San Jose State (6-5, 5-2 MW) became bowl eligible after the Spartans defeated San Diego State (3-8, 1-6 MW) in the most perfect fall evening of chill and rain.
Under the 24-13 victory was a convincing win of will and guts that’s catapulted the Spartans into a near dream season; regardless of the record.
“The MVPs of our season are the guys on the line.” said head coach Brent Brennan on the offensive and defensive line. “None of what we’ve been able to do is possible without what those guys have done on the brick squad.”
Five straight wins is the biggest turnaround since 2006 after starting this season 1-5 against tough ranked teams. With the various SJS beat writers hashing out throughout the evening the chances of reaching the conference championship, the Spartans were savoring the night.
Ultimately, if the Spartans win against UNLV next week to go 6-2 in the conference, all you need to know for now is the “computers will figure it out” in the end if Boise State, Air Force and the Rebels also end up 6-2.
You have to hand it to San Diego State
Coming in as underdogs, the Aztecs initiated a slow ground and grind game with a full-house backfield that purposely slowed SDSU into only three first-half series. Their first drive alone found 72 rush yards taking 7:30 and an early 7-0 lead over the Spartans.
“When they came out in that 32-personnel from the very first play, we took that as a sign of disrespect to test our physicality,” said safety Tre Jenkins. “And I’m glad they did. They popped it on us in the beginning, but we knew that was a fluke.”
Jenkin’s ultra-high energy was ticked up another notch knowing it would be his last game at CEFCU on Senior Night. Marked by six hard-nosed tackles and a late-game interception to kill any hope for the Aztecs, Jenkin’s energy was palpable.
“I’m just glad they went like that so we could show our physicality,” said Jenkins.
SDSU’s tough 3-3-5 defense also slowed the Spartans to four offensive series and a 10-10 first-half tie. It was a far cry from the fast turn and burn offense from the past few weeks.
The complexion of the game was down and dirty football.
It wasn’t until the Spartans ran a two-minute drill to close out the half that they found the key to unlocking the Aztec defense that held the vaunted Spartan run game of the last few weeks to only 40 yards for the half.
Enter QB Chevan Cordeiro
Whipping passes to seven different receivers, Cordeiro loosened the Aztec defense enough to eventually help open a few holes for the run game; quite contrary from the last few weeks where the run game eased any pressure off Cordeiro.
“We watch film 24/7, so we knew what kind of defense they were going to bring, but there are some throws I wish I could take back,” said Cordeiro. “Like that interception was all my fault. They disguised it well.”
A replay would beg to differ on Cordeiro’s one interception. A Cordeiro double pump after seeing two receivers in a parallel post route where it looked like one should have crossed underneath gave enough time for the Aztec safety to make an easy pick.
Cordeiro finished another efficient prototypical game: 174 yards passing on 15-of-20 attempts, one 10-yard touchdown pass to TE Dominick Mazotti and the one INT.
“This year has been crazy,” said Cordeiro already in street clothes to meet with family. “It just really proves how much heart we have as a team; starting at 1-5 to now being bowl eligible.”
Cordeiro continued, “We control our own destiny. We’re not going worry about other team’s scores. It’s all up to us.”
Enter the Spartan defense
After stopping the Aztecs on a fourth-and-one to open the second-half, Cordeiro’s passing opened SDSU’s defense for a Quali Conley 20-yard touchdown run up the middle and a 17-10 lead.
Defensively, the Spartans were figuring out the Aztec offense just enough late in the game, as rain flurries hit out of the blue in the fourth quarter.
“When it started to rain, I said, ‘We’re really going to have to run it now,’ so we did,” said Brennan.
It wasn’t until well into the fourth quarter that the Spartans broke 100 yards rushing; finishing with 181 total rush yards.
On the seventh offensive series, a 94-yard drive was spear-headed by Conley gashes of 21-yards and 57-yards leading to Kairee Robinson’s five yard TD run and the 24-13 final score.
It was Conley’s best night as a Spartan: 155 yards rushing on 13 carries and a rush TD.
“They do a lot of stunts and pressures and you have to be very patient and wait for the defense to get blocked up before you hit the hole,” said Conley. “We started to adjust in the first-half and in the second-half, we blew it up.”
Enter Thanksgiving week
No rest for the weary. Thanksgiving is football time.
The Spartan’s momentum expects to carry them into Allegiant Stadium next Saturday. Don’t be surprised if the odds are in SJS’ favor.
“We celebrate this win tonight,” said Cordeiro, “Then we’ll really have to grind this week for UNLV.”