Last week, Spartan head coach Brent Brennan said the game against Colorado State (2-7, 2-3 MW) would be a four quarter affair.
“I think people in general on the outside are thinking, ‘Oh, I want to beat everybody 100-to-nothing’ but that’s just not football and it’s not real,” said Brennan on people’s fixation on point spreads.
Though the Spartans (6-2, 4-1 MW) did grind out a 28-16 win, it wasn’t in any way easy. In fact, looking at the numbers, it was downright weird.
“The fact we’ve had games like these where we have to find a way where it didn’t look good,” said Brennan. ”And we had to regroup with our players and staff to stay together and keep believing - these are great lessons for them as men, let alone as football players.”
Saturday’s game was entertaining, similar to the come-from-behind win against Nevada, but against Colorado State’s air raid offense, it posed unique problems.
The Rams pounded out 469 total yards of offense (334 passing & 135 yards rushing). Ram receiver Tory Horton’s nine receptions, 196 yards receiving and one TD grab was something to behold.
“As a coach, you sometimes have to tip your hat,” said Brennan on Horton and the Rams performance overall. “Give their guys and their staff credit. They put them in positions to make plays and they made plays.”
Ram plays that stung hard too - where the still stout Spartan defense spun nine sacks (17 in two weeks), 14 tackles for losses and intensity that contributed to 13 Ram penalties for 101 yards. Yet, long pass completions by Ram freshman QB Clay Millen and timely runs by Ram back Avery Morrow kept Colorado alive and potent all game.
And after all this in trying to avoid a sluggish offensive start like last week, San Jose State still could not start fast against Colorado State.
With a continued lack of an early and consistent run game, Spartan QB Chevan Cordiero struggled with the Ram defense able to enhance coverage on Spartan receivers to slow them down in the first half.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go as planned,” said Cordiero. “No matter what, we’ve just got to keep playing our game and be patient and have the mindset that we’re going to score every drive.”
A first-half of 99 yards of total offense for the Spartans?
Where the Spartans couldn’t go fast, Colorado State did.
1:17 into the game, Morrow’s 56-yard-TD dash quieted the CEFCU crowd of 16,382 right away to give the Rams the early 7-0 lead.
The Spartans’ slow road to the end zone happened on their fourth offensive drive in the second quarter - the longest two-yard touchdown pass you can throw with Cordiero rolling right, looking right but throwing to the opposite side of the end zone to tight-end Dominick Mazotti to tie the score at 7-7.
“Working out back home with my dad and training hard in the off-season and you see it in games,” said Cordiero on his uncanny ability to make difficult throws look easy. “But I still have a lot to do to get better.”
Unfortunately, the so-called struggling Rams still answered on the following possession with a field goal on a 11-play drive punctuated by three long completions to pull Colorado State out of deep holes.
Even with the Spartan defense clogging up running lanes and consistently pressuring Millen, Colorado’s success over the top and on the ground provided them confidence but uncertainty for San Jose State.
A Cordiero-infused second-half
On cue to start the second-half, Cordiero rifled five consecutive completions in a 9-play, 75-yard drive ending with a 5-yard TD run by Kairee Robinson - Spartans 14-10.
On cue to start the fourth quarter, Cordiero’s two-play, 54-yard scoring drive found his fave target Elijah Cook’s on his sixth catch, a 35-yarder in the end zone - Spartans 21-10.
Cordiero’s two touchdown throws (1 INT) and 274 yards passing on 27-42 attempts shows his continued brilliance and sticktuity since his move to San Jose.
On defense: holding the Rams at bay with the infamous bend-don’t-break rule was highlighted by a drive-stopping interception in the end zone by Nehemiah Shelton, a four-down goal line stand and three sacks by LB Alii Matau.
“It’s more of an in-game feel,” said Matau on his three sack night. “During our film sessions this week, we knew they had struggled with stunts, especially against a 3-4 defense where we send two and you don’t know where it’s coming from and that’s partly the reason why I had a good game.”
After Millen got concussed running into his own lineman late in the fourth, Ram QB Jackson Stratton came in cold and overcame a fourth-and-20 with a shocking 40-yard touchdown pass to Horton - 21-16 Spartans.
Cordiero then promptly drove the Spartans on a six-play, 86-yard scoring drive finding Robinson’s one-yard punch into the end zone - 28-16 Spartans.
And just like last week, the Spartan defense held down a last gasp Ram drive with an interception - this time by LB Rahyme Johnson.
With the Spartans now bowl eligible, the Spartans head to San Diego State, where another set of unique circumstances to figure out during the week and during the game continues in SJS’ 2022 run.