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San Jose State football: Starkel goes beserk on the Lobos

Spartans pull away in the second half for the 38-21 win

San Jose State wide receiver Tre Walker halls in his second touchdown pass from Spartan QB Nick Starkel against the University of New Mexico Lobos 10/31/2020
San Jose State wide receiver Tre Walker halls in his second touchdown pass from Spartan QB Nick Starkel against the University of New Mexico Lobos 10/31/2020
photo by: Vic Aquino

In 2017, former Texas A&M QB Nick Starkel threw four touchdowns each on Wake Forest and the University of New Mexico Lobos.

On this Saturday evening under the full moon of Halloween, the now San Jose State QB Starkel tallied three TD passes and 272 yards in the air in the first-half alone against the Lobos of New Mexico.

Starkel’s final game stats: 467 yards passing on 34-47 attempts, five touchdown passes and a 190.9 passer rating. Basically, a career night.

“I still need to work on converting on third downs,” stated Starkel when asked what else he could improve on. “When it really matters, those conversions are obviously important and I need to make those.”

If one were to get nit-picky, Starkel’s mid-range game could tighten up a bit, as there were a few overthrows – but all-in-all who’s complaining? What people will remember are his smooth, powerful and accurate TD throws.

“If you’re a wide receiver and you get a ball like that...whew,” commented head coach Brent Brennan on Starkel’s 69-yard touchdown pass to receiver Bailey Gaither. “That was amazing. It was the most beautiful long ball I’ve seen thrown.”

Gaither’s own performance could have been top billing. Along with the TD reception, Gaither’s 10 receptions and 208 yards receiving were scary considering how near-effortless it seemed.

On any normal day, the Spartan’s other premier receiver in the nation, Tre Walker, could be top dog as well. Walker’s two spectacular TD receptions were ESPN-highlight-worthy, along with his nine receptions and 107 yards receiving.

It was a worthy game

Lobo QB Tekava Tuioti was no slouch, by far, throwing for 294 yards on 20-25 attempts with two TD passes. As a true dual threat, Tuioti also ran for 69 yards with one rushing TD.

Tuioti led an up tempo pace that flummoxed the Spartans for a good part of the game. It wasn’t until after Tuioti’s running TD at the start of the third to tie the score at 21-21 did the Spartan defense consistently and finally started to lock down the Lobos.

For all that’s been said of the Lobo’s being in a rebuild mode, they were not as rusty as people would think.

With 443 yards of total offense and 149 more yards on the ground, New Mexico’s first game was relatively incredible considering there was minimal practice and zero game time.

The Lobo’s attention will certainly turn to their biggest weakness - defense, which they and their Mountain West competition are already well-aware of.

It was a lights out game for the Spartans

The Spartans took the Lobos to the limit racking up 579 yards of total offense - 80% of it from the air, where Starkel found 10 different receivers on the night.

“I tell the guys ‘it’s what the defense gives me’ which determines where the ball goes,” said Starkel. “I’m not looking for specific people; it’s the play calling and then where the defense dictates.”

Rushing yards are still a challenge and will still be a work in progress, but with 98 yards on the ground, Brennan and running back coach Alonzo Carter will certainly take it.

As the run did help ice the game, it was Brennan’s 4th-and-1 call on the Lobo’s goal line that put the first nail in the coffin with 9:39 left in the fourth. It led to a one-yard TD toss from Starkel to freshman TE Sam Olsen making the final score, 38-21.

Areas of concern for the Spartans

Every game has an ebb-and-flow and even with what statistically looks like a fantastic game, it’s never really perfect. There are areas other teams will clearly see.

In the second quarter after being up 14-0, San Jose State’s defense seemed to relax and got burned by the Lobo’s quick pace. They found weak spots on the Spartan defense by applying speed on linebackers in coverage and hitches on an overzealous secondary that led to two Lobo scores. It all kept it a one possession game going into the second half.

Also, nine San Jose penalties caused 65 yards of field position and some questionable play calls late in the first half which led to some three-and-outs and potential momentum shift back to the Lobos.

The Spartan defense bend-don’t-break rule

Whenever you face dual-threat QBs, those offenses usually have the advantage unless you have a steady, mature defense.

San Jose State’s defense did their part to bail out any questionable plays and miscues. At the end of the first half after two back-to-back three-and-outs from the offense, the Spartan defensive line applied drive-killing pressure led by DL Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall.

When the Spartan offense decided not to run out the final seconds of the first half and the Lobos got the ball back, Hall’s sack ended the first half preserving the 21-14 halftime score.

Fehoko’s six tackles included a sack, two tackles for losses and QB pressures throughout the night. Fehoko and LB Alii Matau’s back-to-back sacks at the end of the fourth quarter ended any further hope for the Lobos.

LB Kyle Harmon led the team in tackles again with 14 followed by active cornerback play by Nehemiah Shelton with seven tackles. Shelton was also hounding Lobo receivers all night.

2-0 vs. 2-0

On a short week, the Spartans next target is at 2-0 San Diego State next Friday night. The Aztecs just walloped Utah State 38-7.

The shortened week is further compressed by the recent NCAA measure that prohibits division one student-athletes from practicing and competing on the first Tuesday after November 1st so to vote and participate in related civic duties.

Nonetheless, expectations and anticipation will certainly be high for both teams for a surprising Mountain West showdown.

SJS Spartan football gallery vs. UNM Lobos 10/31/2020 (82 images)
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