It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The 24th ranked team in the nation, San Diego State (6-0, 2-0 MW), who can absolutely stop the run, as well as run roughshod on teams was supposed to cruise to victory against struggling San Jose State (3-4, 1-2 MW).
It was a hard-earned 19-13 double overtime win for the Aztecs in front of a large San Jose State homecoming crowd, but it was the Spartans who kept shooting themselves in the foot and just about amputated it.
Though the Spartans played one of the most frustrating games of the Brent Brennan tenure, they were still in it to the end and should have, could have actually won well within regulation.
Except for those dastardly penalties
For both teams, the game was entertaining but ugly with penalties.
San Jose State took the penalty lead fast with seven in the first half; finishing with 12 and 101 penalty-yards (over 25 yards their average). The Aztecs did their best to keep up losing only 76 yards on seven penalties by game’s end.
“The thing that’s going to make us sick are, of course, the penalties,” said Brennan on the issue of the penalty bug that’s plagued SJS. “It’s ridiculous and needs to be eliminated.”
A key 10-point swing in the first half was caused by Spartan penalties:
- In the first quarter, a 35-yard touchdown pass from QB Nick Nash to receiver Charles Ross was negated by a questionable face mask penalty on lineman Kyle Hoppe, who’s been struggling with nagging injuries but managing to play every week.
- In the second quarter with the Aztecs set to punt, a Spartan offside penalty pushed the Aztecs five yards closer and within field goal range. Aztec kicker Matt Araiza proceeded to kick a 53-yarder.
Essentially, without just these two penalties, a 13-3 Spartan lead at halftime, instead of a 6-3 Aztec lead, was certainly plausible, especially with the way the SJS defense was playing.
Lights out defense by SJS
“The biggest thing about a game like this is that you just have to stay in it, which is what we did,” said Brennan. “No one plays them like that defensively and no one holds them down on rushing yards like we did. So, we do have some things to feel great about and there’s a lot of positives, but the outside world will find all the negatives. My job as head coach is to find the good and address the bad.”
Before the game, San Diego State was second in the nation in stopping the run; holding teams under 50 yards a game. The Spartans grinded out 116 yards Friday night on 41 rush attempts; led by power back Tyler Nevens’ 73 yards on 27 carries and one rushing TD.
As the Spartans’ game plan was always to run on the Aztecs, on the other side of the ball, the Spartan D was lights out.
The Spartans put the vaunted San Diego run game to sleep. The Aztecs only managed 70 run yards total after averaging 244.4 yards previously. It wasn’t for lack trying on the Aztecs’ part. The entire Spartan defensive lineup was swarming on about every play.
If there’s one thing potentially bad for San Diego State - the Spartans showed that the Aztecs are certainly not unstoppable if you pour a good amount of heart and soul in your effort.
Almost but no cigar
As the second half progressed, the Spartans gradually started to take the momentum.
A signature Spartan drive of the game started off an 86-yard Aztec punt by Araiza. It pinned the Spartans on their own three-yard line where Nash, Nevens, RB Kairee Robinson, TE Derrick Deese Jr. and company proceeded to drive down the field and tie the game at 6-6 on a Matt Mercurio 48-yard field goal.
Also, for the second straight game, Deese broke over 100 yards receiving (6 receptions, 113 yards) and Nash was also again valiant with 228 yards passing on 16-34 (1 INT in OT) and 27 yards rushing.
Towards the end of regulation, starting from their own five-yard line, the Spartans took it down to 15 seconds left where Mercurio missed a game-winning 52-yard field goal. Like all else, just one or two more moderate offensive plays on that drive could have also made the difference.
Instead, the score remained 6-6 at the end of four quarters.
“In the end, they made the plays late in the game and we didn’t,” said Brennan on the Aztecs throwing two TDs in overtime with backup QB Lucas Johnson who came in the game in the second half. “I’m disappointed in the result, but I love the fight. Our team tonight looked nothing like the team we were a week ago. Our group tonight was still incredible.”
The Spartans have shown to have fight and moxie but have been very inconsistent this season. With enough good signs after this tough loss, the Spartans can still salvage a respectable season if they seriously tighten up the basics.
On another short week, San Jose State faces UNLV next Thursday in Las Vegas.