The last time the Falcons met the Spartans was during the Covid year of 2020, and the Spartans were enroute to their only Mountain West championship. That Spartan team held the Falcons to only six points by limiting the offense to 209 rushing yards and forcing 2 turnovers. The Spartans are 1-3 this season against a tough schedule that has had them facing USC, Oregon State and Toledo.
The Spartans are led by the MW preseason Offensive Player of the Year, QB Chevan Cordeiro. Cordeiro is a dangerous dual threat quarterback playing in his sixth year of college football. He has amassed over 10,000 passing yards and 1400 rushing yards in his career. Fortunately for the Falcons his favorite target, WR Justin Lockhart, is out for the season with an injury. Former QB Nick Nash has replaced Lockhart as the go-to guy and is off to a great start with 20 receptions for 206 yards and 3 TDs. The passing game has been consistent on the year, averaging 215 yards per game.
The Spartans have two quality running backs in Kairee Robinson and Quali Conley. Robinson has rushed for 202 yards and 4 TDs and Conley has 213 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing game has been a hit or miss proposition for SJSU early in the season. It looked good in games against USC and Cal Poly, but struggled against Oregon State and Toledo.
It’s difficult getting a read on the Spartans defense because of the opponents they have played. USC and Oregon State have two of the best quarterbacks in college football, and they were able to have their way against the Spartan defense. The secondary played well against Toledo and Cal Poly. The rushing defense so far has been mediocre at best. It’s currently 105th in FBS allowing 170 yards per game.
Defensive playmaker to watch for the Spartans are LB Bryun Parham, S Tre Jenkins, and DL Tre Smith. Parham is the Spartan’s leading tackler with 29 and has .5 sacks for -5 and a QB hurry. Tre Jenkins has 21 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception, and 2 PBUs. Tre Smith is the Spartan’s most effective lineman for sacks with 3 sacks for -25 yards.
What to expect
The template for the Falcon defense has been established in the last two victories. First, concentrate on stopping the run to make the offense one dimensional. Second, unleash Bo Richter, PJ Ramsey, Payton Zdroik, Alec Mock, Johnathan Youngblood and an occasional safety to maximize the pressure on the quarterback and make him at least uncomfortable in the pocket. Third, minimize big plays by the opponent in the passing game. By those standards, the defense has been excellent. The Falcons are tied for 12th in FBS with 3.67 sacks, 1st in rushing defense at 44.3 yards per game, and 9th in passing yards per completion at 8.8 yards per completion. Sam Houston State abandoned the deep throws because of the pressure on the quarterback, and Utah State QB Cooper Legas got so flustered, he was removed from the game.
These goals will likely be more difficult with Cordeiro at QB. The easiest way to make the Falcon plan fall apart is to have a quarterback that can evade the pressure and make things happen on offense, and Cordeiro has been able to do that in his career. The down side for Cordeiro is that it increases his chance of getting injured, and it has seemed that Cordeiro has been less likely to utilize his running ability this year. The confrontation between Cordeiro and the Falcon pass rush will be an important subplot to watch.
On offense, everyone knows the Falcons are going to pound the fullbacks up the middle while they look for variations that will confuse and stymie the defense. A friend found a website that went into detail as to what the Falcons did to Utah State to dominate the game so thoroughly. You can visit the site here, but I’ll give you a short summary of the basics. In order to counter the Aggie’s stacked defensive line, the Falcons found a soft spot off tackle and used a variety of looks to concentrate blocking at the weak point to make gains at crucial points to keep drives going. Below is a video that shows one instance of this basic play.
The play was successful enough to make the Falcons tackles, Adam Karas and Mason Carlan two of the highest graded tackles on the west coast as graded by football analytic company PFF.
Top-Graded @PFF Tackles thru Week 3— SuperWest Sports (@SuperWestSports) September 19, 2023
83.5—Adam Karas, Air Force*
83.2—Jonah Monheim, USC^
81.0—Mason Carlan, Air Force
79.0—Michael Tarquin, USC
77.3—Ajani Cornelius, Oregon
77.1—Mason Murphy, USC
*No. 6 nationally
^No. 7 nationally
This play not be the answer to the Spartan defense, but OC Mike Thiessen will be looking for something that can be effective against a Spartan defense that has not been great against the run.
The game will be played at CEFCU Stadium in San Jose, California on Friday, September 22nd at 7:30 PM PDT. It will be televised on FS1. DraftKings has the Falcons favored by 4.5 points with an over/under of 47 points. In the offseason, I thought the Falcons might have trouble with the Spartans, but enough of my skepticism has been negated, I think the Falcons will be able to handle the Spartans and win on the road by the score of 28-17. So I’ll take the Falcons -4.5 and the under.