A New Direction

San Jose State will feature an offense with more emphasis on the running game and a focus on improving the Spartan defense. They may not be ready for Alabama, but San Jose State should be improved by the time the WAC schedule is underway.

New San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre inherits 17 returning starters from last year and three who started the year before.  So the cupboard isn't bare by any means after MacIntyre took over from retiring coach Dick Tomey.  

San Jose State showed their potential early in the season, battling then-#17 Utah to a 7-7 tie as the fourth quarter began.  The Spartans were still within a touchdown with nine minutes remaining.  After their first win of the season (19-9 over Cal Poly-SLO), however, San Jose would lose six games in a row.  Most games were essentially over by halftime, with San Jose State being outscored 161-44 in the second quarter.  

MacIntyre was introduced as the new Spartan coach in December.  Prior to the move, MacIntyre was the defensive coordinator at Duke.  Under their new coach, there will be less emphasis on the spread offense and more on the power running game and throwing to the tight end.  

Jordan LaSecla (6-3, 198) returns for his senior year at the helm of the Spartan offense.  LaSecla will work under new offensive coordinator Tim Landis, who ran the San Jose special teams last year.  LaSecla started the middle eight games, completing 59.9% of his passes for 1,926 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Landis will work with his senior signal-caller to reduce the 11 interceptions that went along with those numbers.  

Freshman Dasmen Stewart and junior college transfer Matt Faulkner (6-3, 215) are also in the mix.  Stewart, however, has a style that better fits the spread rather than the type of offense that MacIntyre wants to run.  He is a dual threat and throws well on the run but isn't a pure drop-back passer.  Faulkner, who originally started at Fresno State , threw for 3,307 yards and 29 touchdowns at Mt. San Antonio .  Faulkner brings deep ball potential.  The Spartans have scheduled road games at defending national champion Alabama , Wisconsin and Utah in their first four games so the starter had better be ready.  

Landis will try to revive a Spartan running attack that averaged just 2.6 yards per carry last year.  Senior Lamon Muldrow (5-9, 210) is the top returning rusher with 592 yards.  Muldrow is quick and capable of more carries, having churned up 3,260 yards and scoring 44 touchdowns in two years at the junior college level.  Muldrow also showed his receiving skills with 19 catches for 133 yards last season.  He will be pushed by junior Brandon Rutley (5-10, 190), who ran for 356 yards last fall.  Rutley has great speed and moves, picking up 59 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and getting eight receptions against Idaho .  Both should get more carries with a greater emphasis on the running game.  

Four linemen with at least 10 career starts return.  Their play will be critical to giving LaSecla time to throw under the new system.  The spread requires a different type of blocking and the hogs on the Spartan line are probably glad to abandon it and just go out and hit somebody.   

Senior Robbie Reed (6-3, 290) will start at center.  Ailao Eliapo (6-3, 320, Sr.) and Isaac Leatiota (6-4, 305, Sr.) are the guards.  Eliapo is a former defensive lineman that needs to become more physical.  Leatiota has logged 31 starts in three years and the former transfer from California needs to use that experience to  key the ground attack.  Fred Koloto (6-3, 290, Jr.) and Andres Vargas (6-4, 305, Jr.) are the projected starters at tackle.  As Koloto is penciled in at the all-important left tackle, his play needs to be markedly better.  Vargas has the tenacity (he is a former California state wrestling champion) but needs to work on his range to be able to contain the speed rushers of the conference.  

Sophomore David Quessenberry (6-5, 275) has the frame to grow into a beast and will see plenty of playing time at tackle.  Amar Pal (6-4, 275) can move better than Vargas and gives the coaches some flexibility on the line.   

Ryan Otten (6-5, 230, So.) scored two touchdowns in the San Jose State spring game and fans are looking for big things from the tight end in the new offense.  Otten has good football knowledge and runs nice routes.  Otten has all the tools; they just need to get him the football.  Jalal Beauchman (6-4, 220, Sr.) caught 35 balls for 378 yards and four scores. On paper, Beauchman should present nightmare matchup problems for a secondary with his size and jumping ability.   

The new Spartan coaches must find a way to get speedy junior Josh Harrison (5-11, 183) on the field.  He too had 35 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns.  Harrison was a star sprinter and long jumper on the California high school circuit.  Junior Michael Avila (5-9, 175) is another of LaSecla's targets at wide receiver. Marquis Avery (6-4, 205, Sr.) was second on the team in receiving last year with 42 catches for 465 yards and led receivers with six TD's in just nine games.  With good size, terrific athleticism, and the potential to do far more with the ultra-athletic Harrison and Beauchman taking the heat off, Avery could be in for a tremendous year.  

Devin Newsome (5-10, 185) will also join the receivers after playing the last three years at safety.  He's a speedster that gives Landis another option.  Sophomore Keenan Brown (6-4, 245) is another dangerous talent that should blend in well in the new offense.  

Kent Baer stayed on and was promoted to defensive coordinator by MacIntyre.  Familiarity will help bridge the transition.  Baer gets the entire secondary back; he just needs to work on the front seven.  

Junior defensive tackle Pablo Garcia (6-2, 290) will anchor the Spartan defensive line as the only returning starter.  Garcia tied for the team lead with four sacks last season.  He will be asked to use his interior pass rushing skills to make life tough for opposing backfields.  Redshirt freshman Anthony Larceval (6-1, 265) was offered a scholarship by Arizona and Washington State , among others.  While undersized as a tackle, he is quick with good athleticism and could aid the pass rush effort.  Mohamed Marah (6-0, 242) was lost for the year after the 2009 season opener and needs to provide senior leadership.  Travis Johnson (6-3, 235) had 18 tackles with two sacks as a true freshman and his time is now.  Johnson is quick off the ball, racking up 38 sacks in his final two years of high school.  

Two junior college transfers are coming to the rescue as well.  JaRodd Watson (6-2, 275) had seven sacks and 9.5 tackles behind the line at Grossmont College and represents what Baer wants to do with the front four.  Pasadena City College transfer Ahkeem McKinney (6-6, 280) is also on hand to boost the Spartan pass rush.  McKinney will move around the line to best suit his abilities.  Those two very well could end up starting before the season is over.  Justin Willis (6-1, 290, Sr.) suffered a neck injury in 2007, missed the entire 2008 season and could only play in five games last season due to an ankle injury.  Willis will work in the rotation with Larceval.   

Senior Pompey Festejo (6-0, 220, Sr.) will lead the linebacking crew that also includes Tiuke Tuipulotu (5-10, 205) and sophomore Kyler O'Neal.  Festejo was third on the Spartans with 83 tackles, eight of them for loss, with two sacks.  The former safety has the lateral movement to run all over the field making plays.  Tuipulotu looks to start on the inside after making 52 tackles, 3.5 for loss, with an interception last year alternating between safety and linebacker.  Tuipulotu is a quick, reliable tackler.  O'Neal (6-0, 213) is projected to start on the outside.  O'Neal has great speed and plays at full speed 100% of the time.  With this group, the Spartans will feature linebackers that can all move very well.  Baer wants the ‘backers to be fast and aggressive and penetrate the backfield.  

Senior Ryno Gonzalez (6-1, 230) will also play the middle, giving Baer a big hitter with size, and Rashad Gayden will likely play outside to take advantage of his pass rushing skills.  Gayden (6-2, 255) showcased his desire to the new coaches, enrolling in school early as a transfer from the College of the Sequoias. 

Duke Ihenacho (6-1, 210) will be counted on for senior leadership in the secondary from his strong safety position.  With 187 tackles, six interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 30 career starts, Ihenacho is a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection, and as reliable a tackler as they come.  He has great instincts and is a huge hitter who will play at the next level.  Tanner Burns (6-1, 185, So.) led the team with 96 stops last year at free safety and also forced four fumbles.  While those numbers are far more than you want from your safety, it does show his dependability.   

Ronnie Yell moved into the starting cornerback position as a freshman.  Yell (5-9, 175) is quick and is physical for his size.  Peyton Thompson (5-11, 180, Jr.) recorded 48 tackles, had two interceptions and led the team with nine pass deflections, and has tremendous speed. He could be moved around as needed.  Brandon Driver (6-0, 180, Jr.) is a former JUCO All-American, but did not see action last year.  Look for Driver to rotate at corner and play in passing situations.   

Tyler Cope (6-1, 180, Jr.) will handle the placekicking duties while freshman punter Harrison Waid (6-1, 175) has the attention of Spartan coaches.  Cope, who preferred to transfer to San Jose State from Colorado , made the most of his few opportunities (7-11). He was perfect inside the 40 and booted a 46-yarder against New Mexico State .  He could also do the punting this season in dual duty, although former Spartan Phlip Zavala, who kicked the Spartans out of many a jam last season with a 52.2-yard average, will undoubtedly be missed.  To round out special teams, MacIntyre will try to revive an anemic punt return unit that averaged a meager 1.7 yards per return with Ronnie Yell as one option returning punts.   

This program's new coaches instill excitement into San Jose football, but the will players have to start over with a new system, new schemes and new plays.  And their ridiculously tough out-of-conference schedule won't give the team much confidence as they head into WAC play, although the Spartans do get four of their toughest league opponents ( Boise State , Fresno State , Utah State and Louisiana Tech) at home.   

San Jose State won't finish among the top three teams in the conference, but if they can steal a few games in which they are considered the underdog, it will be viewed as progress.  Road games at New Mexico State and Idaho are winnable, and can potentially make the difference between a poor season and a hopeful one.

Our series on Boise State opponents continues Sunday with a look at Louisiana Tech.

Sept. 4 at Alabama
Sept. 11 at Wisconsin
Sept. 18 Southern Utah
Sept. 25 at Utah
Oct. 2 UC-Davis
Oct. 9 at Nevada
Oct. 16 Boise State
Oct. 23 Fresno State
Oct. 30 at New Mexico State
Nov. 13 Utah State
Nov. 20 at Hawai'i
Nov. 27 Louisiana Tech
Dec. 4 at Idaho

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