San Jose State vs. University of New Mexico
Location: San Jose, CA (CEFCU Stadium) - relocated from UNM
Date/Time: Saturday, October 31st at 4 pm (PST)
Television: Fox Sports 1 (FS1)
Radio play-by-play: KDOW (1220 AM, 96.3 FM) & KSJS (90.5 FM) San Jose State and KKOB (770) in New Mexico for the Lobos broadcast
San Jose State prevailed 32-21 at CEFCU Stadium last season and also at home in 2015 under then head coach Ron Caragher. The Lobos last won in 2016 on their home field 48-41.
In this Saturday’s Halloween showing, the Spartans are well-poised for a second win to potentially go 2-0. The last time that happened was 33 years ago.
If we’re going that far back, then let’s dare look down San Jose’s schedule and just say a 2020 winning season is quite feasible...if they don’t get overconfident in a game they should win this Saturday.
We’ll all get a better picture after week two as the Mountain West shakes out a bit more and slowly more people get up on that bandwagon.
Three things to look for
1. The perfect storm
Consider last season the Spartans were number four in the nation in pass offense. With Spartan QB Nick Starkel and the same 2019 receiver group still intact, that potency and potential was coming clear last week in a decisive 17-6 win over Air Force.
Starkel completed 76% of his passes with a 157.2 passer rating on the Falcons. Receiver Bailey Gaither had a leg up on the Falcon secondary racking up 110 yards on eight receptions and had at least two other passes that could have easily upped his tally. Top-five receiver in the nation last year, Tre Walker, hung around with four receptions and 38 yards receiving looks ready to explode.
On the New Mexico side, you have just four defensive starters from last year, where the Lobos pass defense was also at the bottom of the FBS.
But…they do have former Aztec head coach, Rocky Long, starting anew as the Lobos DC this season alongside rookie head coach and Lobo alumni Danny Gonzalez.
Long is well-known for his magic at San Diego State and making the most of what he has. All considered, the Lobos biggest weakness is their defense, which is currently their biggest mystery under Long.
It’s not much of a stretch to guess what Spartan OC, Kevin McGiven and QB coach Ryan Gunderson will do on this pass defense (Gunderson was actually at the OC helm last game as McGiven is managing through a family loss).
Inversely, when on the opposite side of a supposed perfect storm, run.
2. Still..the run game
Spartan head coach Brent Brennan has often mentioned they will not at all shy away from running and the numbers show it.
Last week against Air Force, there were 29 pass plays and 30 run plays called. Technically, there is a run game, though everyone will keep asking why they don’t.
There’s two things that offensive play balance accomplishes: even with an elite receiving crew being served by Starkel, a defense can still never really guess when and what’s coming. It’s a heavyweight passing punch that jabs with the run.
In that second little thing, if you jab well enough and unexpectedly enough, you’re bound to break through.
Often between the lines with Brennan, there’s a mano a mano calling to the backs. Even when everyone knows they’re going to run and they need to run, they’re still going to run.
The play call numbers have frequently shown the run regardless if they are sprinkling it in as or when needed or trying for some semblance of balance, depending if their QB is on a roll.
On Saturday, as we expect an imminent pass threat on a new, unproven 3-3-5 Lobos defense, it leaves things wide open for a Spartan run game from any flavor of the spread or option - though the Lobos had a notable run defense last season.
3. The Spartan defense is poised
Conquering the triple option against Air Force last week and against Army last year shows great discipline. Last week, it was a defense chomping at the bit to hit and punish enough so that they sent a few Falcon offensive players off the field.
Also, with a fourth year underway with Brennan, the maturity and confidence of the program is felt a couple orbits beyond the field, leading to better and better recruiting, especially at San Jose’s defensive front.
Against the Lobos spread offense, it will be difficult to know what exactly they’ll present in their first game. It may be safe to assume with a mobile quarterback, speedy running back and good front line, that will be their source-of-truth, even with the multiple receiver spread.
Lobos running back Bryson Carroll is the listed starter, who had 568 yards rushing on 105 carries last season. 193 of those rush yards were on Colorado State.
Junior QB Tevaka Tuioti looks to be starting as well for the Lobos. Tuioti will run at first chance and also test the Spartan secondary with his strong arm. Depending on the defensive scheme called and Tuioti’s reads will lead to big chunk plays or not.
To continue the Spartan defensive success, they need to be highly disciplined, highly aggressive and technically sound, respectively. If they do that at a consistent and focused level, this will certainly help assure a decisive San Jose State win.
Game outlook – Spartans win, but by how much
As the game moved to San Jose earlier this week due to New Mexico’s public health orders amid the pandemic, the win line for the Spartans has grown from 9 ½ to 13 ½ as of this writing.
With the uncertainty of no games under first-year head coach Gonzales’, a new offensive and defensive coach, a new defensive scheme, few returning starters and the unplanned travel, odds are even more stacked against the Lobos.
But like any team with their backs against the wall with nothing to lose, the Lobos could always be dangerous.
Nonetheless, the Spartans have more weapons and a proven battle-ready attitude to not let that happen.