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San Jose State football: The Championship Game Preview

Spartans’ endless summer coming to its end

SJSU practice session at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV.
photo by RJ Garcia


Location: Las Vegas, NV (Sam Boyd Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 19th, 1:30 p.m. (PST)

Television: FOX Sports

Radio: 1220 AM (KDOW) Palo Alto/SF, 670 AM (KBOI) Boise, streaming audio on TuneIn

As the clock hit all zeros, it was like kids running into the rain of confetti. Coaches and personnel hugging and yelping with joy. Players screaming and jumping around and an audience in supreme bliss.

Some form of blue will be experiencing the big win Saturday in Las Vegas and it won’t be staying in Vegas, as a national audience also bears witness.

It will either be the magical moment of San Jose State’s first MWC Championship in their first appearance or a storied Boise State program’s fourth Mountain West Championship in seven years (and 23 consecutive winning seasons).

It will be wholly special and temporarily disappointing for one or the other. And it will be great for a competitive conference with more teams on the rise.

On Saturday, let’s safely guess the national audience will favor the underdog, San Jose State, which is a bit funny if you consider Boise has about half a million people and San Jose has over a million in population.

Think Coastal Carolina or Buffalo football who are the other mostly unknowns among the Top 25 rankings (San Jose could also possibly face Buffalo in the Arizona Bowl). Along with the Spartans, these are the kind of teams capturing the glass slipper imaginations.

The Spartans (6-0 MWC) are going against a well-disciplined Bronco team (5-0 MWC, 5-1) of stature and prestige under head coach Bryan Harsin and are always something to be reckoned with.

It shouldn’t be a surprise if the six to eight-point favorites hand the Spartans their first 2020 loss.

But San Jose State has clear momentum. It means growth, maturity, and confidence overcomes any Boise State aura or stigma – including a 0-14 record against the Broncos.

By the numbers, the Spartans have all double-digit wins this year despite being double-digits dark horses in couple games they won decisively.

It’s almost a sure bet the Spartans cover the spread as they’ve done all season.

There’s another notable intangible: this neutral-site game more favors San Jose and doesn’t do any favors for Boise or the spread would be up to 11.


The Spartans go into the proverbial den of wolves to disrupt and intimidate just as will be done to them. The difference will be the individual matchups and relentless play through every second of the game. It’s an embedded principle of this Brent Brennan team.

“The biggest thing playing against Boise’s offense is the lack of mistakes. They’re really consistent and really good at following their schemes to a T,” said Mountain West defensive player of the year Cade Hall. “It’s hard to play teams that don’t make mistakes because you can’t capitalize on them. You just have to keep grinding through your defensive plan.”

The Spartan defense ranks second in the Mountain West holding teams to 17 ½ points per game. Boise is the top-ranked Mountain West offense averaging 36.2 points a game.

It’s a sure bet San Jose continues to follow the defensive game plan – a fluid defensive system that has served them well led by defensive coordinator Derrick Odum.

It’s a defense with enough power, speed, and variance to disrupt any offense enough to create opportunities. The entire defensive line, a physical secondary and consistent linebackers offer a complete set for Odum.

“We always want to play within the defense and we trust coach Odum and coach Seumalo (DLine coach Joe Seumalo) completely,” added Hall. “Both emphasize staying within the defense, playing fast, then making plays whenever we can.”

Along with Hall, defensive lineman Viliami Fehoko and linebacker Kyle Harmon garnered first-team all-Mountain West recognition. Safeties Tre Jenkins and Tre Webb were also recognized.

The Spartan offense, ranking third in the Mountain West, is punishing in its own right. Facing Boise’s fourth-ranked defense is a wash, so winning matchups and play-by-play persistence is again, obvious.

San Jose’s multi-faceted backfield is known lately for gaining 488 yards rushing the last two games, but there’s as much pride and joy extending the pass-protection scheme, catching passes, and attacking defenses.

“Boise’s defense for sure has a lot of talent who are disciplined and all know what they’re doing,” countered senior Spartan running back Tyler Nevens. “By far, they’ll be the fastest defense we’ve faced this year, but I think, overall, we have a chance to get ‘em. We love that challenge as a team and we embrace it.”

Nevens rushed for 184 yards and 152 yards in the last two games. San Jose (and Boise State) will expect deliverance from Nevens, but it’s also the Spartans' highly-regarded pass game that buoys this phase of San Jose State’s game.

Led by well-traveled QB Nick Starkel and cohort QB Nick Nash, the Spartans’ offense expands and contracts with star receivers Bailey Gaither, Tre Walker, and tight-end Derrick Deese Jr.

Gaither also earned first-team all-Mountain West honors along with tackle Jack Snyder. Starkel, Deese, Walker, and kicker Matt Mercurio were also acknowledged.

In OC Kevin McGiven’s third season with San Jose is the creative muscle behind Brennan, where McGiven finally has a complete chess set.

Rounding out the last phase is the Spartans’ special teams - highlighted by freshman running back and kick returner Shamar Garrett, who shined last week with a 98-yard kickoff return against Nevada.

San Jose State’s bevy of other special teamers can include players like Gaither or Walker as gunners to freshman cornerback, punt returner Kenyon Reed to a slew of others with pride and fire to hold their own as the third phase of the brotherhood.

The outcome, a prediction

In the end, stats, records, and rankings don’t mean anything Saturday with two teams matched evenly enough.

It will come down to basic execution and high-level execution and then the intangibles. Redemption or revenge or returning the favor is one of them for the Spartans.

In what more folks are calling a destiny season in a year of turmoil, it’s not a destiny team. It’s a destiny program going into the future. Since July has been an endless summer and endless bus rides with endless conversations. It's something no other team has or can understand.

Through it all too, the discipline to follow protocols and stay on point, where other teams and followers rationalize their losses behind the inability to do the same.

It all carries over to what you will see on the field but will never feel or understand. In these hearts, of course, these men sense and feel a decisive win and those who’ve been close in sense a double-digit win.

As Hall expresses, “I’m playing for my teammates and we’re playing for each other, especially for the guys who’ve been here through the hard years. They’ve put in a lot of time and hours and they deserve to be on a successful team, so I’m playing for them.”

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