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Spartans completely ground the Thunderbirds for big opening day win

San Jose State Spartans running back Tyler Nevens (23) blasting through the Southern Utah defense in the first-half of the season opener at CEFCU Stadium, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.
photo by: Terrell Lloyd - SJSU

The last time there was a crowd at CEFCU Stadium it was a cold rainy night in November 2019 when the Spartans came from behind to defeat rival Fresno State.

Driving to today’s first game of the season, the experience and vibe was something very different.

A lot more traffic. A lot more people walking down 7th street from campus. A lot more activity in the stadium on a warm 90º day (and a 147 air index from the fires around California).

The cause of all the buzz? A large eager crowd of 16,204 nearly filling the entire stadium to see a championship team. The largest San Jose State crowd in 10 years and the first crowd in over a year at CEFCU.

And they weren’t disappointed. The Spartans man-handled Southern Utah 45-14 and did everything they were supposed to do in a blowout win - producing 534 yards of total offense.

San Jose let up on the gas in the middle of the third quarter when the crowd got to see nearly the entire depth chart by the fourth quarter.

Highlights & insights:

21-0 first quarter: The attack came fast. 56 rushing yards from Tyler Nevens and a rushing touchdown, along with QB Nick Starkel’s 1-yard rushing touchdown (his first as a Spartan) and a 23-yard TD pass to receiver Jermaine Braddock saw a T-Bird route underway.

38-14 second quarter: Starkel continued to shine and bail out a penalty-laden quarter with two more TD passes; overall, going 17-28, 394 yards passing, four TD tosses and one interception to round out a fantastic performance.

Starkel’s distribution tally across nine different receivers also added further dimension to his Saturday night.

45-14 third quarter: The Starkel show pulled out one last stop with a 14-yard out route in the end zone to tight end Derrick Deese Jr. By the middle of the third quarter, a parade of other players started to take part in the game action.

The game dynamics

The Spartans did control and dictate the tempo as expected and then some, but their over eagerness led to too many penalties and turnovers that left much on the table.

The scoring the T-Birds did manage came by multi-consecutive, self-inflicted shots in the foot by the Spartans. Otherwise, a 60-plus to nil score was very much possible.

The receiving game was clearly by committee, as Brennan says that modus operandi will continue until “someone shows up to be the main man.” Braddock and freshman Nevada transfer Charlie Ross looked to be the smoothest operators at receiver on this evening.

The offense overall was clicking well, but all of it is relative, of course, until your next opponent. Though Nevens picked up where he left off in 2020 with 91 yards on 12 carries (7.5 yards per carry), not much of the running game behind him materialized Saturday night. The offensive line had some untimely holding penalties that in retrospect looked unnecessary is among the items to “fix.”

Derrick Odum’s defense is deep at all phases from the secondary to the linebackers and defensive line. The amount of player switch-outs showed no discernible dip in performance or energy, except experience. Odum’s defense will be fully tested next week and so far, he has a very wide palette to serve out. We’ll see how creative it all gets in LA Memorial Coliseum next week.

Overall, there’s some obvious tightening up to do with an opponent completely on the other side of the spectrum coming in six days. As the questions on the big USC face-off came up in the post-game presser, the players and head coach Brent Brennan seemed completely unfazed, which to long-time followers is not a surprise.

The Spartans will next be on the road for three consecutive games tallying 10,000 air miles in September – hopefully enough frequent flyer miles to get them to the promise land again.