Colorado State vs. San Jose State: Spartans game preview, how to watch, odds, prediction
The Spartans are still in play for the Mountain West Conference championship
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Week 10: Colorado State Rams (2-6, 2-2) @ San Jose State Spartans (5-2, 3-1)
When: Saturday, November 5 – 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: CEFCU Stadium; San Jose, California
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 team ready to go on the road and win games against San Diego State and improving Utah State? Or are they just a good, but not great team that peaked earlier in the season? Those are questions that will be answered this weekend, when the Spartans host their second straight Mountain West Conference opponent near the bottom of the standings — the Colorado State Rams.
A long and difficult week ended with a surprisingly narrow 35-28 win over Nevada. SJSU played full of emotion, honoring deceased teammate Camdan McWright. The excess of festivities may, in fact, have been partly distracting, as the Spartans looked little like the top side for most of the match, taking their first lead with just over a minute remaining and s clinging to victory.
While it was a victory and the circumstances surrounding it were certainly difficult, it was by no means the Spartans’ cleanest effort of the season. 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 need to be addressed 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 Rams wins are conference wins, over the aforementioned Wolfpack, and another struggling team, in Hawaii. Jay Norvell is in his first year in charge, having relocated from Nevada, and is in the early stages of a full rebuild. There have been numerous player defections through the transfer portal, including several once the fixture schedule has begun. That’s great with Norvell, because the rest of this season will be about finding the players that fit their system and want to be part of that long-term program.
That usually means a few bumps along the way, and the Rams have been taken to the stake several times already this year, including 49-10 in Boise last weekend. After some struggles early in the season, the Broncos are back in shape and looking like MWC class. That’s what championship teams do to outclassed teams, dominate them. Let’s give San Jose State a bye for last week because of the situation; This week’s game is eerily similar statistically. A lackluster second straight performance, even if it results in a victory, may leave Spartan fans with more questions than answers.
Much like Nevada, Colorado State ranks very low in many categories, primarily on the offensive side of the ball. They’re dead last in the nation in 3rd down conversion rate, red zone offense and first down total. Additionally, they are bottom 10 in passing attack, rushing attack, sacks allowed, and total attack. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re the second-worst in the nation in points per game, with a measly 12.5. Enough numbers to chew on? Otherwise, the most staggering stat of all is that in 8 games played, they have yet to break the 20 point barrier even once. Although San Jose State fell a few spots after giving up 28 to Nevada a week ago, they still rank 6th in the nation in point defense.
That defense will focus on taking out the Rams’ main point guard, Tory Horton. The junior wide receiver scored 5 of CSU’s 10 offensive touchdowns on the season, including a monstrous 9 catches, 186 yards, 3 TDs against Middle Tennessee State earlier this year. Quarterback Clay Millen missed a few games with an injury, but he’s back healthy now and trying to stay on his feet behind a struggling offensive line. He was sacked five times last week against Boise State and was waived 29 times in the 5 games he played. That could play directly into the hands of the Spartans defense, having racked up 8 sacks from Wolfpack QB Shane Illingworth a week ago.
It certainly came as a surprise to many that Nevada was able to score 28 goals on the SJSU defense. If you look at the four scoring “drives”, they came in different shapes and sizes. The first was just a 20-yard drive following a turnover and required a 4th conversion to score. The second was a legitimate drive planted by the Wolfpack. The third wasn’t so much a practice as an explosive play, a 53-yard bomb from Illingworth to BJ Casteel. The fourth and final was by far the most frustrating of them all. Twice the Spartans had Nevada stopped, only to have penalties called that continued the drive, one after a missed field goal, and the other after a long, unfinished third pass. To add insult to injury, two additional penalties were imposed on San Jose State to further help the Wolfpack into the end zone. This conduct seemed more of an anomaly, as the Spartans have been quite disciplined this season.
Regardless, the 28 points allowed was still a season high, and you can bet the SJSU defense will be looking for a return to normal this weekend. Cade Hall is coming off a career-high four-sack game, and Bryun Parham added 10 tackles. The man of the match, however, was Junior Fehoko, who earned Mountain West Conference defensive POW honors for his 12-tackle outing, which included two sacks and 2.5 tackles for the loss. Similar numbers could be on the table for these mainstays this Saturday night.
The Rams defense sports better numbers than their offense (not hard to do), but is far from elite – and they will be tested against San Jose State. After a lackluster first half on the offensive end of the ball last week, the Spartans O were perfect within 30 seconds, scoring touchdowns on all four drives. After being kicked off the ball early, including allowing 5 sacks, the offensive line provided great protection for QB Chevan Cordeiro to parade his troops down the field on three long drives in the second half. Although Kairee Robinson and the running game weren’t explosive, he did score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner.
The passing game on the other hand, when Cordeiro didn’t have the pocket collapsing around him, was exceptional. He went 33-45 for 340 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for a TD. Nine different Spartans caught at least one fly ball, and with third par WR Charles Ross unavailable, Jermaine Braddock filled in 6 catches for 58 yards. This doesn’t seem like a game where SJSU goes up and down the field on the Rams at will. However, the more you watch this passing game, the more it seems that only the elite of elite defenses can actually do more than slow them down. The only CSU defensive category is poor in red zone defense. Spartans boss Brent Brennan seems to be avoiding field goal attempts lately, so we could see several 4th down attempts to keep drives going, which also happens to attack a defensive weakness in State of Colorado.
Don’t let last week’s meteoric loss fool you. The Rams ran into a smoldering Boise State team on blue turf, which was never an easy task to start with. Prior to that, CSU had gone 3 straight one-possession games, coming off a rocky 0-4 start. This coincided with Millen’s return to QB and some offensive line plays recovered. More importantly, they are still playing hard for Norvell and new staff as they audition for the starting positions next year. Look for Norvell to take a few hits on the field, as he knows the Rams will struggle to keep practices going. It was also how they scored their only touchdown against the Broncos, a 76-yard bomb from Millen to Justus Ross-Simmons, a bomb that looked a lot like the play from Illingworth to Casteel the Spartans went to.
Saturday night will tell us a lot about the San Jose State team this year. We know what Colorado State is and what it will bring to the field, good and bad. We think we know the Spartans, but some evidence may not be conclusive. It would be nice to see them throw the smackdown on an inferior opponent. Yes, they did 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. After a wobbly performance and a rough 3 week period, and with some rough deck travel, this is the perfect place to ‘do well’, if SJSU is who we think they are (credit to regretted Dennis Green for this timeless line). Score the Rams for an explosive game, and nothing else, and a professional offensive effort from Cordeiro and his team. It says here that the Spartans look sharp as they prepare for the home stretch.
Prediction: San Jose State 31 Colorado State 10