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SJS football game 6 preview: Wolf Pack on deck

Final regular season naysayers’ special

San Jose State v Nevada Photo by Jonathan Devich

San Jose State vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

Location: Las Vegas, NV (Sam Boyd Stadium)

Date/Time: Friday, December 11th, 7 pm PST

Television: CBS Sports Network

Radio play-by-play: KDOW (1220 AM, San Francisco)

On the last regular-season leg of San Jose State’s 2020 redemption tour is Nevada (6-1) who owns the series record 22-9-2 over the Spartans (5-0).

It’s the last three losses against the Wolf Pack, since the arrival of Spartan head coach Brent Brennan, the Spartans are ripe for Friday – very much similar to San Jose’s atonement with Hawaii and San Diego State this year.

Last year’s game in Reno was the only real competitive game of the last three Nevada head-to-heads and it was a thriller.

Nevada had a 21-point lead that the Spartans tied at 38 late in the game until Pack freshman kicker Brandon Talton hit a 40-yard walk-off field goal to win it.

It was another game that typified San Jose State’s 2019 season when they finished 5-7.

Looking back now, it was a season on the cusp given the 5-0 ramp-up of 2020 and the bigger picture.

It’s pretty much along the lines of Brennan’s long-term expectations when no one gave San Jose the time of day in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

So, on this COVID-year of chaos, these two nearly-equal teams meet on neutral grounds in Las Vegas, which is technically a home game for the Spartans given their home county’s contact sports restrictions.

By the numbers, it’s a wash

Overall offensively, the Spartans rank fourth in the Mountain West (45th in the nation) with 419.2 yards a game, 6.5 yards per play, and 20 touchdowns. San Jose’s passing game ranks third in the MWC at 270 yards per game with a 66% completion rate.

Offensively, Nevada ranks third (28th in the nation) in the MWC with similar enough numbers: 442 yards per game average, 6.6 yards per play, 26 TDs, along with the second-ranked passing offense in the MWC with 334 yards per game at a 69% completion rate.

Only rushing sticks out in better favor for the Spartans (149.2 yards average), while Nevada (107.7 yard average) is at the bottom of the MWC.

Defensively in the MWC, Nevada ranks fourth and San Jose ranks fifth overall in the conference. The Spartans give up 347.2 yards average per game and Nevada is giving up 361 yards average per game. The Spartans' #6 passing defense and the Pack’s #9 passing defense will also face their battles Friday night.

Turnover margin favors San Jose at +3 and Nevada at -2.

All said, one could look at Fresno, Air Force, Wyoming San Diego State’s stats that overall eclipse both San Jose and Nevada, so numbers are only part of the equation and valuation.

Regardless, if the Spartans win this game, one can only guess the critics’ next rationalizations.

What football folks and regular folks will be looking for

Firstly, to super-simplify the Mountain West Championship complexities for Sparta and San Joseans.

Spartans win – they’re in. If they lose to Nevada, Wyoming must beat Boise State for San Jose to get in.

If the Wyoming-Boise game is canceled, and the Spartans lose to the Pack, San Jose is out. If the San Jose-Nevada game is canceled, San Jose is in regardless of what happens with the Wyoming-Boise game.

On the game front, each team has enough of a body-of-work to know each other more than well-enough. Many of the strengths, weaknesses and familiarities carryover from their last meeting.

But the Spartans now have some edges in key spots you can’t quantify.

Physicality is one. In each of their wins, they’re taking people out literally and figuratively – legally, of course, with offensive and defensive line and linebacker play being a constant.

The Spartan secondary was refreshed against Hawaii with safety Jay Lenard back, track speedster-and-freshman-cornerback Kenyon Reed, and even some hybrid linebacker-secondary stuff with Dion Leonard going on.

The Spartan running game is getting notoriety from its breakout game against Hawaii, but they’ve been pounding on people, reading blitzes, and blocking like there’s a whole other pride-competition thing going on.

Same goes with their receivers. Against Hawaii, they knew the passing game wasn’t primary that day, given only 25 Spartan pass attempts overall. So, Hawaii didn’t stop a passing game that never was there. The receivers were blocking.

While people are looking at the glitz, the art of the game is everywhere else the ball isn’t.

It’s the team concept cliché’. It’s boring and yet interesting and it always has teeth even when you’re not looking.

The trend, the prediction, the need

Momentum, balanced performance, and gut-feeling or tea-leaves say it’s truly time for a Spartan win because they’re becoming not just a more complete team of individuals holding their lines, it’s the play-calling and scheming that’s symbiotic along with it (and that’s from trying to be objective as a whole among all other teams’ performances).

San Jose State is already much farther along, as they’ve surprised everyone who’s not usually following Spartan anything. It’s now seeing the football horizon next year and possibly the following year, where this clearly can continue – not just because of players in waiting, but the recruiting structure and area groundswell is coming too.

There is a Bay Area pride and a resurgence for local talent to want to stay home and that they can compete with anyone in the country in a new modern, human-interest, socioeconomic-aware football program unique to San Jose State.

Also with what these wandering Spartans are doing weeks away from home and family contact and only to have each other - only a military veteran would know the bond that transpires for life. Tack on yet another week if they win Friday.

Back in the here and now of 2020, a new desired reality is also to see both San Jose State and Nevada play each other in the Mountain West Championship game, which is possible, though only if Nevada beats the Spartans and Wyoming beats Boise State.

The Spartans and Wolf Pack have similar rising stories and respectable programs that have followed protocols through-and-through to stay in play. It says quite a lot about a program top-down. It’s one of those intangibles only a parent or diligent student-athletes would appreciate and place value on.

It’s more possible the Spartans go on and win the Mountain West Championship game than meeting Nevada twice in a row, though what a story that could be – to see two schools flip the script away from the usual suspects, which would be a big win for the conference.

On Friday night, the Spartans control their destiny. In every dimension of the game, they can control the matchup. It may sound funny to some, but it would only be a surprise if they lose.

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