Colorado State vs. San Jose State: Spartans Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
Spartans are still in play for Mountain West Conference Championship
Week 10: Colorado State Rams (2-6, 2-2) @ San Jose State Spartans (5-2, 3-1)
When: Saturday, November 5th – 7:30 PT
Where: CEFCU Stadium; San Jose, CA
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
Odds: San Jose State -24 Over/Under 45
Saturday is when the rubber meets the road for the San Jose State football program. Is this squad ready to go on the road and win games against San Diego State and an improving Utah State? Or are they simply a good, but not great team that peaked earlier in the season? Those are questions that will be answered this weekend, when the Spartans entertain their second consecutive Mountain West Conference opponent near the bottom of the standings–the Colorado State Rams.
A long, tough week ended with a surprisingly close, 35-28 come-from-behind win over scuffling Nevada. SJSU played full of emotion, honoring fallen teammate Camdan McWright. The surplus of festivities may have, in actuality, been partly distracting, as the Spartans hardly looked like the superior team for most of the game, taking their first lead with just over a minute remaining, and hanging on for the win.
While it was a victory, and the circumstances around it difficult for sure, it was not the Spartans cleanest effort of the season, by any means. The Wolfpack played much better than a team that had lost 6 in a row, and for that they deserve their due. But, there were several areas of concern that have to be corrected quickly, and this week’s opponent presents the perfect opportunity.
Colorado State enters with the exact same record Nevada had a week ago, 2-6. Both of the Rams wins are conference wins, against the aforementioned Wolfpack, and another struggling outfit, in Hawaii. Jay Norvell is in his first year in charge, after making the move from Nevada, and is in the early stages of a complete rebuild. There have been many player defections via the transfer portal, including several once the game schedule began. That is just fine with Norvell, as the remainder of this season is going to be about finding the players that fit his system and want to be a part of this program long-term.
What that usually means is some bumps along the way, and the Rams have been taken to the woodshed multiple times already this year, including 49-10 in Boise last weekend. After some early season struggles, the Broncos have rounded into form and look the class of the MWC. That is what championship teams do to overmatched teams, dominate them. Let’s give San Jose State a pass for last week because of the situation; this week’s matchup is eerily similar from a statistical standpoint. A second consecutive lackluster performance, even if it results in a win, may leave Spartan fans with more questions than answers.
Much like Nevada, Colorado State ranks very low in many categories, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. They are dead last in the country in 3rd down conversion rate, red zone offense, and total first downs. Additionally, they are bottom 10 in passing offense, rushing offense, sacks allowed, and total offense. Not surprisingly then, they are second worst in the country in points per game, with a measly 12.5. Enough numbers to chew on? If not, the most staggering statistic of all, is that in 8 games played, they have yet to crack the 20 point barrier once. Though San Jose State slipped a couple of spots after surrendering 28 to Nevada a week ago, they still rank 6th in the nation in scoring defense.
That defense will focus on taking away the Rams primary playmaker, Tory Horton. The junior wide receiver has scored 5 of the 10 CSU offensive touchdowns on the season, including a monstrous 9 catch, 186 yard, 3 TD effort against Middle Tennessee State earlier this year. Quarterback Clay Millen missed a few games with injury, but is back healthy now and trying to stay upright, behind a struggling offensive line. He was sacked five times last week versus Boise State, and has been dropped an astounding 29 times in the 5 games he has played. That could play right into the hands of the Spartans defense, after they racked up 8 sacks of Wolfpack QB Shane Illingworth a week ago.
It was certainly a surprise to many that Nevada was able to score 28 on the SJSU defense. If you look at the four scoring ‘drives’, they came in different shapes and sizes. The first was only a 20 yard drive following a turnover, and required a 4th down conversion to score. The second was a legit drive put together by the Wolfpack. The third wasn’t so much a drive as it was an explosive play, a 53 yard bomb from Illingworth to BJ Casteel. The fourth and final was by far the most frustrating of all. Twice the Spartans had Nevada stopped, only to have penalties called that continued the drive, one following a missed field goal, and the other after a third and long pass fell incomplete. To add insult to injury, two more penalties were called on San Jose State to further aid the Wolfpack getting into the end zone. That drive seemed more of an anomaly, as the Spartans have been fairly disciplined this season.
Any way you slice it, the 28 points allowed was still a season high, and you can bet the SJSU defense will look for a return to normalcy this weekend. Cade Hall is coming off a career high four sack game, and Bryun Parham added 10 tackles. The man of the match though was Junior Fehoko, who earned Mountain West Conference Defensive POW honors for his 12 tackle outing, that included two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Similar numbers may be on the table for these stalwarts this Saturday night.
The Rams defense sports better numbers than their offense (not difficult to do), but are far from elite–and they will be tested against San Jose State. After a lackluster first half on the offensive side of the ball last week, the Spartans O was perfect in the second 30 minutes, scoring touchdowns on all four drives. After being blown off the ball early, including allowing 5 sacks, the offensive line provided great protection for QB Chevan Cordeiro to march his troops down the field on three lengthy second half drives. Though Kairee Robinson and the running game was not explosive, he did score two fourth quarter TD’s, including the game winner.
The passing game on the other hand, when Cordeiro wasn’t having the pocket collapse around him, was outstanding. He finished 33-45 for 340 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran a TD in. Nine different Spartans caught at least one ball, and with normal third WR Charles Ross unavailable, Jermaine Braddock filled in with 6 grabs for 58 yards. This does not seem like a matchup where SJSU just goes up and down the field on the Rams at will. However, the more you watch this passing game, the more it seems as though only the elite of the elite defenses can actually do more than slow them down. The one defensive category CSU is poor in is red zone defense. Spartans boss Brent Brennan seems to be eschewing field goal attempts of late, and therefore we may see several 4th down attempts to sustain drives, which also happens to be attacking a defensive weakness of Colorado State.
Don’t let last week’s blowout loss fool you. The Rams ran into a smoking hot Boise State team up on the blue turf, never an easy task to begin with. Prior to that, CSU had played 3 consecutive one-possession games, following a rocky 0-4 start. This coincided with the return of Millen at QB, and some offensive line pieces getting healthy. More importantly, they are still playing hard for Norvell and the new staff as they audition for starting positions next year. Look for Norvell to take a few shots downfield, as he knows the Rams will have trouble sustaining drives. That’s also how they scored their lone touchdown against the Broncos, a 76 yard bomb from Millen to Justus Ross-Simmons, one that closely resembled the Illingworth to Casteel play the Spartans surrendered.
Saturday night will tell us a lot about this year’s San Jose State team. We know what Colorado State is, and what they will bring to the field, good and bad. We think we know about the Spartans, but some of the evidence may be inconclusive. It would be nice to see them lay the smackdown on an inferior opponent. Yes they did that against UNLV, but the Rebels were caught off-guard by a gut punch when starting QB Doug Brumfield left the game early with a concussion. Coming off a wobbly performance, and a tough 3 week stretch, and with a couple of tough road trips on deck, this is the perfect ‘get right’ spot, if SJSU is who we think they are (Credit to the late Dennis Green for that timeless line). Mark the Rams down for one explosive play, and little else, and a workmanlike offensive effort by Cordeiro and crew. It says here the Spartans look sharp as they gear up for the home stretch.
Prediction: San Jose State 31 Colorado State 10
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