San Jose State vs. San Diego State: Spartans Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
Spartans travel to meet Aztecs in huge showdown
Week 11: San Jose State Spartans (6-2, 4-1) @ San Diego State Aztecs (5-4, 3-2)
When: Saturday, November 12th – 10:30 PT
Where: Snapdragon Stadium; San Diego, CA
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: San Jose State -2.5 Over/Under 40.5
Crunch time has arrived for the 2022 San Jose State football team. The Spartans officially achieved bowl eligibility after defeating Colorado State last Saturday night, and now have their sights set on a loftier goal – the Mountain West Conference Championship Game. They will need some help to get there (more on that later), but a difficult two-game stretch starting Saturday at San Diego State will have all of their attention.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Aztecs, who had some off-field drama before game one that seemed to carry over into September. In-season position coaching changes came next, and then a quarterback swap followed. For good measure, the latest news to swirl around the program is whether or not they are headed to the Pac-12. Add in the opening of a brand new stadium years in the making, and there have been enough storylines to rival a daytime soap opera.
Fortunately for San Diego State, they have righted the ship after their bye week, with arguably their three best efforts of the season. Were it not for a perfectly executed onside kick that contributed to a late collapse at Fresno State, in a game the Aztecs dominated for 58 minutes, this would be a showdown to determine the West division winner. Such as it is, SDSU needs one win for bowl eligibility themselves, and is relegated to playing the role of spoiler in the conference championship race.
The reason for the turn-around can be directed at two moves made by head coach Brady Hoke. First, following a defeat at Boise State in late September, he replaced offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski with Jeff Horton. At the same time, converted safety Jalen Mayden made a start in place of injured quarterback Braxton Burmeister. After a successful debut, and a bye week to chew on the decision, Hoke decided to stick with Mayden behind center for the remainder of the season. While the Aztecs are not likely to be confused with an offensive juggernaut, they are performing at a much higher level since the changes were made.
Mayden had a breakout game in the loss at Fresno State, completing 19-24 for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 48 yards and two scores, as the Bulldog defense looked helpless in trying to stop him. The numbers were not quite as stellar last weekend, but that should scare Spartans fans, as Mayden has see-sawed back and forth in his four starts between excellent and sufficient, and this Saturday slots in as the former. His two main targets are Tyrell Shavers and Jesse Matthews. The two wideouts are responsible for half of the receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the Aztec passing game this season, though the numbers are hardly eye-popping. The running game has seen multiple players take a turn as the featured back. Jordan Byrd, Jaylon Armstead, and Chance Bell may all get the opportunity to emerge as the night’s go-to-guy. None average more than 40 yards per game however, and highlight the lack of explosiveness on this SDSU roster. Mayden has changed that dynamic slightly; if it’s enough to get the job done against San Jose State remains to be seen.
The Spartans defense was in a bend-but-don’t-break mood against Colorado State. They allowed 200 yards rushing to the Rams as a team, and RB Avery Morrow went for 129 yards and 7 yards per carry. Also having a big individual night was Tory Horton, who caught 9 balls for 196 yards. But, in between Morrow’s 56 yard TD jaunt in the game’s first minute, and Horton’s 40 yard touchdown catch with 4 to go, SJSU held the Rams to three points, on a late second quarter field goal. As was the case a week earlier versus Nevada, the front seven stepped up and made plays when necessary, recording a whopping nine sacks – 3 by Alii Matau. They may need to step up earlier and more often on Saturday night. After back to back weeks against teams ranked near the bottom of most offensive statistical categories in the entire country, this is a more formidable foe.
On the other side of the ball, Chevan Cordeiro will look to continue his march towards Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. It was just another ho-hum outing for the junior QB last week, 27-42 for 275 yards and 2 TD’s. Unfortunately, the run-pass balance that was key to a 3-game surge at the end of September, has all but disappeared. Kairee Robinson had only 12 carries, and while he did find the end zone on two of them, at some point soon, an opponent is going to be able to drop an extra defender or two into coverage because they are not respecting the Spartans run game. Hoke, who built his resumé coaching defense, may be the coach to attempt this. That does not mean it will be simple to shut down the passing game, but keeping a defense off-balance would make things a lot easier on SJSU.
Against the Rams, Cordeiro did what Cordeiro does well – make good decisions, and spread the ball around, as eight different receivers caught a pass. He did throw an interception, just his second of the year, but led the Spartans to at least 28 points for the 5th time in 6th games, the loss at Fresno State the lone exception. This will be one of the better defensive units SJSU has faced this year, and the road trips have produced the two most anemic offensive outputs of the season. Obviously the competition factors in there as well, as Fresno State and Auburn represent the most talent the Spartans have played against. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how efficient the offense performs on the road against another defensive-minded squad. As is normally the case, if the men in the trenches give Cordeiro ample time in the pocket, he is going to find an open receiver and deliver an accurate throw more often than not. This is, after all, a defense that allowed almost 400 yards to Bulldogs QB Jake Haener, playing his first game in 5 weeks. However, if the Aztecs front seven can be disruptive, it could prevent San Jose State from stringing together long scoring drives.
There are a couple of interesting stats that these two teams have in common. They are both very poor, bottom 10 in the nation to be exact, in 3rd down conversion rate. Conversely, they both rank in the top 5 in red zone defense, in the entire country. What does this mean? Because they each also possess high-marking units in scoring defense, we could be in for a slugfest, and not an offensive masterpiece. It could be a struggle for either team to have multiple lengthy drives, and if/when they do make it inside the opponents 20, touchdowns will be hard to come by. Oddsmakers seem to have the same thought process, as they set the total in the game at a very low 41 points scored. (Another word on those guys in a minute). It would be a surprise to see either team get into the high 20’s, but that’s why they play the games.
For the Spartans, they’ll be bowling for the 2nd time in the last 3 seasons under Brent Brennan, the first head man to do that at SJSU since Claude Gilbert in the 1980’s. In order to attain further goals, Brennan could use a favor from his good buddy Marcus Arroyo on Friday night. Arroyo’s UNLV Rebels play host to Fresno State, and have QB Doug Brumfield back at full strength after missing multiple games with a concussion suffered against San Jose State. Should Arroyo’s troops pull the minor upset, SJSU is back in the driver’s seat for the West division title. Of course that is all for naught if they cannot take care of their own business on Saturday.
The recent series history does not flatter San Jose State. They are 1-8 against SDSU since joining the Mountain West, including a 19-13 double OT loss a year ago. That is just one of a remarkable nine wins by one score that the Aztecs have in the last two years, second most in the country during that time span. So they know how to win the close ones, and often will not beat themselves. Also, one statistical area they have a clear advantage this weekend is special teams, as they rank third in efficiency in that category.
Looking at the form book, it stands to reason that San Diego State might have a slight edge, as they are trending solidly in the right direction. SJSU on the other hand, has been fairly uneven over the last month, with a disappointing loss to a Haener-less Fresno State team, and then two underwhelming outings against teams at the bottom of the conference in 2022. It was a bit eye-opening then to see San Jose State favored in the game, to be honest. But, who are we to doubt the men in the desert, as they usually have a good pulse on the goings-on; it is their job after all. This one seems likely to go down to the wire, as most late-season conference games between good teams do. It says here, the Spartans borrow some of the Aztecs close game voodoo magic, and come away with a massive road win.
Prediction: San Jose State 21 San Diego State 16
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