might make a catch for a touchdown.