San Jose State was the reputed tale of two teams at the Los Angeles colosseum this past Saturday.
What looked to be a close single possession game at the start of the fourth quarter found the Spartans running out of gas losing 30-7.
In the first-half, the Trojans had the advantage but not full momentum. The Spartan defense played well and kept SJS in the game in what could have been worse than the 13-0 first-half Trojan lead.
A spirited Spartan defense was led by aggressive and athletic play by the likes of Tre Jenkins, Hardari Darden, Jay Lenard, and especially, cornerback Nehemiah Shelton.
Shelton’s five tackles and two pass breakups were against Trojan receiver Drake London, a possible NFL-caliber player (Shelton also had an interception chance). Still, London’s 12 receptions and 142 yards led all receivers. Lenard’s 11 tackles led the Spartan's defense.
But the Spartan offense couldn’t contribute their fair share
USC’s defense was suffocating.
Essentially, San Jose State’s offense could not handle the power-five defense, especially a physical Trojan secondary.
While the Trojan defense was able to keep Spartan QB Nick Starkel at bay for most of the first half, Tyler Nevens's power running was the Spartan spark plug in the first half.
Overall, Nevens finished with 58 mano-a-mano rushing yards on 15 carries and one rushing TD.
USC also gave up great field position twice in the first two quarters but was able to shut down the Spartan’s best first-half chances with a three-and-out and a missed field goal to keep San Jose scoreless.
Coming out after the second-half adjustments
All of a sudden a Derrick Odum defense held solid on USC’s first drive of the second-half with a convincing 3-and-out.
All of a sudden a Kevin McGiven offense grease-boarded a 10-play 75-yard first drive in the second-half that found Nevens grinding a 3-yarder into the end zone against a 9-man USC front.
“Coming out of half-time, it gave us a chance to regroup,” said SJS head coach Brent Brennan. ”We got that big 3-and-out stop and we put some points on the board exactly how we wanted.”
Brennan continued, “There was a lot of time in that third quarter, and then being down 13—7, it started to feel like a football game. But even when we were down 13-0, it’s not like ‘Let’s cancel Christmas,’ we felt good about it.”
As the fourth quarter came about, the Spartans were down 16-7 and likely NFL-bound QB Kendon Slovis had felt the boom of defensive ends Cade Hall and Junior Fehoko in the backfield. The Spartan defense was continuing to do its part in holding the Trojans to field goals.
And then the big sting
Starkel was baited and intercepted at the Spartan 35-yard line for a touchdown return and USC found their release valve and a 23-7 fourth quarter cushion.
“The pick-six was a major dagger,” conveyed Brennan. ”But I thought we were still rallying, but yes, that play took a bit of our soul.”
To Starkel’s credit, he remained relentless and looked to relish the added urgency, but it wasn’t good enough even after a mad-rush drive after his interception that looked headed to the end zone. That ended at the USC 9-yard line.
Starkel is still the Spartan‘s best offensive player overall, but he had to be perfect to beat USC. Starkel finished 24-46 for 308 yards but the two interceptions helped do in the Spartans.
“We’ll look at the film, find out what we’re doing, why the ball went there, what the coverage was, how the route was run, etc.” described Brennan. ”Some things look like not what it should. We’ll figure it all out once we look at the film.”
Penalties continue to be the obvious issue that picked up from last week. Seven offensive penalties for 50 yards kept the Spartans going backwards on a messy day on offense overall.
Interesting too, when the Spartans looked to respond best was after pep talks at timeouts and coming out of assumably a big pep talk at halftime, which resulted in winning a few key battles.
In the lopsided score against a great USC team, the Spartans held on for three quarters until the Trojans pulled away in the fourth.
Though the Spartan effort and attitude looked strong to the end, the Spartans need to play cleaner football from here on out