San Jose State vs. San Diego State: Three Keys to a Spartans Win
SJSU hits the road for a surprisingly critical duel with the Aztecs. Here’s how the Spartans can come away with a victory.
Can the Spartans break through?
WEEK 10: San Jose State Spartans (2-0) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (2-0)
WHEN: Friday, November 6 — 6:00 PM PT/7:00 PM MT
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park; Carson, CA
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes CBSSN, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The San Jose State broadcast can be found on 960 AM (KNEW), which is based in San Francisco. The San Diego State broadcast can be found on both 101.5 FM (KGB) and XTRA 1360 AM.
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the series 22-19-2. In the last meeting on October 19, 2019, the Aztecs defeated the Spartans, 27-17, in San Jose.
LAST WEEK: San Jose State defeated New Mexico at home, 38-21. San Diego State beat Utah State on the road, 38-7.
ODDS (as of 11/4, via Vegas Insider): San Diego State -9.5
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 8.7 (69% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: to be determined
Just two weeks into the truncated 2020 college football season, only four undefeated Mountain West teams remain. Two of them will square off on Friday night with the inside track to a spot in the conference title game on the line: San Diego State and… San Jose State?
Believe it. After dispatching Air Force in their season opener, Brent Brennan’s Spartans took care of business against a game New Mexico squad and now have an opportunity to do something they haven’t done in nearly 40 years: Start a season with three straight wins. Their assignment, however, is a much tougher one.
The Aztecs seem not to have skipped a beat under new head coach Brady Hoke, riding a revitalized running game and a stingy-as-ever defense to dominant wins against overmatched UNLV and Utah State. After years of similarly lopsided results, though, San Jose State has kept it close with SDSU over the past two seasons.
Here’s how the Spartans can finally break through and defeat San Diego State.
Three Keys to a San Jose State Victory
1. Protect Nick Starkel.
We didn’t really talk about the Spartans’ offensive line in the same manner as those of Hawaii and Wyoming during the previous off-season but, through two games, they’ve been as on point as ever in enabling Kevin McGiven’s offense to do what it wants to do. Their 1.3% sack rate allowed ranks fourth in the FBS, which is all the more impressive when you consider that SJSU has averaged 39 pass attempts per game so far.
In the early going, however, San Diego State has possessed a much strong pass rush than New Mexico and Air Force. Their own 8.9% sack rate ranks 20th in the country and improves to 15.4% on passing downs (2nd-and-8 or longer, 3rd- and 4th-and-5 or longer).
It also owes that production to multiple contributors along the defensive line and at linebacker, most notably Caden McDonald, so smart protection calls from center Kyle Hoppe and a quick trigger from quarterback Nick Starkel will help San Jose State stay in the game, especially in third-down situations where he already ranks fifth nationally with a 193.79 passer rating and has ten conversions in 21 attempts.
2. Make the Aztecs work to move the chains.
Not even the most ardent San Diego State fan could have foreseen the massive rebound that the Aztecs’ legion of running backs have spurred through the season’s first two weeks. The splits are impressive no matter how you slice them but, for our money, the most impressive figure is how efficient SDSU has been on first downs. On 49 rushing attempts, the Aztecs have averaged 7.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best figure in the country.
For San Jose State, it’s pretty simple: Put a dent in that average. They’ve already improved upon 2019 in that regard, dropping from 4.91 to 4.22 YPC, but holding that line carries another key along with it because it remains to be seen just how consistently Aztecs quarterback Carson Baker can move the chains falls on his right arm. He has ten pass attempts on third downs with four or more yards to go, but just two first downs.
3. Don’t lose track of Kobe Smith.
This is perhaps related to the second key, but one big takeaway from last week is that Baker was happy to target the junior wide receiver early. Four of Kobe Smith’s six catches against Utah State came on first down and that came one week after seeing just two targets against UNLV.
That performance made him the Aztec’s leading pass catcher on the season by receptions and yards, which makes him an important counterbalance for an offense that clearly leads with the run and, while proficient at spreading the ball around through the air, still doesn’t seem to be terribly explosive (three catches of 20-plus yards on 52 Baker attempts).
If you haven’t paid attention over the last couple years, the El Camino Real rivalry has quietly been one of the most competitive ones and, on paper, this one should be no different. The biggest factor will probably be just how much San Jose State can contain the Aztecs’ running attack where UNLV and Utah State could not, since limiting the number of possessions and relying on their ever-aggressive defense plays right into San Diego State’s hands.
I expect another back-and-forth game between these two teams, but the Spartans will probably come away feeling like this one just barely got away from them.
San Diego State 28, San Jose State 20