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San José State vs. New Mexico: Three keys to victory for the Spartans

I’m calling this a must-win game not only for morale purposes but also the deteriorating bowl math.

WEEK 5: San José State Spartans (1-3) vs. New Mexico Lobos (1-2)

WHEN: Saturday, October 1 — 1:00 PM PT

WHERE: University Stadium; Albuquerque, NM (39,224)

TV: ROOT Sports, a subsidiary of DirecTV, is available on DirecTV Channels 674 and 683 and DISH Network Channels 414 and 426. Marc Stein calls the play-by-play. Joel Dreesen is the analyst. Brad Thompson serves as the sideline reporter.

STREAM: Campus Insiders but only if you live outside of the ROOT Sports foot print.

RADIO: KLIV (1590 AM, San José) originates San José State football broadcasts. Justin Allegri calls the play-by-play. Kevin Richardson provides commentary.

SERIES RECORD: San José State leads the series, 12-4-1. The Spartans have wins in each of the last three games since 1998. In their last meeting, October 24th, 2015, San José State was a 31-21 winner in the first game these teams played as Mountain West opponents.

Freshman QB Josh Love had some promising moments against Utah and can deliver the ball downfield in a manner Kenny Potter cannot. But it’s a precarious situation anytime you ask a freshman to make his first career start, especially on the road — mistakes are inevitable. This was certainly the case with 4 interceptions against Iowa State last week. With Love listed as the starter, he is going to have to use his experience in Ames to his benefit against the Lobos.

The match up this week against New Mexico will be difficult, as much for the logistics as the opposing personnel. The Spartans flew halfway across the country, flew home, then have to head back out a week later to Albuquerque: Not easy. Meanwhile, New Mexico had a bye this weekend and will be fresh, at home and looking to avenge a 10-point loss at CEFCU Stadium last year. This will be one of the sternest tests of SJSU’s mettle of the season and help determine bowl math.

Three Keys to a San José State Victory

Stop the running Lobos. Last week, Iowa State overran the Spartan defense. Iowa State entered the game averaging 4.6 yards per play (118th nationally). Against San José State, the Cyclones averaged 8.2 yards per play. Doh!

With starting QB Austin Apodeca out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury, QB Lamar Jordan will be taking over the starting role. In 2015, Jordan ran for a three-way tie with 147 carries for 807 yards, featuring an average of 5.5 yards per carry. With Jordan’s penchant for running the ball and the Lobos highlighting the triple-option attack, the Spartans need to be prepared to stop the run game.

After four games, 12 players made their first major college start for San José State, just displaying the lack of experience. The Spartan defense needs to grow up quick and stop the run. Or it’s going to be a VERY long day.

The Spartans need to get some ZZ’s. Zamore Zigler. It’s a hard name to forget and rolls off the tongue in a funny way. He became the first San José State freshman since 2012 to record two 100-plus yard rushing games in a season.

San José State career rushing leader Deoncé Whitaker is the last Spartan freshman to record three 100-plus yard rushing games as a freshman. Offensive coordinator “Gorgeous” Al Borges needs to get Zigler and Deontae Cooper running the ball and frequently to take pressure off quarterback Josh Love, making his second career start.

San José State has to play better situational football. Situational football? What does that mean? The Spartans need to improve on turnover margin, red-zone success and third-down completion percentage. This will be the determining factor for victory on Saturday for San José State.

Last week against Iowa State, the Spartans had a -3 turnover margin (terrible), red-zone touchdown success was 1-3 (bad) compared to the opposing red-zone touchdown success which was 4-4 (not good). In efforts to keep a sustained drive, the Spartans were 8-16 in third-down conversions (mediocre). The opposition’s third-down conversions was 7-11 (horrible). With spurts of good gameplay, the Spartans need to bear down in situational football to keep themselves in the game and get this team closer to becoming bowl eligible.

They were blown out of all three games against FBS opponents. The sooner they forget September and lock on Mountain West competition, the better. The Spartans must win five of their last eight to become eligible.

Two of those eight are Boise State and San Diego State on the road on short weeks. For all intents and purposes, it seems, the Spartans must win five of the six that don’t involve BSU and SDSU. Lose in Albuquerque, and it’s five outta five. With the Spartans favored by three, I’m going to take San José State for the win and keeping the bowl dreams alive with a 38 - 21 victory.