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SJS football special preview: Spartans & Broncos in the national spotlight

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A San Jose State primer for Saturday’s national TV audience (4 min. read)

SJS Spartan DE Viliami Fehoko (42) disrupting a pass from Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier (19) at CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA November 2, 2019
SJS Spartan DE Viliami “Junior” Fehoko (42) disrupting a pass from Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier (19) at CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA November 2, 2019
photo by: Vic Aquino

San Jose State vs. Boise State Broncos

Location: Boise, ID (Albertsons Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, November 28th, 2 pm (Mtn.), 1 pm (Pacific)

Television: Fox Sports

Radio play-by-play: KTRB (860 AM, San Francisco), KBOI (670 AM, Boise)


Head-to-head brief

Historically, San Jose State (4-0, 4-0 MWC) is 0-14 against Boise State (4-1, 4-0). A majority of those matchups were severe blowouts.

Last season, when the Spartans finished 5-7, was by far the most competitive game. The Broncos, who were then 21st in the nation and the 2019 Mountain West champions, pulled away in the fourth quarter to prevail 52-42 at CEFCU Stadium.

“I don’t think all that past history plays into the players’ heads as it does other people,” offered Spartan head coach Brent Brennan. “I just know we played them pretty well last year.”

Boise State avoided a major 2019 upset to a Spartan team statistically inferior (heart and will was only on the moral stat sheet).

Tough losses were invisible signs-of-life in the previous three seasons of growing pains under Brennan.

For the Spartan program as a whole, it’s been decades in purgatory with only a handful of standout seasons.

In this unprecedented 2020 season, we’re seeing roughly similar rosters from 2019 this Saturday, except San Jose State’s potential is just breaking the surface.

The 4-0 Spartans, who haven’t experienced this type of start since 1955, have demonstrated the ability to hit back on all fronts; able to address and neutralize other teams’ identities and each teams’ stars, as well as adjust to their own unexpected challenges.

From Air Force’s daunting triple-option run scheming to one of the top running teams in the nation in San Diego State to the Spartan’s star quarterback Nick Starkel being knocked out of a game early on - San Jose State shows the resiliency and balance of a physically and mentally matured team.

A national audience is far more likely to know of Boise State football and the accolades and accomplishments of the long-vaunted Bronco program.

So, you might see where this is going. It’s probably the same reasons Fox Sports thought it worthy for national television.

The last time San Jose State was televised nationally was 2006 (2014 was the last time for Boise State). Either way, it’s a win for a worthy Mountain West conference.

By the numbers

Last season’s face-off saw a robust Spartan air game (438 passing yards) that was devoid of a running game, where Boise State was flipped the other way (253 rushing yards). As it often happens in competitive games, it comes down to a handful plays that determine the outcome.

In this 15th meeting, what we see on paper are two very formidable teams.

The Bronco’s third-ranked offense in the Mountain West (78th in the nation) vs. the Spartan’s fourth-ranked defense (30th in the nation):

  • The Broncos will rely on running back Andrew Van Buren and will possibly have back their main horse George Holani from a knee injury, but regardless, two-way analytics say the Broncos running attack won’t materialize as it did last season against the Spartans.
  • The Bronco’s passing game is highlighted by junior receiver Khalil Shakir who’s been lights-out going over 100 yards receiving in all but one game this season. QB Hank Bachmeier, slowed a bit this season by Covid quarantining, is still on par to match his outstanding freshman year. Bachmeier is an expected difference-maker Saturday.
  • Standout offensive stats: Boise State boasts a 100% conversion rate in the red zone. 14-out-of-15 times were touchdowns (SJS’ red zone conversion is 93%). The Broncos also have a great third down conversion rate at 44.2% (SJS is 44.0%) and average 40 points a game despite losing a slew of players to Covid protocols.

The base Spartan response to the above is a full stable of defensive linemen who can matchup to the Bronco run game and allow the bend-and-break-sometimes defense behind them. This same defensive front stymied the #4-in-the-nation San Diego State run game.

The Spartan’s fourth-ranked offense in the Mountain West (55th in the nation) against the Bronco’s sixth-ranked defense (54th in the nation):

  • The Spartan passing attack is their crown jewel most people naturally talk about. Starkel and dual-threat QB Nick Nash key a smorgasbord offense for OC Kevin McGiven. The receiving corp of Bailey Gaither, Tre Walker, Derrick Deese Jr. and Isaiah Hamilton can certainly do damage on a Bronco secondary that can be exploited.
  • The Spartan running game is a multipurpose tool for McGiven and running back coach Alonzo Carter. Its use and effectiveness was involved in every win this season that don’t show on stats vs. game film, though 176 yards on the ground against UNLV was noteworthy.

Other things that stick out that can give up field position:

  • SJS is among the top most penalized in the conference. Boise is among the least.
  • Boise State’s Avery Williams is a game changer, who’s on his way to being the MWC special-teams player of the year again. The 4.38 forty Williams has three special-teams touchdowns and has setup at least two others and blocked two punts.

“Boise State’s kick returner is Devin Hester (the legendary Chicago Bear),” says Brennan about Williams.

The trend and prediction

The Broncos are 11+ point favorites in their last home game of the season on their famous blue field on senior day. It’s all going to be transparent to San Jose State.

After the Spartans were double digit underdogs in two convincing wins this season, and most of this Spartan roster having faced Pac-12 and SEC teams (beating the Arkansas Razorbacks) on their home fields the last two seasons, it’s certainly a business trip going to Boise.

It has to be a heads-down trip, literally and figuratively, considering there’ll be a crowd on-hand of up to 1,100 on what should be perfect football weather (low 40’s, partly cloudy).

Basically, both teams want to stay healthy to complete this season in the race for the top two spots for the conference title (5-0 Nevada is the current first place contender).

In all, there’s a smaller margin of error for the Broncos that’s perhaps more amplified than in past seasons that Boise followers are more keen on. It’s their game to lose.

The expectation inside Sparta is a certain and confident win.

In the end, it will be those unseen subtleties from on-field leadership, the play-calling and scheme-calling chess match and, of course, 60 minutes of wholesale execution that determines a win between two good teams.

The Spartans have shown these unmeasurable intangibles in spades, so far.

“Boise is good at everything,” counters Brennan. “That’s not BS....everything.”

Brennan added, “We have to play a clean game.”

For the Spartans, their mettle has been tested. It’s only if they get blown out will it be a setback.

2019 Spartans vs. Broncos game images

Follow @vicaquino on Twitter for more free analysis and color commentary on the San Jose State Spartans.