After opening their Week 9 contest against Texas State in rather listless fashion last Saturday, San Jose State rebounded in the second half for a come-from-behind, 31-20 victory in front of well … hardly anyone.
When your fans in attendance have the option of changing seats to follow the shade around the stadium, it’s not a good look — and perhaps sheds a bit of light onto the Spartans’ uninspired first two quarters of play last weekend. More on that later.
ON THE FIELD
Despite the early trouble, by the end of the game SJSU had re-enforced what we’ve learned about them since start of the season:
1) They have a good quarterback, one of the best in the WAC. As the season progresses, it is seems like 300 yard games are becoming the norm for David Fales. He connected with nine different receivers for 376 yards and two scores. He happened to throw two of the uglier interceptions I can recall ever seeing, but ineptitude was a bit of a theme in the first half for the entire squad.
2) Defensive end Travis Johnson continues to be one of the premier pass-rushers in the nation after notching another sack on Saturday. He remains the career sacks leader for active NCAA players, and is in the top six nationally for both sacks and tackles for loss.
3) Every week, there’s a good chance a Spartan will gain WAC Player of the Week honors. This time it was safety Cullen Newsome taking defensive honors for his performance against the Bobcats, which included 10 tackles and an interception that kick-started the Spartans dominant second half.
Additionally, the running game came to life on Saturday, with De’Leon Eskridge carrying the ball 25 times for 134 yards and score, creating the sort of offensive balance the Spartans will need as they try to seal up bowl eligibility in the final month of the season. Reserve running back David Freeman also had a stellar afternoon, scoring on a 10-yard run in the first half and later taking a third-quarter pass 76 yards down the sideline for SJSU’s first lead of the day.
The fact that it took the Spartans that long to take the lead is a testament to the ineptitude with which they carried themselves through the first half. Fales’ aforementioned interceptions prevented the offense from finding a rhythm, and the defense was sure to compliment the turnovers with sudden memory loss when it came time to apply their tackling abilities.
Fortunately for San Jose St they have a coach who adjusts well at halftime, and Mike MacIntyre, who was visibly irate at times during the first half, corrected his team to the tune of a 14-0 run in the third quarter to cement the victory.
IN THE SEATS
As I alluded to earlier, if you care to make excuses for a team’s performance, you could start with the bleak attendance for the Texas State game. For the Spartans to go from their previous home appearance — a homecoming game against Utah State that while not a sellout, featured a jam-packed tailgate, booming crowd and a raucous student section — to an officially announced crowd of 7,093 (about 43 of which appeared to be current students) had to be deflating to say the least.
This has been a constant source of consternation amongst SJSU fans and alumni, and with the program seemingly turning the corner toward long-term viability and competitiveness, the problem seems to be one it simply can’t shake.
The fact that new athletic director Gene Blaymaier, formerly Boise State’s AD, elects to report actual “butts-in-seats” numbers as opposed the number of tickets sold or dispersed regardless of whether they were used, only makes the program look worse on a national scale. In fact, his former school’s fans are notorious for taking to message boards chiding San Jose State for its lack of attendance and alumni support.
There are a few schools of thought regarding the cause of the attendance problem, which leads to differing opinions on solutions.
San Jose State is entrenched in pro-sports heavy market, and one where fans are accustomed to following a winner. Eight Super Bowl titles amongst the two pro football teams; six World Series titles from the two baseball franchises since they arrived in the Bay Area. The Warriors have had limited success in the last 20 years or so yet can claim one of the most rabid fanbases in all of sports, and even our 20-something year old hockey team has numerous division title banners hanging in its arena.
So yeah, it’s a long shot for SJSU to gain ground in a market where it’s mostly regarded as the number three university, especially when the most dominant college football team in the region, Stanford, can’t sell out all its games. And let’s face it, no one takes into account the athletic department at San Jose State when they fill out their application, making it an uphill battle to cultivate a student fanbase that is both passionate and consistent in their support.
The moment the musical chairs of college football re-allignment began and ultimately led to the latest incarnation of the Western Athletic Conference (a rather loose interpretation of the word “Western” by now), it was pretty obvious that filling seats at SJSU games got even tougher.
Gone were traditional, regional rivals: Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii (who always represents well at Spartan Stadium) are in the Mountain West Conference. In were two schools from Texas not known as Longhorns or Aggies, to go with the likes of Utah State and New Mexico State. No longer do the Spartans have the luxury of Boise State rolling in every other year and creating a buzz (and often bringing ESPN cameras).
If the casual college football fan in the Bay Area has a hard time getting up for San Jose State football on its own, how the hell are we to expect a turnout against the Idaho Vandals? In short, the WAC has no rivalries, no regional competition, and it was imperative that the Spartans mount an escape.
Next season can’t come soon enough, as San Jose State’s exodus to the MWC brings them back together with Hawaii, Fresno State, and both Nevada schools. But opponents are clearly not the only problem.
One highly debated subject is that of the kickoff times. In years past, San Jose State often played their home games in the late afternoons or early evenings. It provided for a solid mid-afternoon tailgating environment, and left students enough time to handle business in the mornings (work, studying, hangovers, whatever). I myself got hooked on Spartan games 10 years ago when my roommate and I would wake up early on Saturdays, catch College Gameday and a few early games, then hit the stadium parking lot mid-afternoon and cap an entire day of college football by berating players back when the student section was right behind the opposing sidelines.
Coach Mac, it seems, prefers the 1pm start. Plenty of longtime fans and alumni think there should be a solid turnout regardless of kickoff time. Far be it from me to second-guess anything he does, but at some point Mac has to leave southern football start times to the southern football powerhouses.
For starters, a lot of people, students and alumni alike, have legitimate reasons for not being able to make the earlier kickoff. Myself, I’m usually working Saturdays until or past 1pm, and when I’m off early I’m often racing to make my stepson’s baseball or soccer tournaments.
And if I was just a casual fan in the Bay Area who happens to love college football, why would I throw down some money to head over to Spartan Stadium in the early afternoon when I can watch Georgia and Florida tangle in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party from the comfort of my living room at that very hour?
The fact is, West Coast football needs later start times. Let the eastern conferences have the first part of the day, and claim the spotlight as those games wind down. Whenever ESPN elects to carry a San Jose State home game, they wind up moving the kickoff back to 7pm anyway (as is the case for the BYU contest on November 17).
If the Pac-12 can accept this, there is no reason San Jose State shouldn’t.
In the meantime, there should be no better way to create interest, passion and increased attendance than to build a winner. But even then, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Spartan Stadium is consistently packed no matter who the opponent is.
San Jose State is planted square in the midst of the Silicon Valley and the always bustling Bay Area, not Boise, Idaho where—let’s face it — there’s not much else to do on a Saturday besides revolving your day around the one football team they have there.
Hopefully MacIntyre recognizes that, and doesn’t start yearning for the college atmosphere he is accustomed to any time soon.