On a chilled Saturday night at CEFCU Stadium, the spirits of Spartan’s past raised a celebratory toast to the 34-17 shellacking of the UNLV Rebels. Why?
It was exactly 65 years and one month ago that San Jose State started 4-0, but that’s where the similarities have to end. That 1955 Spartan team, led by the late Bob Bronzan, went 5-3 finishing second in the conference.
This 2020 Brent Brennan team has been on a tough three-plus year mission to raise a new flag and make brand new marks. With the teams ahead of them and their bodies-of-work well-known, an undefeated season is within the realm of possibility now.
The only thing that can stop the Spartans is the pandemic resurgence overtaking the world again.
The vested interest between teams to follow protocols is even that much more heightened at the halfway point. That in itself is a Mountain West victory if the conference can mostly complete its season.
How do you win a game you’re supposed to win - let me count the ways.
First thing, regardless that UNLV is 0-4, they play nothing like it; perhaps more like a 2-2 team, as they look very similar to the Spartans at the beginning of Brennan’s tenure.
The hallmark of the Spartan’s fourth straight win could be a running game that went over 100 yards in the third quarter.
It could be the talented Mr. Starkel at QB (17-28, 274 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 159.3 QBR). Starkel missed nearly the entire game against San Diego State last week after a vicious hit knocked him from the game.
“I would not grade myself very well,” countered Starkel on his performance against UNLV. “I’m not satisfied with how I played and I played below par. I’m going to always be my toughest critic.”
It could be the expected edge play of receivers Tre Walker, who finished with four receptions and 50 yards receiving and Bailey Gaither with six receptions, 94 yards and two touchdowns. Gaither’s explosive 41-yard screen pass-and-run in the fourth quarter continues his stellar play as a top receiver in the nation.
“It was a read for a run, but the credit goes to Isaiah (Hamilton) who made a great block,” said Gaither on his touchdown jaunt. “From there, I was just able to make a play off his block.”
The hallmark of this game - seven sacks from a hardened defense. Three from DE Cade Hall - two from Junior Fehoko - one each from LB Tysyn Parker and Christian Webb. And 11 tackles for losses.
“A lot of them were hustle plays and a lot of it is just a mindset of being relentless,” added Hall on his three sacks. “We had also seen on film that other teams were getting a lot of sacks on these guys, so I basically bull-rushed the whole game.”
Ok, it’s also a talented offense, as well, and it comes down to a team that now knows how to finish.
The little things
The little things are what shows and tells that you can finish when you’re supposed to.
It’s how OC Kevin McGiven spreads the field at the edge and then goes 12-yards up the gut with Kairee Robinson into the end zone, but it’s, of course, the overall confidence and execution of it.
It’s how the DC Derrick Odum defense caused a revolving door of Rebel QBs, stunted and slammed their way to seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses - led by LB Kyle Harmon again with 10 tackles.
It’s a defense and a whole team taking it out on the field with an invisible force no one can see or feel - it’s a brotherhood.
And...it’s holding a NFL-draftable and Rebel running back Charles Williams to 55 yards.
It’s also Spartan running back Tyler Neven’s power running to help close out games and true dual-threat QB Nick Nash gashing for 94 yards on eight carries.
And finally, as a few had predicted earlier in the season, especially from within - a running game that tallied 176 yards.
What does it mean now?
The Spartans now control their destiny and are clearly a force-to-be-reckoned with. They’re also a feel-good story that keeps on giving in such a challenging year.
Brennan has also reached the next level even if naysayers may call it a mulligan year, but It doesn’t matter.
It’s real and finally, it’s happening. The progression of a program and a head coach who’s also still growing before our eyes.
“I’m still in the early stages,” said Brennan on his trajectory. “The exciting thing is we’re dealing with something we haven’t dealt with before and that’s winning and winning consistently.”
Brennan continues, “I’m still learning every single day. I’ve got great coaches around me. I’m really fortunate and there’s a really cool thing happening around here. It’s special and I just love coming to work everyday.”
San Jose State next faces Fresno State in a rival game laced with history and passion, which the Spartans should have no shortage.