Depending on your lens, Nevada completely lost “it” in the second-half or San Jose State played a complete game through all its up-and-downs.
The Spartans' come-from-behind win from a dominant second-half earned a 30-20 victory over the Wolf Pack.
The Spartans’ 2020 undefeated 6-0 season is much-needed magic, especially in these days of lockdown.
In next week’s Boise State matchup, San Jose State is ready for more history in their first-ever Mountain West Conference Championship.
The Wolf Pack commanded the first-half and held a 20-7 lead, but that’s all Nevada would put up in this four-quarter fight.
As the Pack completely unloaded in the first-half, the Spartans played all the way through winning the fight of attrition through physicality, then mentality, then more physicality.
“Our defense making a stop deep in the red zone, then Nevada missing the field goal was significant for us,” said Spartan head coach Brent Brennan on the sequence ending the first-half. “Then at half-time, we’re saying ‘let’s relax, let’s play for each other, let’s upgrade our physicality, and we’ll be all right.’ And then we get Shamar (Garrett) popping off that 98-yard kick return. We didn’t look back.”
Riding out the waves of each quarter is probably not for the faint-of-heart. From a 13-point first-half deficit for the Spartans to a dominating 23-0 second half, you have to ask want went wrong or right. Again, depends on your team lens.
First-half ebb and woes
The Spartan offense was not completely in sync in the first-half, though Spartan receiver Bailey Gaither put up 120 yards receiving in the first quarter and Jermaine Braddock caught his first 2020 touchdown; a 33-yarder from San Jose QB Nick Starkel.
Gaither finished with seven receptions and a game-high 156 yards and ate up the Pack secondary on deep crossing patterns.
The second quarter was characterized by Starkel’s misreads and inaccuracy. His lone interception led to seven points for Nevada on the Pack’s ensuing drive.
“The second quarter was a lull and maybe I was forcing some throws, but I think it was more not going to the most open receiver,” said Starkel. “I overthrew Bailey on a 1-on-1 go ball I wished I had back and forced one into Derrick Deese that should’ve gone to another receiver. I wasn’t thinking I was so off that I have to get it back together. I’m thinking just hit these guys. Our plays are working, they’re open and just finish the throw. Once it started happening, it felt really good.”
The first half also showed a smart Nevada defense seemingly knowing and thwarting Spartan plays, while the physical Pack offense was bodying up and imposing themselves on the Spartan defense.
Spartan freshman running back Shamar Garrett’s speed show on the opening second-half kickoff started the script flip - a 98-yard burst up the middle of the kick coverage then down the left sideline into the end zone.
“We have our right kick-off return and our bounce return, which is our left kick-off return,” Garrett understatedly describes. “We have our wall, our seals, and our kick-out blocks and the hole was wide open.”
The second Spartan throat-stepper was a 12-play, 99-yard scoring drive ending with a 5-yard TD pass from Starkel to tight-end Deese. Starkel finished the night 20-30 for 306 yards, 2 TD passes, and 1 INT.
The last signature moment came from senior Spartan running back Tyler Nevens, who came alive after a measly four yards rushing from the Spartans in the first half. Nevens finished with 184 yards on the ground on 12 carries.
“Third quarter, 35 seconds left, we’re in that huddle, we’re saying why not, let’s score right now,” said Nevens on his 69-yard bull-rush TD. “We know what they’re gonna bring and we know what they’re gonna do, so why not bring it?? The offensive line has been giving me great looks all season, so why not?”
Nevens’ statement run was highlighted by trucking over Nevada DB Tyson Williams leading to a fourth-quarter of more Spartan physicality to close the game out.
Defensive end Cade Hall ended the game with a flurry. Once knowing Nevada had to pass, the defensive pressure was able to hone in on star Nevada QB Carson Strong and sack him four times overall.
The time has come
The acclaimed Boise State is next up. Though the Broncos have long-standing championship stock, the Spartans are all grown up and clearly quite different.
There will be no deer-in-the-headlights and no trepidation - just complete confidence considering all the downtrodden abuse and growing pains they’ve pushed through. And all the learned ways of winning this season.
It will still take time for “outsiders” to get used to them winning, but it’ll take just another week to see a much-anticipated game that better make it on national television this time around. Hopefully, too, it’ll take place in some nice shiny stadium.