Location: San Jose, CA (CEFCU Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, August 28th @ 7 PM PST
Broadcast: CBS Sports Network
Radio: KTRB AM (860, Fremont)
Head-to-head: San Jose State has faced the Southern Utah Thunderbirds twice and has won both times.
In their first head-to-head in 2000, the Spartans blew out the T-Birds 47-7.
In the last face-off in 2010, the Spartans managed a 16-11 win, which was their only win that season. Head coach Brent Brennan was also the Spartans’ receivers coach back then.
If there is pressure on the defending conference champion Spartans to win Saturday night, it’s right out of the gate against this supposed “lesser” competitor.
But in Brennan’s football world, you give any and all competition equal and total respect.
Preparation and execution to your fullest, whether you win by three or four touchdowns or you lose by the same amount, respect is playing with intensity and intent with no apologies in a win or regrets in a loss.
On paper, the odds greatly favor the Spartans in a route over the T-Birds. ESPN bots calculate a 95% chance to win and currently, there’s a three-touchdown spread on the betting line.
It’s the ol’ adage: the T-Birds basically have nothing to lose and everything to gain as the underdog. The Spartans know exactly what that feels like and have lived in that doghouse for years. They certainly know all dogs can bite.
The Spartans aren’t going to let that happen
What we should expect is a focused Spartan team with the “eye on the prize.” With a Brennan team, each week is a microcosm season in itself with full attention only on the next opponent regardless of people wanting to look ahead.
One week, one win (or even a good loss) at a time sends a message that gets louder and louder as the season progresses.
In Saturday’s week zero matchup, we should also start to get more answers than questions and some new twists and turns from a mature program looking to answer back at critics and foes that they are not a flash-in-the-pan.
“I want to see how our offensive and defensive lines play,” emphasized Brennan in his first 2021 news conference contrary to questions on the receiving void left by now-departed Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker. “It all starts there from the trenches and it’s the core of where it all works.”
If Brennan likes what he sees on the offensive line, you’ll see 6th year QB Nick Starkel pick apart the Birds defense and feel out his receivers. This is the type of game to pull out some of the stops to start to show the passing game will not be an issue...to themselves.
Looking past the receiving corp question, Brennan was also quick to point out a solid linebacking crew led by senior Kyle Harmon and what looks to be a solid running back group led by Tyler Nevens.
Who is Southern Utah
The Thunderbirds from Cedar City, Utah are about 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas. They are an experienced team regardless of the recent 1-5 spring season record of which four of those losses were within one possession of a win (which is a familiar story to the Spartans).
The Birds’ defensive star is linebacker La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis (8). Offensive standouts QB Justin Miller (4), RB Thomas Duckett (2) and speedster receiver and freshman JR Waters (1) also expect to keep pace for some period of time.
“Southern Utah definitely has an advantage of having played those recent spring games against live competition,” said Brennan in comparison to the Spartans first game of the season. “It’s going on nine months since we played our last real game.”
In FCS terms, the Spartans will see an opponent that averaged 27 points on 5.47 yards per play and 387 yards of total offense per game this past spring. On defense, the Birds gave up almost 6 yards per play and 409 yards a game, but garnered 15 sacks in six games!
San Jose State will win going away and will just meet the point spread.
The Spartan defense will be solid enough to experiment and allow their depth chart to be explored. The SJS secondary will likely help feast on a Bird offense not known for a long game or a sustainable run game.
The Spartan offense should show off its arsenal with power running to soften up the Bird’s defense for what most of Sparta wants to see in a fresh new passing attack.
Overall, expect diligent scheming and play-calling in preparation for take-off.