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Spartans lackluster play in 23-3 loss to Western Michigan

A spiritless offense, a good-enough defense and the Spartans could have still been in it 

SJSU Spartan cornerback Nehemiah Shelton makes a tackle on Western Michigan QB Kaleb Eleby. Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, MI
photo by: Terrell Lloyd

All you need to know is 35 yards passing, 77 yards rushing and two Spartan turnovers in the first-half left them down 20-3 at halftime.

All game long the Spartans could not find any offensive rhythm.

It would make any reasonable follower think that three straight road games, short preparation times and six times zones between Hawaii and Michigan would have some kind of ill effect – even if you are talking about young and able bodies.

In Saturday’s game in Kalamazoo, QB Nick Starkel was running for his proverbial life for most of the game until Bronco linebacker Corvin Moment sacked Starkel halfway into the third quarter.

Starkel left the game with a left arm injury and remained on the sidelines in a shoulder sling.

Freshmen QBs Natano Woods and Walker Eget shared time and were expectedly ineffective. In their bigger picture, perhaps it’s a long positive effect to get some real game time, as the possibility of life without Starkel can be a reality.

The best drive was their first drive

San Jose State’s first drive of the game was their best and their longest: a three minute, six play, 52-yard drive capped by a Matt Mercurio 32-yard field goal – that was aided greatly by two 15-yard penalties by the Broncos.

The end.

Spartan lowlights

The stats say it all, as the strategy churn never ends for the Brent Brennan coaching staff.

25% of their normal offensive output makes it clear there are not just things to fix, but things to be re-evaluated.

  • 119 total offensive yards: 59 yards passing and 60 yards rushing
  • 2 of 13 on third downs
  • 2.1 yards per play
  • 3 turnovers that turned into 17 Bronco points
  • 9 penalties

And most telling - eight sacks on Spartan quarterbacks allowed – a far cry from last year.

Even more telling, the Broncos did not play the cleanest of games. With 11 Western Michigan penalties, there were enough chances that if the Spartans just half-executed on offense, the outcome would have been different.

But as Brennan would attest - there are no could-have-would-have’s and there are no excuses to be made.

“There are a few things we need to fix in terms of where we are with the turnover battle and what’s going on with the penalties,” said Brennan in his post-game presser. “There’s a difference with penalties that are aggressive and things that are procedural, but respect and credit to Western Michigan. We’ve got work to do as a football team and I’ve got to get to work fixing it.”

Offensively, all of Brennan’s offensive minds will come together to frame and provide not just more opportunities but clearer, better opportunities for a possible Starkel-less offense.

“There’s a lot of work to do for us right now. We have to get back to basics: blocking, throwing, catching, and protection,” Brennen describes after being questioned on the offensive decision making on and off the field. “The simple things will give us a chance to win.”

Woods and Eget at QB by themselves will not be their savior. A now Nick Nash learning to be a receiver will not either. Is the running game now their best chance?

Running back Tyler Nevens gets frank

Running back Tyler Nevens found his way back to the field, after an apparent minor leg injury kept him out of the Hawaii game.

Nevens 94 yards on 15 carries was the only offensive bright spot Saturday.

25 of Nevens’ yards came on a burst late in the first-half that Brennan looked to recognize as a rare opportunity. Newly minted wide receiver Nash and Isaiah Hamilton switched in and running back Kairee Robinson subbed in for what looked to be a winded Nevens, as Brennan called one of his patented late quarter time outs.

All was for naught, and the half ended 20-3.

“For me personally, the more you leave a guy in there, the more comfortable they become and that’s something we’re trying to get with our young guys, especially now,” said Nevens after being questioned how player switch-outs can affect offensive rhythm. “I’m all about momentum and I strive on momentum and the young players need to get that too.”

Nevens went on a more personal note, “I’ll be real personal and real direct here and with me being out for so long, my wind isn’t where it usually was, so I couldn’t really attack back-to-back runs the way I wanted to. That’s just something else I gotta work on my part.”

The reliance on Nevens as a power back with speed is becoming more apparent, especially if Starkel is grounded, but it’s a lot to ask for.

Nevens went on to describe the technical dynamics he discusses with running back coach Alonzo Carter during the game, “We talk real technical football. Like there were some runs that I couldn’t hit because of that 3-technique and I have to tell him that 3-technique is right there in that A-gap and I can’t really take it on the frontside or backside. And that’s the kind of conversations we have. We talk professional football.”

Carter and Nevens tout these technical nuances as building a complete player and Nevens is thankful it’s helped his vision as a running back and his college career overall.

Defensive end Cade Hall speaks up on the loss

“I think everyone is constantly putting pressure on themselves to make a play on both sides of the ball,” said Hall on the pressure to make a play. “Our team does a good job of staying together and not placing blame and we’ll continue to do that because that’s what’s going to carry us through this season.”

Hall continued, “But at the same time, you’re absolutely right. Everyone needs to make more plays and we do need more big plays, if we want to complete against good teams.”

The Spartans head home and prepare for their first home game in a month. The New Mexico State Aggies visit CEFCU Stadium for a 7:30 PM game next Saturday.

An interesting side note that freshman Spartan QB Eget will greet his brother Weston Eget, who’s the backup Aggie QB.