Stopping the Spartans
Saturday will be a great day in UTSA football history. The surprising Roadrunners will host their first home FBS opponent, a 4-2 San Jose State, and gorgeous, renowned alumna Michelle Beadle will be on the field for the ceremonial pre-game coin flip (Thanks for the Twitter followers, boo. Stop by our tailgate. We party like Aaron Rogers.) It will also be the first UTSA home game to be broadcast on a non-Longhorn Network outlet in history. Thus, it’ll be my first time to watch a broadcast of a home game. This game will have no shortage of pageantry, as Lynn Hickey revealed in her first newsletter this week that ticket sales have “significantly” outperformed the year’s current average attendance, and a thorough inspection of Ticketmaster does indeed confirm. Look for over 35,000 loud Runner fans to rock the dome Saturday. As Larry Coker’s band of young outlaws prepare for battle this weekend, I took a look at WatchESPN’s archives to get a sense of what we’ll see from the resurging Spartans.
If you were to pick off an eye-popping stat from SJSU’s book, it would be David Fales’ completion rate. The first year starter came to the bay area from junior college after originally committing to Nevada out of high school. Fales is currently completing 75% of his passing attempts, just one completion behind Hesiman frontrunner Geno Smith. Fales has worked hard on refining his release and field vision. He throws perfectly timed and impeccably placed passes. Unfortunately for Spartan fans, Fales is probably the least mobile quarterback this side of the Mississippi. He was sacked a jaw-dropping 13 times last week against Utah State’s scary defense. THIRTEEN TIMES. THIRTEEN. This nearly set a 12 year NCAA record, falling just short of TCU’s 15 sacks against Nevada in 2000. This brought the Spartans to a total of 23 sacks on the season, just a mere 22 more than UTSA. Utah State had abundant success by throwing every blitz package imaginable at Fales. I saw double safety blitzes, all linebacker stunts, cornerback blitzes, and eight man, ears-pinned-back onslaughts in the mix. The lesson here is that, as with any good quarterback, you run a risk of giving up big plays when you blitz Fales. On the other hand, Fales is so deadly accurate that he will make you bleed to death if you let him sit in the pocket. You’ve got a pretty good chance at bringing him down if you can get in his vicinity, so why not bring the house? SJSU has struggled with injury along their offensive line, and a key loss could be a huge gain to the Runners. Also I’m here to tell you that David Fales probably isn’t as good as Geno Smith. A regression to the mean after a 50% completion performance will keep UTSA in the game for four quarters.
Schematically, SJSU doesn’t do much that UTSA hasn’t seen before. In fact they’re very similar to Rice but with a less effective running game. SJSU loves to utilize play action to get their excellent receivers time to get down field where Fales has no trouble finding them. Wideout Noel Grigsby is the second best in the conference behind Quinton Patton (La Tech) and Jabari Carr isn’t far behind. Tight end Ryan Otten is an amazing player that is most often used as a dump option but has success running in the seams. I don’t think the Runners have anyone that can match up with him. Hopefully SJSU offensive coordinator Tim Landis thinks otherwise. SJSU’s leading rusher is De’Leon Eskridge. Not much spectacular about him, but he gets the job done with 4.5 YPC. Longest rush through 92 attempts is only 27 yards long. Fortunately for the Runners, SJSU likes to telegraph their rushing plays by bringing in a second quarterback (UGH) in Blake Jurich. They like to call him Blakedozer, but out of respect to Blake Bell at Oklahoma and our friends at Landthieves, we won’t be doing that.
Another week and another potential NFL kicker sticking UTSA with poor field position. This Saturday it will come at the hands of Harrison Waid, who is every bit as good as Rice’s kicker that wrecked UTSA last week. While the kicking game is mean, kickoff coverage is meh-inspiring. I think SJSU plays a lot of their younger guys on kickoff because I’ve seen arm tackle after arm tackle watching the Spartans kick off.
San Jose State is simple but solid on defense. Highlighted by defensive end Travis Johnson (7.5 sacks, 13.5 TFL, 39 tackles) who projects at outside linebacker on Sundays, the Spartans like to bring pressure with their front four and let their linebackers help out on soft zone coverage. Employing a “bend but don’t break” mentality, the defense is usually bailed out by a big play from Johnson or Travis Raciti. The defensive line is big, bruting, and quick. This will be the biggest challenge Jim Marshall’s linemen have had yet. If Patrick Hoog doesn’t bring it then Soza will be slammed repeatedly by Johnson. Linebacker Vince Buhagiar is a big-time playmaker with a nose for the football– a freshman All-American that has started 16 games coming into his junior season. And yeah I had to look up his name three times, what of it?
So how do the Roadrunners conquer Sparta? It would take a litany of requests to ensure a win against a team this much talented more talented than the 70 scholarship Roadrunners, but I have a few petty requests to keep the playing field level and hope for some heroics to send the home crowd home drunj and happy:
1.) Protect. Soza.
Eric has been great this season and came back to fight valiantly after leaving for a long series at Rice with a hip injury. Despite having personally seen him with a normal gait on campus several times this week, the coaching staff has insisted on calling him a “gametime decision” in a very Belichickian manner. We’ll assume he’s fine and will play. As stated above, the offensive line will have their hands, arms, and chests full against the SJSU defensive line. Buy Eric some time to scan the field and keep a running gap open for him. A few twenty yard scampers will force SJSU to adjust their coverage.
2.) Throw to the backs
Okotcha and Armstrong have both been marvelous catching the ball out of the backfield this season, and Glasco got in on the fun with a big touchdown off of a well-timed screen pass against Rice. SJSU likes to play it safe and conservative with a cushy zone. Hit them underneath with unexpected options and you might catch them sleeping.
3.) Blitz like crazy
Fales isn’t fast enough to make you pay for blitzing on him. Get Nic Johnston, Crosby Adams, Cody Berry, Blake Terry, etc. on his ass and pray he lets up a goose for Erik Brown to come down with. While Fales seems to be a tough kid and pretty smart with his passes, you know his confidence in his protection is fading after eating turf all season.
4.) Get drunk, get loud, get stupid
Honestly put, it’s going to take some fan intervention to win this one. San Jose State hasn’t played in a hostile environment yet (in fact I’m pretty sure Stanford is the exact opposite of a hostile environment) and a raucous crowd may rattle them early and, hopefully, for the duration of the afternoon. We’ve seen several teams come in to the Alamodome without a noise contingency plan and burn pointless timeouts, jump offsides, and generally play with jitters. I suspect SJSU hasn’t been forced to employ a silent snap count thus far and they only have a week to implement it, if they so chose. Y Dios mio, we haven’t been in the Dome in a MONTH. Let’s enjoy this folks!
A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter