Spartans try to snap another losing streak

There are a number of unanswered questions going into San Jose State's game against BYU. Foremost among them: Can the Spartans do it again?

San Jose State snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 34-24 win over New Mexico State on Sept. 24. A week later, senior quarterback Matt Faulkner threw a touchdown pass with 54 seconds remaining to give the Spartans a 38-31 victory at Colorado State, ending a string of 16 consecutive road losses and 18 consecutive nonconference road losses.

The Spartans could gain some national notoriety with a win over BYU, but they haven't fared well against the Cougars in recent decades. They haven't won in Provo in 50 years. They don't know who will start at quarterback for the Cougars and aren't sure how badly standout running back Brandon Rutley will be hobbled by a sprained ankle, but they believe in their ability to win despite opening as 14-point underdogs against BYU.

"We've changed and we are going to try to display that each week," Rutley said.

San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre hopes Rutley is on display when the Spartans visit BYU. Rutley, ninth in the nation in all-purpose running yards, rushed for 131 yards on 23 carries before spraining his ankle in the third quarter against Colorado State. MacIntyre said Rutley's status could be a game-time decision, adding that Rutley need not practice this week to play against the Cougars.

"He understands our offense," MacIntyre told the San Jose Mercury News. "He's our best offensive weapon. If he can play, he'll go."

The Spartans don't know whether BYU will start sophomore Jake Heaps or junior Riley Nelson, and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall isn't telling. Heaps has started all five games this season, but Nelson came on to help the Cougars rally for a 27-24 victory over Utah State last week.

"When Riley came in, I think you're defending a completely different style of quarterback with mobility and with some quarterback run options, and it took Utah State a while to adjust to that," Mendenhall said. "How best we'll use our quarterbacks will remain to be scene. I probably won't announce a starting quarterback, at least publicly, until maybe Thursday."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Sophomore LB Keith Smith was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in a 38-31 victory over Colorado State on Oct. 1. Smith had a team-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown return which gave the Spartans a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Smith forced the Rams into punting situations with two tackles on third-down plays.
--S Duke Ihenacho scooped up a loose ball and scored on a 20-yard fumble return in the first half against Colorado State on Oct. 1, becoming the first San Jose State player to return a fumble for a touchdown since Tony Ficklin on Nov. 20, 2004. It was the third career touchdown for Ihenacho, who scored on two interception returns in 2008.
--Big plays have been a big part of San Jose State's season thus far. Three different San Jose State players had a total of six plays of 40 or more yards in the first five games. RB Brandon Rutley had 66- and 47-yard runs against New Mexico State, and a 65-yard touchdown run against UCLA. WR Jabari Carr had a 64-yard reception against Stanford. TE Ryan Otten had a 64-yard touchdown catch against New Mexico State.

SERIES HISTORY: San Jose State leads BYU 9-5 (last meeting, 1998, 46-43 BYU).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: San Jose State had over 300 yards passing for the first time this season in the Oct. 1 victory over Colorado State. QB Matt Faulkner threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams, and he'll have to have another big game against BYU, especially if RB Brandon Rutley is slowed by a sprained ankle. Rutley rushed for 340 yards in the past two games, posting the first two 100-yard games of his career, but left last week's contest after injuring his ankle in the third quarter.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans are last in the Western Athletic Conference with three sacks in five games and seventh in third-down conversion defense, but they lead the league with 10 takeaways. The Spartans have five interceptions and five fumble recoveries. Senior S Duke Ihenacho is usually in on the action. He ranks among the WAC leaders in tackles and fumble recoveries.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Games like this in the past we would lose because we hadn't won one. They didn't feel like they could do it, and now they know they can." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, following 38-31 road win over Colorado State.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Jose State hasn't beaten BYU since 1968 and hasn't won in Provo since 1961, but the Spartans have made a habit of snapping long losing streaks over the past two weeks. They have won consecutive games for the first time since 2008 and have a chance to win back-to-back nonconference road games for the first time since 1982.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Senior QB Matt Faulkner is proving to be a good passer who should test BYU's mistake-prone secondary. The Spartans will have to rely more heavily on Faulkner and their receivers if RB Brandon Rutley's sprained ankle doesn't heal quickly. The Cougars will take shots at San Jose State's secondary, too, but their game plan will depend on whether junior sophomore Jake Heaps or junior Riley Nelson starts at quarterback. Nelson had a big game against San Jose State when he was a freshman at Utah State in 2006. He completed 21 of 24 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Matt Faulkner -- With his status as San Jose State's starting quarterback secured, Faulkner can focus on the task at hand instead of looking over his shoulder to see if sophomore Dasmen Stewart is warming up on the sideline. Faulkner has looked sharp in two games since winning back the starting job, completing 49 of 76 (.645) passes for 549 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

TE Ryan Otten -- The junior tight is playing a much bigger role in the passing game this season after catching 27 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Spartans. Over the first five games, Otten had 15 catches for 264 yards and three touchdowns. He had a career-high 112 yards on six catches against Colorado State on Oct. 1.

LB Keith Smith -- The reigning Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week leads the team with 35 tackles and shares the team lead with 2 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Smith is building on a banner freshman campaign in which he became the first San Jose State player to receive WAC Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America.

ROSTER REPORT

--CB Brandon Driver is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering an Achilles' injury in an Oct. 1 victory over Colorado State. Driver was excellent in pass coverage. Losing him is a big blow to San Jose State's secondary.
--OL Fred Koloto is questionable for the BYU game after spraining a knee in the victory over Colorado State. MacIntyre described his left guard as "one of our very best offensive linemen" and said "we need him."

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