As San Jose State’s (5-7, 3-5 MW) season sank and ended on a three-game losing streak, the 40-9 loss to Fresno State (9-3, 6-2 MW) came nowhere close to rivalry standards.
The Spartans stayed mostly true to who they were all year - a good defense without an offense that could reciprocate.
In this case, the Spartan defense could only bend so far before elusive and dynamic 6’1 Fresno State QB Jake Haener demonstrated his prowess. Haener, a local from nearby Monte Vista High School 40 miles from SJSU, slung four touchdown passes on 27-36 attempts and 343 yards passing (486 total yards).
Bad signs early
SJS’ first offensive drive was promising, but with first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, the Spartans only managed a field goal. Matt Mercurio’s 31-, 26- and 36-yard field goals spoke volumes to what the Spartan offense could not do this day.
The handful of unforced errors in that opening drive was ominous. Spartan QB Nick Starkel twice missed badly to wide open tight end Derrick Deese Jr., as with two bad shotgun snaps in a row from inside Fresno’s 5-yard line.
In the second quarter, the Spartans got into the red zone two more times but settled for two more field goals, as the Bulldogs went up-tempo and took advantage of QB Nick Nash’s fumble at midfield.
Fresno started to pull away with two more Haener TD tosses and 23-9 halftime lead.
More Fresno fire after half-time
Except for the blotches of red support in the stands, two more third-quarter scoring drives upped the Bulldog lead to 33-9 and further killed the mood for the 15,323 in attendance at CEFCU.
Also late in the third quarter, Fresno States’ toss sweep, flea flicker trickery found wide open Bulldog receiver Jalen Cropper for a 29-yard touchdown catch and a confused Spartan secondary and more “insult to injury.”
Valiant to the end
It became more and more apparent, Starkel was playing through pain, especially after a roughing-the-passer penalty speared his already tenderized non-throwing shoulder late in the second quarter.
Since coming back from injury, Starkel has looked to favor the shoulder and where accuracy obviously counts, it could be safe to assume he had no more cheat codes to up himself from being well-below under 100%.
But beyond the field purview, Starkel still managed 260 yards passing on 19 of 42 with no interceptions or touchdowns and continued to earn the respect of his peers.
Just as impressive for the Bulldogs, their special teams play was able to pin San Jose deep in their own territory three different times at the one-yard line twice and two yard line after San Jose’s defense would hold.
A few scattered 30-plus yard Spartan bursts between the 20-yard lines by Deese, receiver Maliki Miller and running back Kairee Robinson were about it for SJS’ offensive highlights, as the Bulldog defense dually protected their end zone.
The long road to 2022
In what should feel like a longer off-season, San Jose State has some deep re-tooling and re-evaluation to do in what will be a far different looking squad next season, as it will be for most teams in the conference.