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Friday, November 16, 2012

BYU Game Preview: Don’t let the opponent fool you, this game’s got intrigue

The Brigham Young Cougars will play the San Jose State Spartans this Saturday. The Spartans haven’t beaten BYU since 1968. They have just one winning season since 2000. Don’t let San Jose State’s name or lack of football prominence fool you. This year, this game is intriguing.

After taking Stanford to the wire in the season opener, San Jose State went on a four game win streak. The Spartans then lost to Utah State, and have since won four more in a row. At 8-2, San Jose State has the possibility to set a new school record for wins in a season (10 in 1986 and 1987). To do so requires the Spartans win all their remaining games, starting with BYU.

In a scary way, San Jose State resembles another BYU foe—Oregon State. Last year, BYU beat the Beavers somewhat comfortably, despite making several mistakes and costly turnovers. Oregon State finished 2011 just 3-9, and appeared to be a team BYU would beat again this year. As a much improved team and with a different quarterback, Oregon State ambushed BYU with its aerial attack.

BYU beat San Jose State 29-16 in 2011 as the Spartans were on their way to finishing the year 5-7. In that game, BYU turned the ball over three times inside the San Jose State 15-yard line. Going into this season, many people saw the San Jose State game as an automatic W for the Cougars.

That doesn’t seem so certain now.

Just as Oregon State made a remarkable improvement, San Jose State has as well. Stanford beat the Spartans 57-3 in the season opener last year, but the Cardinal barely squeaked out a 20-17 win this year.

San Jose State has done its damage through the air this year. The Spartans are 9th in the nation in passing with a 325.8 yards per game average. Quarterback David Fales is 8th in the nation in passing yards per game, 1st in completion percentage, 4th in pass efficiency rating, and 5th in average yards per attempt. Fales was not the San Jose State quarterback when they played BYU last season.

Noel Grigsby is the Spartans number one receiving target (58 receptions, 914 yards, 7 TDs), but there are three other receivers with over 35 receptions and 450 yards receiving this year. Ryan Otten is one of those three. He had 108 receiving yards against BYU last year. BYU can’t focus so much on Grigsby and Otten that they forget about Chandler Jones. He leads the team with 9 touchdowns this season.  

Running back De’Leon Eskridge compliments the passing game well. He has 749 yards rushing this season (over 100 yards more than BYU’s leading rusher Jamaal Williams has). He is a transfer from Minnesota and redshirted last year.

The San Jose State defense has boat loads of experience. Many of the players are three year starters. They are allowing 20.0 points per game, 191.5 passing yards per game, and 325.4 yards per game. Not quite as good as the Cougars D has done this year, but still a top 20 defense nationally.

BYU can still win this game, and win big, but it will take the offense and defense playing well. Minimizing turnovers is critical, just as it has been all year, for the BYU offense. BYU needs to convert third downs as well as it did last year (8 of 11), and continue to stop the opposition on third down. Missed assignments on defense will lead to big plays, which will allow San Jose State to stay in the game, if not in the lead, and if the Spartans are within striking distance late in the game we could be in for a wild finish. BYU is still the better team. Now, they have to go out and play better than San Jose State.

This week, there are two keys to the game for BYU. On offense, BYU needs to mimic what it did against Georgia Tech. Hold on to the ball and score touchdowns. Jamaal Williams will need to have a big game. On defense, BYU needs to stop the San Jose State passing offense. Getting pressure on the quarterback should be easier than against Oregon State. San Jose State will send more than just two receivers out into routes. Nevertheless, it behooves the BYU secondary to play tight coverage. 

All-time series: San Jose State leads 9-6
Last: BYU won 29-16 (2011)
Streak: BYU won 3

KICKOFF: 8:30 PM (Mountain Time)
TV: ESPN2, www.watchespn.com
RADIO: KSL AM 1160, 102.7 FM, www.ksl.com, Sirius XM Ch. 143

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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