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All that San Jose State will face in Colorado

Week 6: The 1-3 Colorado State Rams are no cake walk 

photo by: D. Ross Cameron

Location: Canvas Stadium – Fort Collins, CO

Date/Time: Saturday, October 9th @ 12:30 PM PDT

Broadcast: Fox Sports 1

Radio: KTRB (860 AM, San Francisco) & Sirius XM Radio Channel 389

Head-to-head: Historically, Colorado State is 6-4 over the Spartans. The last game in 2018 was memorable. In that one home game for the Spartans, it was a perfect microcosm of their best and their least performance.

Trailing 28-0 at halftime in that 2018 game, the Spartans exploded with 30 points in the third quarter to take the lead before losing 42-30. It was a sign back then, but far and few in between in that 1-11 record in what was Brent Brennan’s second year as head coach.

This year, it’s a game nearly at 50/50 odds despite Colorado State’s 1-3 record and the Spartans at 3-2. Earlier in the week, the Spartans were favored by less than a field goal. At week’s end, it flipped to the Rams.

“These guys are dang good,” said Brennan countering the Rams’ record.” We need to be honest about that. They took Vanderbilt down to the wire. They beat Toledo on the road. Their entire starting lineup is built of super seniors. Some of these players we’ve played against back in 2018. They’re incredibly tough and physical on both sides of the ball.”

The Rams also gave the then #3 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes a run for the money in a closely fought 24-14 loss. The strength of schedule, effort and potential clearly belie a 1-3 record.

The Spartans on the road again

We might say San Jose State is built for the road given the extensive travel they experienced in September. Though it looked to have a cumulative negative effect on performance, the Spartans were a respectable 2-2 in that stretch.

The trek out to Fort Collins expects perfect spring weather and travel timing that seems a bit easier to deal with as SJS gets into full conference mode on the road.

Saturday’s game might also finally be a true indicator of the identity of this Spartan team after five games - with or without either Nick at quarterback.

Facing Colorado State at home with an expected big homecoming crowd, the Spartans also face the 12th-man energy in the nearly mile high Fort Collins.

So, what is the identity of the Spartans?

It’s an identity that should expect dual-threat QB Nick Nash to see a good amount of time even if his roommate Nick Starkel is cleared to play.

Starkel suffered a shoulder or arm injury two weeks ago against Western Michigan that left him in street clothes last week. If we assume a fracture of some sort, that’s at least four to six weeks of no play, which is all pure speculation, of course.

This is an offense that could technically function with two QBs very much like the Spartans mixed it up last year. Brennan has often mentioned the offensive scheme and play-calling is generally the same for either QB.

On the running back front, the Spartans will keep on keeping on with the run. Based on his effort and showing this season, Tyler Nevens chances of a good run day against the Rams should be better than 50/50 to get close to a 100 yards.

The receivers are dynamic though the stats aren’t showing it. If Nash gets the nod again, expect him to go outside the numbers more than last week when his main target was tight-end Derrick Deese Jr. Deese caught seven passes for 130 yards and a TD last week.

With freshman Malikhi Miller catching his first career touchdown last week, you also have legit receivers in Charles Ross, Isaiah Hamilton and James Braddock who can breakout on any given play call and QB read.

In Nash’s efficient showing least week, he threaded darts into tight spaces. Expecting the Rams to watch Deese closely means someone in the receiver set could be poised for a 100+ yard showing.

Defense.

If we’re talking team identity this year, the Spartan defense is the face of it. They’ve been consistent and they’ve kept them in games.

It’s been one of the expectations that has lived up closer to its pre-season promise.

A whole slew of defenders from linebacker Kyle Harmon and cornerback Nehemiah Shelton to DEs Cade Hall and Viliami Fehoko offer many anchor points for a defense built for all four quarters game in game out.

Schematically and individually, there’s always improvements, adjustments and reads to make better on the fly. Besides any defender typically being caught flat footed on any given play, they’ve been caught off-guard on good offensive calls as many defenses face. But overall, SJS’ defense has been able to adequately respond and recover in the bigger picture.

On the right side of 50/50

It’s easy for the beat writer to favor a win and a bit easier with near 50/50 odds.

Assuming Nash is at QB and the offensive line plays well, something should breakout whether it’s another 100-yard rush day and or a 100-yard receiver day. The simple thought of a running QB threat provides that bit of defensive doubt to help accomplish that.

Also, if third down conversions can keep improving (and no turnovers against a hungry Ram defense), especially on the road, the Spartans could enjoy another balanced win.

Defensively, if the Spartans play as expected, they’ll be in the game. If they can manage one or two more big turnover plays, it could also be the difference as it was against New Mexico State, which was also very much like a 50/50 game despite the Spartans being heavily favored.

In this 50/50 contest against Colorado State, a complete four quarter game on all fronts by the Spartans is a must to fly out with a win.