Coming off their disappointing homecoming loss to Utah St, the San Jose State Spartans needed a bounce-back road performance this past Saturday against UT-San Antonio, and their 52-24 victory over the Roadrunners was just that.
Twenty-eight first quarter points. Six defensive turnovers. The offense didn’t surrender a single sack. True freshman placekicker Austin Lopez remained perfect this season with 12 field goals in as many tries.
And yet, the win really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. UTSA is “transitional member” in its first year of FBS competition, and therefore any team claiming a victory over them this season cannot count it toward bowl eligibility. As far as any bowl committee is concerned, the 5-2 Spartans are still two wins away from consideration.
Nonetheless, for a Spartan squad dealing with its first dominating loss of the season, it was important to right the ship the very next week. Bowl invites for any WAC team that doesn’t win the conference title will be hard to come by, and a loss to a program that has only been in existence for three years wouldn’t have looked good to even the bottom-of-the-barrel bowls.
By establishing their own dominance early and scoring the first 31 points of the game (in less than 20 minutes), San Jose State displayed a short memory and a resiliency that past Spartan teams have lacked; heck, the program has often had a hard time bouncing back from upset victories (the aftermath of their 2000 upset of #9 TCU is the best example).
Overall, it was a quality performance for SJSU, against the right opponent at the right time. They were able to silence the dome crowd early, re-establish their passing attack and keep the quarterback upright while coming away with their health intact.
Highlights From Week 8
-Bene Benwikere, filling in for injured starter (and his roommate) Damon Ogburn Jr, intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and recovered another, while sharing the team lead with 11 tackles. His performance was good enough to make him the third Spartan this season to win WAC Defensive Player of the Week. Defensive end Travis Johnson (twice) and Vince Buhagiar also received the honor.
-Sophomore running back Tyler Ervin continued his emergence as the Spartans’ top multi-purpose threat, catching a 36-yard touchdown in the first quarter and returning a kickoff 92 yards for a score in the second. The Spartans had considered Ervin for a cornerback position back in the spring, but clearly his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands made him too valuable to keep on defense.
-If you’re wondering why UTSA managed to score as much as they did, you can start with the three fumbles the Spartans surrendered to the Roadrunners. On top of that, UTSA was without starting quarterback Eric Soza, who was injured the week prior against Rice. Whether it’s 49 points at home to one of the top teams in the conference, or 24 points on the road against a team new to college football in general, the Spartans need to tighten up defensively.
-Only 91 net yards rushing on 32 attempts. You would figure with the game being a 38-10 blowout in the second quarter, the Spartans would have gained more yards the old-fashioned, time-consuming way. Instead, their leading rusher was De’ Leon Eskridge at 38 yards on 10 rushes, with backup David Freeman chipping in 31 yards on nine attempts. The 2.8 yards per attempt overall for the Spartans shows the running game continues to be a major point of concern.
The Spartans return home this Saturday to face the Texas State Bobcats, who share some common traits with last week’s opponent. They are from the Lonestar State. They are another team in a “transitional phase” to the FBS. The Bobcats also have a coach who previously held one of college football’s most prestigious positions, former Alabama head coach Dennis Franchione.
Fortunately, a win over Texas State will count toward bowl eligibility as they are a year ahead of UTSA in their transition to the FBS. In fact, in all facets of their program it would appear the Bobcats are ahead of UTSA and represent a stiffer challenge. Regardless, the Spartans are a 20-point favorite heading into the matchup.
The real story moving ahead is how attainable bowl eligibility is in the coming weeks. After this Saturday’s home tilt, the Spartans head on the road to face two of the more dreadful programs in the entire country, Idaho and New Mexico St.
Going two for the next three assures a six-win season, but a sweep of these games is vital to make the post-season a true possibility. Following those three games, the Spartans wrap up the season at home against BYU and AP # 24 Louisiana Tech. If they take care of business against the inferior opponents, the Spartans can afford losses in the final weeks against two of their more stout 2012 opponents.
But even then, an 8-4 record for a mid-major provides no safe passage to the bowl season–just ask Temple, who posted that record in 2010 and were left stranded when the bowl invites went out.
At the risk of looking too far ahead, San Jose St might just need to end 2012 in upset fashion.