Location: Albertsons Stadium – Boise, ID
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 20th @ 12:30 PM PDT
Broadcast: ESPN | KTRB 860 AM
Head-to-head history: The Eastern Michigan Eagles (8-4, MAC) met San Jose State (7-3 MW) once back in the 1987 California Bowl in a 30-27 win over the Spartans.
San Jose State’s Brent Brennan is the first coach to lead the Spartans to two bowl games under one tenure this century. Claude Gilbert last did it in the 1986 and 1987 California Bowls.
SJSU is 7-4 in bowl games. Eastern Michigan (EMU) is 1-6 with, you guessed it, its only bowl game win in 1987 against the Spartans.
So, who has more pressure to win?
Perhaps, it would be ninth-year Eagles’ coach Chris Creighton. Like Brennan, Creighton has masterfully turned EMU’s program around. With 1995 being the last winning season for the Eagles, Creighton has already had four winning seasons. This season, the Eagles shared the division title.
Incredibly, Creighton has led the Eagles to five bowl games, including this 2022 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Except for EMU’s blowout lost in the Lending Tree Bowl last season, the Eagles lost each of their other bowl games by less than four points.
“Looking at them, yes, I feel they’re really similar to us,” said Brennan in SJS’ local presser last week.
If you interchange a few names between the two teams, they’re eerily similar - which should make for an entertaining match; something national bowl game audiences want to see.
A glance at the top performers
At the helm of each offense are two solid veteran quarterbacks.
Spartan Chevan Cordeiro with 2,885 yards, 20 touchdowns (four INTs) is among the top two QBs in the Mountain West (MW). His top target, Elijah Cooks, is an MW first-teamer with 63 receptions, 983 yards and 10 TD receptions.
Cordeiro’s career as an unflappable, rock steady performer with deft running ability is a big key to the Spartans leaving Boise with a win.
“I do get nervous but it’s still all business for me,” said Cordeiro. “On game day, I focus on myself and will do exactly what I have to do.”
Eastern Michigan QB Taylor Powell with 1,813 yards, 14 TDs, seven INTs is a pocket passer type, which gives the advantage to an opportunistic Spartan defense, whose signature this season has been getting into opponents’ backfields.
“They actually play two different kinds of guys who’re really efficient,” said Brennan on the EMU QBs. “One’s a thrower and another a dual-threat guy. They also have a great receiving corp with one playmaker who shows up all the time on film.”
“And they tempo you with a great big running back and a very mature offensive line,” added Brennan.
That Eagle running back to be wary of is Samson Evans with 1,084 yards rushing and 13 TDs.
Stopping the offenses
“Defensively, EMU has their defensive player of the year and they’re physical and sound and play with big effort,” said Brennan.
Eagle defensive end Jose Ramirez is the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and a Ted Hendricks Award finalist. Ramirez led the country with 1.09 sacks per game and is second nationally with 1.8 TFLs per game.
Not to be outdone, the Spartans’ defensive front boasts two “Ramirez’s.”
Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Viliami Fehoko is a two-time all-conference selection and also a Ted Hendricks Award finalist. Fehoko’s 18.5 TFLs ranks fourth in the country along with his nine sacks ranking 10th in the nation.
Opposite of Fehoko is first-team All-Mountain West defensive end for the second time in his career, Cade Hall - complimented by three-time first-teamer Kyle Harmon at linebacker.
A scant 3 1⁄2 point spread favoring San Jose State just means no one really knows what to expect from two teams with similar DNAs from differing G5 conferences.
Add the still long sentiment of West Coast football being soft vs. hardened East Coast and Mid-West teams, a San Jose State win would be a great counter to that idea.
And if there is more pressure on Creighton to finally win a bowl game after five tries, Brennan’s expectations for himself and his staff are at least the same; self-imposed or not.
In the end, Hall’s even-keeled self summarizes the Spartans’ identity with the ability to turn on and off the fire and ice on command.
“I do my best to treat all these games the same, so I can use my same process and it always feels the same,” said Hall with a similar serenity to the 49ers Nick Bosa. “I have these checks to tell myself I should be here and here at this time of day or I should have this done from my mental checklist. I’ll be ready.”
“It’s going to be a challenging game and a great matchup,” said Brennan. “We’re going to soak it up and we’ll be ready to play.”
“We can’t wait.”