San Jose State Spartans (4-2) at Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)
Saturday, October 12 Ohio Stadium 12:10 PM EDT (Homecoming - Sold Out)
Television - ESPN Regional Play-by-play: Jim Barbar Commentary: Al Harris
Sometimes, you can't believe the preseason predictions. Not many soothsayers predicted that OSU would start out 6-0, and even fewer thought the San Jose State Spartans would start out 4-2. Before the season started, San Jose State was looking like possibly the worst team on Ohio State's schedule. They returned only five starters on offense and one on defense from a team that went 3-9 in 2001 and ranked last in Division I-A in yards allowed. There is even talk of cutting the football program in a couple of years. For the Spartans though, things have taken a turn for the better in 2002.
It started off on the right foot with a win over lowly Arkansas State. Next up on the schedule came a "David vs. Goliath" matchup at the University of Washington, but the Spartans actually put up a fight as they led 10-0 in the third quarter before falling 34-10. They hung around at Stanford for a little while the next week before falling 63-26, but then a win streak started. First, they traveled to Champaign, Illinois and pulled off a stunner by beating Illinois 38-35 on their own turf. From there, to open conference play, they blasted UTEP 58-24 and took out SMU on the road, 34-23. No longer is this looking like the worst team on Ohio State's schedule.
San Jose State should be taken very seriously; however, the Spartans still have their work cut out for them. They have proven they can fly across the country and win in a Big Ten stadium, but this weekend, they have to do it in front of an expected crowd of over 100,000 people, which would be the biggest to ever see a San Jose State game. Head Coach Fitz Hill did not want to play this game in the first place; he felt that playing this game would hurt his team's chances in the Western Athletic Conference. There's also the issue of overall talent as the Spartans, while being better than expected, still have a gap between themselves and Ohio State.
If there is one area where San Jose State can have success on Ohio State though, it is on offense as the Spartans have put up 33.2 points a game and 358.7 yards per game. The Spartans run a spread offense (aren't you sick of spread offenses?), and much of the yardage has come off the arm of Scott Rislov (6-1, 218), a JUCO transfer who has come in and taken over the quarterback spot from returning starter Marcus Arroyo. Rislov has thrown for 1500 yards this season on 109 of 190 passing with 9 TDs and 6 INTs. His main target is senior Charles Pauley (5-10, 166), who has caught 27 passes for 486 yards this year and has also emerged as an excellent return man as he has won WAC Special Teams Player of the Week twice already this year for his efforts in returning kicks and punts (he ran one back 97 yards against Illinois for a touchdown and 98 yards against UTEP for a TD). Pauley has done a bit of everything so far; in addition to his receiving and special teams play, he has rushed 11 times for 54 yards and a TD and has even thrown a 6-yard TD pass to Scott Rislov.
Getting just as much attention at the WR position is junior Kendrick Starling (6-1, 195), who has 367 yards on 26 catches, and junior Jamall Broussard (5-9, 177), who has 25 catches for 304 yards. Starling and Broussard are JUCO transfers who have given this offense a boost. The starting tailback is true freshman Trestin George (5-8, 170), a fine athlete who has played on both sides of the ball (CB on defense). George is not the leading rusher though; that would be tiny (5-5, 143) Lamar Ferguson, who has 222 yards on the year but is banged up a bit for this week's game (Coach Hill says he is probable). The offensive line consists of JUCO transfer Jeff Gordon (6-4, 287) at LT, JR Kevin Israel (6-2, 307) at LG (Joseph Hayes usually starts at this spot but is out with a sprained knee), SR LaMons Walker (6-3, 270) at C, SR Charley Dehoney (6-2, 306) at RG, and returning starter Tim Provost (Sr, 6-6, 295) at RT. Provost and Charles Pauley are the only starters who started for SJSU last season. Senior Marcus Helfman (6-5, 24, 11 catches, 108 yards) is at tight end.
Defensively, there are no players starting who started last season. There has been progress in some areas as the Spartans lead the nation in total takeaways (24) and Interceptions (15), but they are still giving up chunks of yardage (458.5 yards per game). Up front, they are led by DE Philip Perry, who was named WAC Defensive Player of the Week after a 10-tackle, 33-yd INT performance against SMU. Perry is a cousin of ex-NFL standouts Michael Dean Perry and William "The Refrigerator" Perry, but at 6-1, 242, he's just an ice cube compared to The Fridge. Joining him up front will be DE Chip Kimmich (Sr, 6-4, 257), DT Steve Nash (Jr, 6-2, 255) and DT Kinji Green (Fr, 6-2, 278). At OLB is the team's leading tackler in senior Luke LaHerran (6-1, 233), and he is joined by senior Brian Foreman (6-1, 221) and junior MLB Onyeka Ossai. The leader in the secondary is free safety Gerald Jones (Jr, 6-0, 196), who has 6 INTs and 51 tackles. He's a bit banged up but should play. Joining him is CB Shaun Fletcher (Sr, 5-11, 182), CB Melvin Cook (Jr, 5-10, 197), and SS Josh Powell (So, 6-2, 194). The punter is senior Michael Carr (5-11, 201, 38.8 average) and the kicker is senior Nick Gilliam (5-7, 188, 7-9 FG).
Most don't question whether or not OSU will win this game. But will the Home Buckeyes (the ones who beat up on Texas Tech, Kent State, Washington State, and Indiana) show up, or will the Road Buckeyes make an appearance? Will OSU come out and smack around the Spartans, or will SJSU hang around and make it a game?
OSU has indeed seemed like a different team at home this year. At this point though, it is tough to tell what will happen in a game like this. A win is assumed. However, whether it will be a blowout win or a closer-than-expected win is what remains to be seen.