We have reached the penultimate game in our breakdown of the Mids opponents for the 2013 season. Before the ever important clash with Army there is one more team for Navy to conquer, San Jose State.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 22; 9:30 p.m. EST
WHERE: Spartan Stadium (San Jose, Calif.)
LAST SEASON: 11-2 (5-1 WAC, 2nd place in Western Athletic Conference; Beat Bowling Green 29-20 in Military Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked
SERIES HISTORY: San Jose State leads, 2-0. (Last meeting: San Jose State 12, Navy 0, in game four last season)
OFFENSE: As a first year JUCO transfer not a whole lot was expected of San Jose State quarterback David Fales last fall. After a mixed first start against Stanford, admittedly one of the nation's best defenses, all Fales did was end the year ranked first in the FBS in completion percentage (.725), sixth in yards (4,193) and ninth in touchdowns (33). It was the most successful JUCO quarterback transfer performances since Cam Newton and is one of the top five of all time.
If Fales future is as limitless as many believe it to be then he will certainly have a receiving corps to help him reach the programs lofty goal of finishing the year with another top 25 national ranking. Though underappreciated tight end Ryan Otten is gone, the SJSU pass catching group is still deep and experienced. The four leading returning receivers, a group that includes three seniors and a junior, combined for 224 receptions, 2,881 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2012. This, remember, was without having developed a high level of chemistry with their quarterback. As long as the Spartans can work out how to replace Otten, a valuable intermediate target, this group can be just as good (or even better) than they were last fall.
Running back is a position of more intrigue entering the season. After a breakout senior season former Minnesota transfer De'Leon Eskridge is gone. His immediate replacement will be Tyler Ervin who had just 205 yards on the ground last year, but who averaged over 27 yards per kick return. Though there is a huge need to develop depth behind him the hope is that Ervin can translate those game-breaking kick return skills into a regular offensive role.
Conclusion: The line needs to replace a big piece at left tackle, but the other four starters are back and ready to go. This quartet of seniors will be huge for the Spartans as when Fales is given time in the pocket he is as good as anyone in the country. The ground game will be fine, but this team is all about the passing game. Navy needs to find a way to pressure Fales, and has to force more than the five incompletions (29-of-34) which he threw in the corresponding game last fall. Big pressure will be on the pass rushers to perform or it will be a long day for everyone on the defensive side of the ball.
DEFENSE: The offense may have to be even better than it was last year because the San Jose State defense has lost huge amounts of production from the 2012 unit. Both starting ends are gone, as is three-quarters of the secondary. Add in the fact that there is a scheme change to more of a 3-4 base and you can see how this unit could have some growing pains in 2013.
The Spartans look like they will be okay at linebacker, a spot where plenty of production returns. Senior Keith Smith is the main man at this level of the defense and it is expected that the leading tackler from last year (97) will have the physicality and the range to shut down anything coming at him. The rest of the corps will be made up of position changes, with 4-3 ends shifting to 3-4 pass rushing outside linebackers. Whether or not this will result in enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks is a big unknown at this point.
The biggest issue with the changes in the front seven is again at the nose tackle position. The Spartans simply do not have a recognized nose tackle on the roster and will have to make do with a combination of guys to play the role. San Jose State signed a number of interior linemen in this recruiting class and with last year's tackles switching to the outside it is a safe bet some will get to play early. There will be less explosion on defense that last year, but if these guys can occupy blocks then they will be doing their job.
Conclusion: The issue with the front seven rebuild is that the lack of a pass rush could well dismantle a secondary which is itself in full rebuild mode. Though cornerback Bene Benwikere (67 tackles, 7 interceptions) may well be the best defender in the entire league, everything around him is unproven. If there are issues early in the year expect the Mids to pick up on this and attack the young defenders with both the run and the pass. No true nose tackle is also music to the ears of anyone running a triple option attack.
Other Factors: After a breakout season at a smaller program it is inevitable change will come. Following winning just a single game in 2010, five in 2011, then jumping to 11 a year ago, head coach Mike MacIntyre jumped while the going was good and is now at Colorado. This means that the job of keeping going what seems impossible to sustain goes to new head coach Ron Caragher, formerly of the University of San Diego. The fact that the Spartans are over two decades removed from their last back to back winning seasons (a streak from 1989-92) does not bode well for the teams immediate future.
Conclusion: Honestly speaking there is no way this team can match the success of the one last year. What the Spartans have to prove is that 2012 was no fluke, and the way to do that is by having a solid 8 or 9 win season with a bowl game win. Fales is a true superstar, so the key to a Navy victory is to capitalize on any mistakes they force him to make. The defense is the Achilles' heel of this team and the Mids will find early on that they can run on the Spartans.
Preseason Preview: Navy at San Jose State
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