It looked like a continuation of the struggles from the Spartans’ loss at Fresno State two weeks ago.
But it wasn’t.
It was an entertaining, high scoring affair and the proverbial tale of two halves in the Spartans’ 35-28 win in front of 17,117 at CEFCU Saturday night.
Or if you’ve followed San Jose State football vs. Nevada the last few years, it was nail-biting and par for the course.
“I can’t explain it!” What is it with this Nevada team?!” exclaimed Spartan head coach Brent Brennan. “A year ago was a crazy game and we didn’t win. And here we are again and it comes down to our last drive. It was the same in 2019 and even in 2020 we were down big until we took control in the second half.”
“It’s always like that with us and them and I just don’t know why, but if you’re a fan and you know that game is happening, you’re going to see something pretty special.”
Starting out the game against last place Nevada (2-7, 0-5 MW), San Jose State (5-2, 3-1 MW) could not control the trenches enough to defy a Wolf Pack team in rebuild mode and a six game losing streak.
On top of that, the Spartans were three touchdown favorites.
“It’s hard to win in college football. Everyone’s good. But everyone says ‘you were heavily favored or they only won two games,’” exclaimed Brennan again. “Those guys were good. Watch the tape and stop looking at the point spread. Get off Twitter. Those guys could play and they showed it tonight.”
Cordiero goes berserk on Halloween weekend
Offensively, Cordiero continued to get sacked and pummeled much more than one human being should in the first-half - sacked five times in the half and sacked 10 times in the last two games overall.
“In the beginning, yes, it was tough and I have to watch film and see what I did wrong in the first half,” said Cordiero. “There’s still a lot to do to get better. We’re not perfect and I’m not perfect and there’s still a long way to go.”
Cordiero and OC Kevin McGiven came out from half-time with adjustments in mind and that was to increase Cordiero’s frequency.
“I was just getting the ball out quicker and it gave our OLine some help when I do that and it lets them rest,” said Cordiero. “We also just keep fighting to the very end, never lose hope and keep feeding off each other’s energy.”
As Cordiero raised his game in the second-half, so did his numbers: 340 yards passing on 33 of 45 attempts, two TD passes and one rushing TD - 93% of the Spartan offense running through Cordiero.
It’s clear - SJS relies on Cordiero to generate offense that is without a consistent running game to buoy his efforts.
But just when teams think they’re figuring out the Spartans, RB Kairee Robinson continues to fight.
“I just come back to the sidelines and talk to the big guys, the quarterback, everybody and try to keep the energy up,” said Robinson on how he deals with the ups and downs.
“It was a slow start, but we stick to it and we believe something’s going to bust out eventually,” said Robinson who saved his best for last with two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns (11 carries, 40 yards).
SJS defense holding up their end of the deal, as always
Led by a monster performance by DE Viliami “Junior” Fehoko with 11 tackles, three sacks, 4 ½ TFLs and one forced fumble, Vehoko vies for the conference player of the week.
“It’s crazy! Coach Joe (Seumalo) gives us the most simple marching orders and that’s to simplify the game for the DLine as much as possible,” said Fehoko. “He doesn’t want us having to think too much except just playing fast and getting to the quarterback’s feet.”
Overall, it’s the familiar story: the Derrick Odum defense clamped down when they needed to.
They convincingly closed out the game.
Literally, the entire defense from DE Cade Hall’s four sacks and LB Bryan Parham’s 10 tackles to enforcers Alii Matau, Tre Jenkins and Kyle Harmon, they continue to galvanize brotherhood in battle.
Are you not entertained?
As Brennan borrowed the famous gladiator movie quote to describe the typical Nevada matchups the last few years, he was also grateful for the gracious evening that unfolded for Camdan McWright. McWright lost his life in a tragic traffic accident last week that shocked the community.
“It was an incredible night and I’m at that age where I take note of such great moments and great days,” said Brennan of the emotional week and dynamics of the game. “And this was without question one of them.”
As Brennan always puts it - it’s an entire four quarters of play - just like the cycle of life and its ups and downs.
And this game had it all.
After the slow first-half with the sluggish Spartans trailing 14-7, the second-half started out bad.
Just two minutes into the second-half, Wolf Pack QB Shane Illingsworth hit a 53-yard TD bomb to B.J. Casteel. It was Nevada’s fourth throwing touchdown of the season. 21-7 the Pack.
After the shell-shock on the Spartan defense, McGiven looked to up the tempo with quick passes targeting receiver Elijah Cooks. In short order, Cordiero responded back with a two-yard TD run on a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. 21-14 the Pack.
The half-time adjustment: let the hard-throwing Cordiero rip it around the field.
Case in point, another long scoring drive: 12-plays, 72-yards and a 14-yard Shamar Garrett touchdown reception (Garrett’s first of the year). 21-21 to end the third quarter.
Nevada penalties hurt them just as much as it did for the Spartans. Underneath it all, a messy game of untimely miscues and unforced errors. But that’s football as well; emotions and all.
After a blitz sack to end the third quarter forced a fourth and 20 to start the fourth, the Spartans gave up a defensive holding penalty and another set of downs.
Two more crucial penalties continued to crush the Spartans on the same drive: a pass interference in the end zone and a horse collar tackle allowed Nevada’s Toa Taua’s third rushing touchdown. 28-21 Nevada.
Robinson answered shortly after with his first rushing TD of the night. 28-28
1:10 remaining in the game
After a struggling offensive line performance, the Spartan OL continued to buckle down and were rewarded with Robinson’s second rushing TD to clinch the game. 35-28 Spartans.
The Spartan defense promptly and thoroughly neutralized the last Wolf Pack offensive series with two sacks (nine sacks overall) and an interception by Matau.
As the Spartans continue to lean on each other, next week finds Colorado State coming to town in another game not to take for granted regardless of the struggles.