In a game that truly mattered for San Jose State (5-5, 4-2 MW), the Spartans proved superior in every phase over Fresno State (8-2, 4-2 MW) in a dominant 42-18 win Saturday night.
“This was a magical night for us,” said Spartan head coach Brent Brennan on commending the players and coaches getting through the early season gauntlet and staying prepared. “In my opinion, this is the best win we’ve had since I’ve been coaching here.”
The win matters towards a bowl berth, of course, but now it matters at least mathematically for a chance at the conference title (we’ll save that math for another MWC episode).
With SJS’ fourth consecutive convincing win in front of a raucous CEFCU crowd of 18,886 (with a healthy Fresno crowd mixed in), the Spartans did what most in Sparta knew was completely possible.
Basically, an unmeasurable weight of intangibles proved to be too much for the Bulldogs; only visible by pure swarming, interconnected energy on the field and savvy strategic sequences up top.
A huge first quarter sets the tone
Four Spartans found their firsts.
Receivers Malikhi Miller and Isaac Jernagin caught a 25-yarder and seven-yard touchdown, respectively. Linebacker Matthew Tago also speared his first interception, after nearly intercepting a batted ball the previous play. All leading to a 21-3 first quarter lead.
A spirited Spartan defense completely turned the tide on an all-season steady Bulldog offense to only 10 first-half points.
Fresno State’s uptempo play on their fourth series saw QB Mikey Keene’s 39-yard TD pass to Mac Dalena. Keene was also hammered out of the game by Spartan backer Jordan Pollard after Keene tried to scramble for a first down; opening the door for QB Logan Fife who fared no better against the Spartans.
“The hard thing with tempo is it’s a hard thing to practice, even though we practice it all week, but we’re running it with our stuff, not Fresno’s,” said Brennan. “DJ (Harvey) is just being aggressive, especially after his big play right before giving up that touchdown.”
With Fresno held to 308 total yards overall, San Jose State finished with 313 total rush yards of 459 total offensive yards. Assassin-like Chevan Cordeiro threw for three touchdowns on an efficient 146-yards on 9 of 18 attempts.
“Coach McGiven’s been on it with all the motions in confusing the defense,” said Cordeiro. “He sticks with the bread-and-butter and it starts with coach McGiven and Lyle (Moevao) training us in the QB room. It all really makes my job easier and I’m fully prepared.”
And still surging
Just a few minutes into the second quarter, the Spartans collectively hit the 100-yard rushing mark led by power back Kairee Robinson’s 99 first-half rush yards.
Robinson’s 200 dagger yards on 19 carries and two rushing TDs was the demoralization dust Sparta predicted onto Fresno.
“It’s all a feel for each run to either stick up in there or I can go to the side,” said Robinson on dishing punishment or not. “The feel of every play is a little bit different, for sure.”
While Robinson gathered his 15th touchdown of the season, the other side of the one-two running back punch, Quali Conley’s 93 yards on 15 carries was his own redemption. A Fresno-native not recruited by the Bulldogs left SJS the clear beneficiary.
“We messed around with Quali a little bit about Fresno not recruiting him. but nothing too crazy,” said Robinson. “We just wanted to go out and do our job, though I still feel we could do better, but we did all right.”
San Jose State’s defense also did not let up. A consistent fire and intensity has burned the last few weeks and looks to get hotter. So hot that it’s spilling onto all other facets of SJS’ game.
“A shout out to our coaches for getting us ready and prepared,” said Tago on his first interception of the year. “We were ready and I knew it was coming right away.”
After a missed tackle early in the game, Tago’s INT, two pass breakups, five tackles and quarterback pressures helped set the tone for the entire defense.
“I wasn’t frustrated after that missed tackle. I was more trying to motivate myself after that,” said Tago. “It’s about coming back and making more plays after that.”
Collectively for the Spartan defense: five sacks, two interceptions – one going 98-yards for a score by DB Michael Dansby’s first INT of the season, 10 TFLs and one knocked-out QB leads to the strong possibility for San Jose to run the table…for a chance at the conference title?!
After the big win, Brennan and company are not entertaining any thoughts beyond preparing for San Diego State next week.
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