Pass defense in the spotlight against Hawaii

When San Jose State plays its Homecoming game against Hawaii, the Spartans will have to be better than they were against BYU in two specific areas: offense and defense.

San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre sent that message loud and clear following a 29-16 loss to the Cougars. The availability of senior running back Brandon Rutley remains a question, but whether he plays or not, MacIntyre wants to see a crisper performance from senior quarterback Matt Faulkner and company.

Faulkner completed 25 of 35 passes for 255 yards against BYU, but he threw two unsightly interceptions, one of which was thrown straight to a BYU player without a San Jose State receiver in sight. Whether it was Faulkner's fault or one of his receivers ran the wrong route, the Spartans will have to clean it up in order to compete with the Warriors.

Freshman Tyler Ervin and sophomore Jason Simpson filled in for Rutley as best they could against BYU. Ervin, a cornerback and special-teams defender who moved to running back when junior David Freeman suffered a season-ending forearm injury, picked up 40 yards on the first nine carries of his career. Simpson had 39 yards on 10 carries.

Still, they couldn't match the production of Rutley, who ran for 340 yards and four touchdowns in two games before spraining an ankle against Colorado State on Oct. 1. Rutley made the trip but was held out of the BYU game in what was reportedly a game-time decision. Rutley did some running at practice Oct. 10, but in an afternoon press conference the same day MacIntyre said his status wouldn't be decided until the day of San Jose State's Friday-night game against Hawaii.

MacIntyre wasn't pleased with the turnovers on offense, but he directed his sharpest criticism at his defense. MacIntyre said the Spartans were "played pitiful" defense in an opening half in which they gave up big pass plays and fell behind 23-6. San Jose State held BYU to two second-half field goals, but the Spartans couldn't overcome the early deficit.

"I think we all know we didn't play well in the first half," sophomore linebacker Keith Smith said. "Going into halftime, we knew we needed to make adjustments and just start playing hard like we usually do because we didn't start fast. We need to do everything from the beginning. Everybody on this team believed that we could win that game, but we just didn't start fast and sometimes it's too late. We have to fix that."

They had better fix it fast. MacIntyre said his defense "must improve drastically in the next few days" with the Warriors coming to town. Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz has completed 64 of 95 (.674) passes in the past two games, throwing for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. Moniz leads the Western Athletic Conference in passing, (315.6 ypg), pass efficiency (150.7) and total offense (340.8 ypg). The Spartans have played good defense in stretches and have come up with more turnovers than any team in the WAC, but it will take a strong, sustained effort to slow Hawaii's run-and-shoot.

NOTES, QUOTES

--K Jens Alvernik has converted on six consecutive field-goal attempts since missing his first as a Spartan in a Sept. 24 game against New Mexico State. Alvernik replaced sophomore Harrison Waid as the team's field-goal kicker after Wade missed two of four tries over the first three weeks of the season. Alvernik made field goals of 24, 40 and 43 yards against BYU, tying a school record as the 12th kicker in program history to make three field goals in a game.
--TE Ryan Otten is coming off the two best games of his career. He caught six passes for a career-high 112 yards with one touchdown against Colorado State on Oct. 1 and a career-high nine catches for 108 yards against BYU on Oct. 8.
--WR Noel Grigsby had a career-high 11 catches for 88 yards against BYU. Grigsby is fourth in the Western Athletic Conference with 6.5 catches per game and seventh with 74.4 receiving yards per game. He was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list after leading the team with an average of 14.7 yards per catch last season. He is averaging 8.6 yards per catch this season.
--The Spartans didn't commit a single penalty against BYU, the first time they've finished a game without a penalty since 2007. They are fourth in the nation in fewest penalties per game (3.67) going into the Hawaii game.

SERIES HISTORY: Hawaii leads San Jose State 17-16-1 (last meeting, 2010, 41-7 Hawaii).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: San Jose State is seventh in the Western Athletic Conference in scoring offense (20.3 ppg) and total offense (347.5 ypg), but the Spartans could be so much better if they cut down on turnovers. RB Brandon Rutley is outstanding, and QB Matt Faulkner is a capable passer with an experience offensive line and two dangerous receiving threats in WR Noel Grigsby and TE Ryan Otten. The only thing stopping them from putting more points on the board is the fact that they've committed 15 turnovers, more than any other team in the WAC.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre is calling for a "drastic improvement" from his defense after the Spartans gave up three first-half touchdown passes in a 29-16 loss to BYU on Oct. 8. They were much better while holding BYU to two second-half field goals, but by then it was too late. The Spartans must have that sort of intensity from the opening kickoff against a Hawaii team that averages 37.2 points and 430.4 yards per game. San Jose State has given up a number of long pass plays this season, but there is one bright spot for the Spartans. They lead the Western Athletic Conference with 13 takeaways. They have six fumble recoveries and seven interceptions, and they may be able to add to that total against Hawaii, which attempts 46.8 passes per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last week's phone calls were more fun. This week, some of the kids were calling us." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, to the San Jose Mercury News, on phoning recruits following back-to-back wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Hawaii at San Jose State, Oct. 14 -- Hawaii rolled to a 41-7 victory over San Jose State last season at Aloha Stadium, but this one might be more competitive. The Spartans won back-to-back games for the first time since 2008, and they refused to roll over in losses to UCLA, Nevada and BYU. They might be able to keep the game close with big efforts on both sides of the ball, but Hawaii has a more high-powered offense than anyone the Spartans have seen since opening the season with a 57-3 loss to Stanford. This is San Jose State's Homecoming game. It also represents a homecoming of sorts for Hawaii special teams coach Dick Tomey, who was the head coach at San Jose State from 2005-09.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Hawaii throws a lot of passes. San Jose State intercepts a lot of passes. That could be the formula for an upset, but the Warriors will present a major challenge for the Spartans secondary, which gave up some big pass plays in a 29-16 loss to BYU on Oct. 8. The Spartans' corners were repeatedly beaten deep on double moves, and this game could get away from them quickly if they aren't more disciplined. The absence of Brandon Driver won't help. San Jose State's best cornerback suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury against Colorado State. San Jose State will present a balanced offensive attack with senior QB Matt Faulkner orchestrating the passing game and RB Brandon Rutley likely returning to lead the ground attack. Rutley's health is the biggest key of all for San Jose State. He missed the BYU game with a sprained ankle after rushing for 340 yards and four touchdowns in wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State. If Rutley returns at full strength, this game should offer an intriguing battle between San Jose's running game and Hawaii's stout run defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Matt Faulkner -- In three games since recovering from a concussion and regaining his starting position, Faulkner has completed 74 of 111 (.667) passes for 804 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Faulkner is fourth in the Western Athletic Conference in passing yards per game (223.8) and also pass efficiency (126.4), but he must limit interceptions to keep San Jose State drives alive.

TE Ryan Otten -- Otten has emerged as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the WAC. He ranks seventh in the conference with 74.4 receiving yards per game and eighth with 4.8 receptions per game. He was named John Mackey Tight End of the Week by the Nassau County Sports Commission after catching six passes for 112 yards with one touchdown in a 38-31 victory over Colorado State on Oct. 1. He had a career-high nine catches for 108 yards against BYU on Oct. 8.

LB Keith Smith -- The sophomore standout had another big effort against BYU, posting double-digit tackles for the third team this season. Smith recorded a season-high 16 tackles with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He is tied for first in the Western Athletic Conference with 0.33 fumbles forced per game and seventh with 8.7 tackles per game.

ROSTER REPORT

--OL Fred Koloto strained an MCL in the Oct. 1 game against Colorado State and did not play against BYU. Moa Ngatuvai started at left guard in place of Koloto. It was his first start since 2007.
--S James Orth recorded three interceptions in the first six games. He is tied for second in the WAC with 0.50 interceptions per game.



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