Western Michigan vs. San Jose State: Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
Rested Spartans Ready to Get on a Roll
Week 4: Western Michigan Broncos 1-2 (1-0) @ San Jose State Spartans 1-1 (0-0)
When: Saturday, September 24th – 7:30 PST
Where: CEFCU Stadium; San Jose, CA
TV: CBS Sports Network
Odds: San Jose State -7, Over/under 49
While much of the Mountain West Conference has been wonky through 3 weeks, the San Jose State football squad has played to form; winning their opener at home against an FCS opponent, and then losing on the road at an SEC foe, though both contests had final scores closer than many expected. Now, after an early season week off, the Spartans have one more tune up before conference play starts, an under the lights tussle with Western Michigan from the MAC.
When the 2022 schedule was released it likely underwhelmed head football coach Brent Brennan. Having your open date after just two games is far from ideal, mainly because it requires you to play 10 consecutive weeks to finish the regular season. Those open weekends allow your troops to heal the inevitable bruises and aches that come from 5 or 6 weeks straight of game action. Brennan’s guys were not afforded that opportunity this season as they sat idle after only two contests, watching the action from the conference play out in somewhat surprising fashion. That’s all in the rearview mirror though, and it’s time for the Spartans to focus on an intriguing week 4 matchup.
The Broncos trip to Silicon Valley is their first to the west coast since a 2017 visit to USC. They enter the contest at 1-2, on the heels of a home loss against Pitt. Week 1 saw them coming out on the short end in East Lansing against Michigan State, giving them two non-conference games against Power 5 competition to prep for the Spartans. Sandwiched in between those two was their lone win, a 37-30 come from behind effort against league opponent Ball State.
These two met for the first time ever last year, a 23-3 Bronco win in Kalamazoo, in what was likely the Spartans worst effort all season. The stout Western Michigan defense held San Jose State to a paltry 119 yards of total offense. Coach Brennan made no excuses at the time, but travel fatigue may have contributed to the outcome, as the Spartans had just come off a win on the islands of Hawaii, flew back to the mainland for a couple days, and then all the way across country to Michigan, racking up almost 7,000 frequent flier miles in less than a week. That is the definition of a bad spot to bring your ‘A’ game. In addition to a minor revenge angle, that will be a nice little advantage for the Spartans this go round.
Taking a look at how the units match up against each other in this game, it is difficult to find a massive edge for any one group. The clear weakness thus far for the Spartans has been their inexperienced offensive line. Undersized and with 3 new starters, they have had QB Chevan Cordeiro scrambling early and often, sacked 10 times through only 2 games (including 7 times vs. FCS Portland State), and hurried on many other dropbacks. They have also struggled to clear lanes for Kairee Robinson to emerge as the go to RB1, as he only has 59 total rushing yards. Fortunately for San Jose State, the Western Michigan defensive front has been equally ineffective. They have registered only 2 sacks and are allowing over 5 yards per carry. Additionally, Pitt was down to their 3rd string QB on Saturday, a freshman seeing his first college action. For this reason, they came out with an ultra vanilla game plan to help him get his feet wet, running the ball most of the first half, and the Broncos still could not stop it.
If the line can provide just a fair amount of protection, the Spartans can make hay in the passing game. Western Michigan has been susceptible to big plays through the air and Cordeiro has developed an early connection with the 3, yes you read that right, 3 transfer WR’s from Nevada – Elijah Cooks, Justin Lockhart, and Charles Ross. Cooks and Lockhart are roommates with Cordeiro, adding to the chemistry that was likely enhanced with a full week of practice. Cordeiro, a transfer himself (Hawaii), has been pretty solid through the 2 games, completing 56% of his attempts with no INT’s. He has added almost 100 yards rushing before sack yardage is subtracted, so he is for sure a dual threat.
On the other side of the ball San Jose State’s defensive front seven has performed up to expectations. They wore down a little bit in the 2nd half at Auburn against the Tigers’ size and athleticism, but that shouldn’t be as much of a factor here. One area of concern however, is explosive plays. Auburn was able to pop off a few runs of over 30 yards against the Spartans, and while Western Michigan is not a smash mouth running team, they have had individual runs of 61, 60, and 45 yards this year. I think it will be difficult for the Broncos to sustain long drives, so preventing the big chunk plays significantly improves the Spartans chances for a win here. Viliami Fehoko and Kyle Harmon are the leaders of this veteran group.
The secondary has been active with 4 interceptions and 7 pass break ups in only 2 games. Senior Tre Jenkins is the QB of that unit and has one of the INT’s and also an impressive 13 solo tackles from the safety position. USC transfer Chase Williams added an acrobatic pick against Auburn. The Broncos will start redshirt freshman Jack Salopek at QB. Salopek really struggled Saturday completing only 6 of 18 for 99 yards and throwing 3 interceptions, including a pick six. His top target is Corey Crooms, who has 18 grabs. Those 18 catches only average out to 9.4 yards per reception, so they are not trusting Salopek to take downfield shots very often. One thing to note, Western coach Tim Lester likes to gamble, going for it on 4th down 10 times already, and converting 7 of them. Combine that with the Spartans allowing 5 out of 5 4th down conversions by their opponents and that could extend drives and lead to points. Also, Lester has a propensity for digging into the trick bag. Their only TD against Pitt was a double pass thrown by a WR that completely fooled the Panthers. Brennan and his defensive staff will surely be ready for this. They should also be prepared for the up-tempo pace and Wildcat look the Broncos may occasionally throw at them because they saw the exact same thing at Auburn.
From an intangibles perspective, we briefly looked at the travel aspect earlier, but it’s worth a deeper dive. With the night time kickoff, when this game nears halftime, it will be around midnight Kalamazoo time. Later into the 4th quarter, you’re talking well after 1:00 AM EST. Athletes, like many of us, are creatures of habit and routine. At this exact time on most other Saturday nights, any number of Broncos are likely to be at an off campus party celebrating a win. Instead they’ll be banging in the trenches and trying to cover speedy wide receivers running crisp routes. It’s a tough ask for much of the Western Michigan roster to have their body clocks adjusted in the short time they will be out west. Big advantage here for the Spartans.
Both teams come in battle tested, but the Spartans were far more competitive in their trip to Auburn than Western Michigan was against either Pitt or Michigan State. Though in hindsight, the good effort against Auburn might be devalued by the egg the Tigers laid versus Penn State last weekend. Still, this is a Broncos team that was picked 4th out of 6 in the MAC West preseason poll. To many, the MAC edges out Conference USA for the dubious distinction of worst conference in FBS football. Not to say they haven’t produced the occasional great team, player, or coach over the years, but when scanning a list of college games to watch on a Saturday, I think back to when I used to play Monopoly. We all had that one set of properties we refused to buy, that we thought were junk and we would just pass on every single time. That’s kind of like how the MAC is for most (sorry MAC fans!), which is probably why they go to the gimmick of playing all their games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays later in the year. The Mountain West may have some of its upper echelon struggling early, but it will always far outdistance the MAC in talent, coaching, resources, facilities, basically all of the important things in building a successful program. Another edge for the Spartans.
So how is this one gonna shake out? Points may be at a premium, especially for Western Michigan. I really see them struggling to string first downs together, making them reliant on big plays. Even allowing for one of those, barring turnovers, it’s difficult to see the Broncos scoring in the 20’s. San Jose State has yet to turn the ball over this year (can you knock on wood while reading an article?) and has played smart situational football. New placekicker Taren Schive seems to have found his groove as well, nailing 3 in a row at Auburn after missing the first two attempts of his career. I can see Cordeiro having a big night through the air, and while it is not in the nature of the Spartans to blow teams out, this is a game San Jose State needs to win. They should be fresh from the open date, may catch the Broncos weary from travel and later on a bit of fatigue, and also owe them a little payback after the beat down a year ago. Add it all up and it says here the Spartans will move to 2-1 and carry some momentum into a pivotal 3 game Mountain West stretch beginning with next Saturday’s matchup at Wyoming.
Prediction: San Jose St 27 Western Michigan 16
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