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San Jose State battles back, tops Nevada 35-28

Rapid reaction time!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Nevada at San Jose State Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The San Jose State Spartans picked up a very emotional win over the Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday, battling back from two scores down to earn the 35-28 victory. The Wolf Pack saw old faces in Elijah Cooks and Justin Lockhart. Nevada — who have now lost seven straight, moving to 2-7 — had one of their best performances in Mountain West play this season, posting more than 20 points for the first time (since Sept. 10), but couldn’t close out the multi-score second-half lead.

Here are a few takeaways I had from the game!

1. Pack Defense played its heart out, but it just wasn’t enough

For much of the season, the Nevada defense has been inconsistent.

Well, the Pack defense got off to a strong start in Saturday’s contest. Thanks to a couple of drops in the endzone from former Pack receiver Justin Lockhart on the second- and third-down, Drue Watts sacked a scrambling Chevan Cordeiro on fourth-and-4.

Nevada’s offense got just one first down on its opening drive, but was promptly put in good field position after Dom Peterson’s strip sack. Toa Taua eventually punched it in from one-yard out to give Nevada the 7-0 lead — the Pack scoring this season have come off turnovers has been a common theme.

The Wolf Pack compiled five sacks with the fumble recovery — all coming in the first half — and held SJSU’s run-game in check all evening, but ultimately fell apart as the game aged. Cordeiro found a rhythm and completed 33-of-45 for 340 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushed one in midway through the third quarter. It was an inspiring effort, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.

2. Was that Shane Illingworth’s best game?

On a more positive note, quarterback Shane Illingworth might’ve played his best game with the Pack behind center. The sophomore started his fourth game of the season after replacing a struggling Nate Cox last week.

Illingworth’s disposition in the pocket, when he had time, was the best it’s been all season. He was throwing the ball with confidence and good accuracy and touch. Though there were plenty of times — especially in the second half (more on that below) — with the 6-foot-6 signal caller held the ball for too long or was at the expense of bad pass blocking. But he still completed 18-of-29 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the game’s final drive.

Progress for him is important, especially as the regular season closed. Tonight featured that.

3. Have yourself a night, Dalevon Campbell

Heading into the contest, the Pack’s three leading receivers were running back Toa Taua, Jamaal Bell and BJ Casteel. Though on Saturday, a new No. 1 receiver emerged: Dalevon Campbell.

Campbell was arguably Nevada’s top deep threat, but only had 18 catches for 168 yards through the first eight games. On Saturday, however, the former Illinois transfer had a career night, hauling in eight catches for 79 yards. He did a great job generating seperation and finding open creases on short-and-intermediate routes within SJSU’s back-seven. Illingworth was looking for him on his first couple of reads more often than not, which always helps. And rightfully so!

Casteel also hauled in seven catches for 149 yards — including Nevada’s only receiving touchdown of the game, coming from 53 yards out. Taua totaled 23 carries for 75 yards and a season-high three touchdowns; the Pack recorded 293 yards of offense with 19 first downs.

4. San Jose State’s front dominated the second half

You couldn’t say enough about San Jose State’s front seven — especially Viliami Fehoko (3 sacks, 4.5 TFL) and former Mountain West defensive player of the year Cade Hall (4 sacks) — in the second half. Every other play on the last 3-4 drives looked like it resulted in Illingworth ending on the ground. And no, not in the “Illingworth ran eight yards and slid to avoid the barreling linebacker” way, rather the “Help, I have four-plus Spartan pass rushers surrounding me like I’m prey” way. The Spartans ended with nine sacks, including six times in the second halff, five times in the fourth quarter and two on the final drive.