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SJSU preview vs. Cal Poly: Threats of a trap game

A game that can cut both ways

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Southern California photo by: Gary Vasquez

Date/Time: Saturday, September 9, 2023, 1 PM kickoff

Location: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA


Radio: 860 AM KTRB

Head-to-Head: Since 1957, the Spartans are 5-2 over the Mustangs. The last SJSU win over Cal Poly was Brent Brennan’s first win as a head coach back on September 2, 2017.

One early oddsmaker has Cal Poly (1-0) edging out SJSU (0-2). Along with those passive-aggressive X gnomes, perhaps only a big San Jose State win could temporarily snuff out the trolling, because the ordinary world only sees that you’re supposed to trounce an FCS team.

A win over an FBS team like SJS would be a harbinger moment for Cal Poly. It’s fair to say the pressure is not going to let up anytime soon for Brennan’s team.

From two high-powered nationally ranked teams the last two weeks, the Mustangs look very much ready. Don’t be fooled by the Big Sky conference. It’s formidable and rising.

Brennan and company are completely aware they’re still in the middle of their gauntlet. No rest for the weary and no one really cares. You get out there and just play.

“We have to worry about what’s in our control,” said Brennan. “And what’s in our control are avoiding penalties, making right decisions, the effort, the execution.”

The Spartans face a team of firsts

If the Spartans faced the last place 2-9 Mustangs last year, no problem, it’s a three touchdown win.

But after notching a convincing 27-10 first win over the University of San Diego last week, this Cal Poly team is vastly improved.

From the Washington Huskies, five-star QB transfer Sam Huard posted 364 yards passing with one TD pass (1 INT) on 23 of 41 attempts (460 total offensive yards) in his first game. Huard is the Mustangs first-ever five-star rated player.

Cal Poly also has the spark of a first-year head coach in Paul Wulff shaking things up, along with other notable transfers and first-time Mustangs:

  • Tight end Carlton Brown from Nevada
  • Wide receiver Reed Shumpert from Washington State
  • Linebacker Ethan Calvert from the Utah Utes
  • Offensive lineman Thomas Cole from UCLA.

Huard was the most decorated Washington high school QB ever. Huard saw the writing on the wall at Washington after another five-star QB, Michael Penix Jr., decided to stay on with the Huskies.

Huard found his way to Cal Poly for a reunion with another first-year Mustang coach in OC Sheldon Cross. Cross also coached Huard in high school.

What the Spartans need to do

Firstly, the dilemma of not overlooking a supposed inferior opponent is also real despite the FCS monicker. Just the way most fans impressions in the hierarchy of things, Cal Poly by name doesn’t conjure football demons like a USC or Oregon State.

First task at hand is absolutely erasing any mental picture of inferiority. The Mustangs might as well be the SMU Mustangs from the Pony Express heydays, if anyone needs to delude themselves.

Control & execution

So simple to say, yet so difficult to do in the dynamics of different 11-on-11’s each week, thus the constant learning process never ends. Only the strength and athleticism to execute on a high level with speed and vision should be a constant.

Or as Spartan QB Chevan Cordeiro so deftly showcases as a runner: vision, then speed. It’s a huge difference.

As a thrower, Cordeiro is proven despite uncharacteristic disconnects with his receivers last week that can be attributed to a physical Oregon State secondary disrupting timing. It’s something Cal Poly will certainly notice.

“We can definitely play the ball a bit better,” said Brennan on the passing game. “Chevan can be a bit more accurate. At the same time, no one’s more competitive and harder working than Chevan. I’m confident he’ll get it right.”

Brennan added, “Everything with those receivers and QBs is timing and if their timing gets disrupted we see what can happen.”

Second task: Spartan receivers not only need to run good convincing routes every time and be on the same mental page with Cordeiro, they need to be more aggressive throughout routes.

It’s part of all the little things that can erode away a potential win.

In the post game conference after Oregon State, each player at the podium felt and knew their ability to be highly competitive in those games were lost due to those little things such as penalties, missed assignments and dropped balls, though the latter very much improved.

“I think we have to be in a situation where we’re not beating ourselves,” said Brennan. “And that’s what we’ve been hardcore assessing and addressing with the team.”

Once that Oregon game was too off kilter, the Spartan run game option became less and less. SJSU will certainly want a balanced attack that can throw out more guesses at Cal Poly.

Third task: it was clear there was not a semblance of a pass rush last week, as evident with Beaver QB DJ Uiagalelei with clear lines of vision most of last Sunday.

When the Spartans were able to exact some pressure, it was too inconsistent, which left Uiagalelei the option to run, though SJSU managed one sack.

Against the Mustangs and Huard, the Spartans need show who they can be. If not, the question or issue becomes real: Is SJSU truly lacking on defense?

“The assessment of the team is still on-going and I don’t think that’s been clearly defined yet,” said Brennan on the evolvement of depth, expectations and identity of the team.

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are and some of that is based on the opponents we faced and playing a bunch of new players, who’re playing D1 football for the first time.”

Saturday needs to be win - preferably in convincing fashion. Or Saturday is a must win to put it more simply.

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