Hawai'i upset paying dividends for Spartans

San Jose State bounded into its bye week with a dramatic and stunning 28-27 victory over Hawai'i on Oct. 14 in a nationally televised game that showcased the strides the Spartans have made in their second season under coach Mike MacIntyre.

The win over Hawai'i, the preseason favorite in the Western Athletic Conference, was San Jose State's third in four games since ending a 13-game losing streak that dated back to last season. The Spartans have won back-to-back conference games and have a chance to win three in a row for the first time since 2008 when they visit Louisiana Tech on Oct. 29. They'd prefer to win pretty this time after having to overcome six turnovers to beat Hawai'i, but they know results are all that really matter.

"You don't want to win a game with six turnovers, but I think if you can win a game still having six turnovers it says a lot about that team," senior quarterback Matt Faulkner said.

Winning has quickly changed the culture and expectations within the program. San Jose State was picked to finish seventh in the WAC after going 0-8 in conference play last season. Instead, the Spartans are tied for third at 2-1 and have a chance to vault into contention for the conference title with a win over Louisiana Tech.

These wins will undoubtedly pay dividends for San Jose State, and not just in the conference standings. Coaches are finding recruits more receptive to their inquiries, and players are being recognized for their efforts. Chandler Jones, a sophomore wide receiver and special-teams standout, and junior defensive end Travis Johnson were rewarded with conference player of the week honors following the win over Hawaii.

Jones was named offensive player of the week after scoring three touchdowns against the Warriors. He scored on a 20-yard run in the first quarter, a 23-yard fumble return in the second and a 37-yard pass which proved to be the game winner with 36 seconds remaining in the fourth.

Johnson was credited with two blocked kicks in the fourth quarter. He blocked an extra-point attempt that resulted in two points for San Jose State when senior safety Duke Ihenacho scooped up the loose ball and scored for the first defensive conversion in school history. Johnson later blocked a 42-yard field-goal attempt. After the game, he explained what the win meant to the team.

"It's huge," he said. "In the past, we haven't had the greatest years. We've always had a great team, but we haven't clicked. I think now it shows that we can click. It's huge for our morale and in the locker room. It's great."


--Senior running back Brandon Rutley is emerging as a candidate for the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award. Going into the bye week, Rutley was second in the conference in all-purpose yards (174.3 ypg), third in rushing (98.2 ypg), tied for fifth in touchdowns (6), seventh in scoring (6.0 ppg) and 10th in total offense (98.2 ypg). Rutley rushed for 340 yards in games against Nevada and New Mexico State before missing the BYU game with a sprained ankle. He returned against Hawaii, rushing for 70 yards on 25 carries and catching four passes for 70 yards.
--There's no overstating the significance of San Jose State's 28-27 victory over Hawaii on Oct. 14. Fans rushed the field after senior quarterback Matt Faulkner threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Chandler Jones with 36 seconds remaining. "It was just a magical night for San Jose State," coach Mike MacIntyre said.
--The bye week will give injured players a chance to nurse their wounds before the Spartans visit Louisiana Tech on Oct. 29. Starting left guard Fred Koloto, for instance, has missed the past two games since suffering a strained MCL against BYU on Oct. 1.

BYE WEEK MISSION: San Jose State coaches will emphasize the importance of holding onto the football during the bye week. The Spartans lead the Western Athletic Conference with 19 takeaways, but they also lead the conference with 21 turnovers in seven games. Senior RB Brandon Rutley fumbled twice against Hawaii and has vowed to carry a football with him everywhere he goes everyday for the rest of the season. San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre told the San Jose Mercury-News: "The fumbles are definitely a concern. We've got to secure the ball better. When we get in the open field and they hawk us down, we've got to make sure we keep the ball high and tight. It's something we're working on. We'll be much better at it."

LOOKING AHEAD: The Spartans have a chance to get to .500 for the first time this season when they visit Louisiana Tech on Oct. 29. They have not won a Western Athletic Conference road game since beating Idaho on Nov. 1, 2008. The Spartans were tied for third in the WAC going into the bye week and -- crazy as it sounds -- could vault themselves into contention for the conference title with a win over the Bulldogs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's making a lot of people wonder, 'Who is San Jose? What are they doing to get a game like this?' This win moves our program up another notch." -- Sophomore wide receiver Chandler Jones following a 28-27 victory over Hawaii, the preseason favorite in the Western Athletic Conference.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: San Jose State's offense has been effective in recent weeks, but the Spartans still have plenty of room for improvement. Senior QB Matt Faulkner is a capable passer with an experienced offensive line and a solid receiving corps, and senior RB Brandon Rutley has emerged as one of the top skill-position players in the Western Athletic Conference. Moving the ball won't be a problem for San Jose State, but scoring could be difficult if the Spartans don't stop squandering scoring opportunities with turnovers. Going into the bye week, they were last in the WAC and 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 21 turnovers.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans haven't been especially good in pass coverage and have struggled to stop the run, but they're stopping drives with turnovers. They forced six turnovers in the win over Hawaii and went into the bye week with 19 takeaways. They were first in the WAC and fifth in the nation in that department. Junior S James Orth was second and senior defensive back Peyton Thompson tied for sixth in the WAC in interceptions. DE Mohamed Marah was tied for third in fumble recoveries. Sophomore LB Keith Smith and senior S Duke Ihenacho were tied for fifth in forced fumbles.


--Senior S Duke Ihenacho suffered a mild left hamstring strain when he returned a blocked extra-point attempt for a 2-point defensive conversion in a 28-27 victory over Hawaii on Oct. 14. Ihenacho should benefit from the bye week and should be fully healed by the time the Spartans play Louisiana Tech on Oct. 29.
--OT Andres Vargas had his left foot placed in a protective boot after suffering a mild sprain in the win over Hawaii, but he will be ready for the Louisiana Tech game, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
--DT Joe Nigos is expected to return to practice soon after missing the past three games with a sprained knee.
--OL Moa Ngatuvai started at left guard against Hawaii for the second consecutive game since Fred Koloto strained an MCL against BYU on Oct. 1.
--S James Orth has recorded interceptions in four consecutive games to tie a school record shared by three other players. Orth, a junior who moved to defense from wide receiver last season, now has intercepted seven passes in 15 games at safety.

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