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Spartans’ week 4 preview: Holy Toledo, another big game test

15 conference championships and counting for the Rockets

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Cal Poly at San Jose State
SJS sophomore LB Jordan Pollard (10) center.
Photo: Sam Stringer

Date/Time: Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 4:00 PM PT

Location: The Glass Bowl, Toledo, Ohio

Broadcast: ESPN+

Radio: 860 AM KTRB

Head-to-Head: This is the first ever regular season meeting against the Toledo Rockets (a second game is slated in 2028 in San Jose). The Spartans did meet the Rockets back in 1981 at the inaugural California Bowl in a dynamic 27-25 Toledo win.

San Jose State (1-2) and Toledo (1-1) each manhandled their FCS competition last week, 59-3 and 71-3, respectively.

The previous two weeks for SJSU weren’t kind after facing two nationally ranked teams. Despite blowout losses, the Spartans have solid sections and pieces. It’s more about minimizing the self-inflicted things.

For the 2022 Mid-American conference (MAC) conference champions, the Rockets held up well against Big 10 opponent Illinois in a 30-28 loss in their week one.

Most telling in this matchup with SJS is that Toledo is only favored by eight points at home.

The Rockets of Toledo

The expectations for the Rockets are obviously very high this season with a large majority of their offensive production returning this year. And with 15 conference titles in all and looking for their 13th MAC conference title, Toledo is an extraordinary program.

“One of the things those programs who have sustainability is consistency of leadership, whether it’s their head coach, staff and administration,” said Spartan head coach Brent Brennan. “It’s impressive to see what they’ve done there.”

Seventh-year Toledo head coach Jason Candle (46-27, 54-33 overall) has been there since 2009. So the foundation and program continuity is exactly what Brennan aspires his program to be.

“In my memory, they’ve always been good, even before coach Candle,” Brennan continued. “It’s something that speaks to the history of their program and to how they recruit to what fits them and their university.”

“It’s something we’re also chasing here.”

Quick team comparisons

  • The Rockets have the 45th-ranked defense so far this season with the Spartans ranked 90th
  • The Rockets rank 22nd-best offensively (482.5 yards per game) with the Spartans ranked 75th (385 yards per game)

The difference makers

That the oddsmakers favor the Rockets by basically one possession is an inverted statement in itself. Basically, the early analytics see something worthy under the hood with the Spartans that will keep pace.

But lurking underneath it all for the Spartans - another week of “what big quarterback is coming at us next?” This time we see a close carbon copy to Caleb Williams from USC.

The Rockets QB DeQuan Finn is as deadly.

“This guy is amazing, fantastic, awesome,” touted Brennan. “He can make every throw and run when he has to. This guy is a stud.”

In two games Finn has 462 pass yards, 5 TDs (1 INT) and 82 rush yards. In comparison with three games under his belt, the Spartan’s unassuming star QB Chevan Cordeiro has 546 yards passing, 5 TDs (0 INTs), 100 rush yards and one rushing touchdown. Expect more of the same of Cordeiro to maximize the offense to keep the Rockets’ offense off the field.

The Spartan defense will have to tend with other key Rocket contributors: Jacquez Stuart in the backfield and a trio of dynamic receivers in Jerjuan Newton, CC Ezirim and Junior Vandeross. SJS’ defense has to show the continued growth pattern and discipline to slow down Finn and company, along with collecting more three-and-outs.

Spartan running backs Quali Conley and Kairee Robinson are starting to grow and show to be the best one-two punch in the MW, as the two offer a unique counterbalance in OC Kevin McGiven’s scheme. On the receiving side, Cordeiro’s targets are also widening. From Nick Nash to Charles Ross and Sam Olsen, expect the list of contributors to continue to offer a more balanced selection.

“I think everyone says they want to be balanced, but I don’t think that’s how it ends up,” said Brennan on the idea of a balanced offensive approach. “It’s about leaning towards what you’re good at and what the talent of your team dictates.”

Brennan also keys in on the unwavering energy that needs to be a constant. At practices and at the Spartans’ blowout win last week and even in the bad losses, unbridled energy is felt.

“I don’t think we can accomplish anything worthwhile if we don’t have great energy,” said Brennan. “It doesn’t matter if it’s old energy or young energy from the older guys or the younger ones.”

“It’s about making sure our energy level is always high, because it’s going to take our absolute best effort going out to Toledo.”

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