Spartans emphasize ball security during bye

San Jose State coaches spent part of their bye week to emphasizing the importance of protecting the football, and they won't have to tell senior running back Brandon Rutley twice.

Rutley committed two of the six turnovers his team had to overcome to beat Hawaii 28-27 on Oct. 14. He started the bye week by announcing he would carry a football with him everywhere he goes for the rest of the season, and he'll carry it plenty when the Spartans visit Louisiana Tech on Oct. 29.

"This ball will be in my hands every day probably the rest of the year," Rutley told the San Jose Mercury News. "I had some fumbles, man. I don't fumble. That's just my thing." The Spartans have been the biggest surprise in the Western Athletic Conference this season, but they might not be able to sustain their early success if they don't improve their turnover margin. They led the WAC and ranked fifth nationally with 19 takeaways in their first seven games, but they were last in the nation with 12 lost fumbles and led the WAC with 21 turnovers.

"The fumbles are definitely a concern," San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre told the Mercury News. "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."

The Spartans have won three of four since snapping a 13-game losing streak that dated back to last season. They improved to 2-1 in WAC play with the win over preseason favorite Hawaii. The Spartans only conference loss was a 17-14 setback to a Nevada team that sits alone in first place at 2-0. The Spartans are tied for second with Hawaii, Louisiana Tech and Fresno State.

The upcoming game against Louisiana Tech could be a pivotal one for San Jose State. With a win over the Bulldogs and subsequent wins over Idaho (1-6, 0-3 WAC) and Utah State (2-5, 0-2), the Spartans could have a chance to win at least a share of the conference title when they visit Fresno State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 26.

First things first, though. The Spartans must be sharp against a Louisiana Tech team that is coming off back-to-back road wins over Idaho and Utah State. The Bulldogs are tied for second in the WAC in rushing defense, holding opponents to 113.9 yards per game. They haven't been nearly as good against the pass, ranking seventh in the conference at 270.7 yards per game.


--Senior RB Brandon Rutley could improve his chances of winning the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award with a big game against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are second in the WAC in rushing defense. Rutley is fourth in rushing (98.2 ypg) and second in all-purpose yards (174.3 ypg).
--Senior QB Matt Faulkner is second in the Western Athletic Conference in passing at 247.5 yards per game and has already engineered game-winning drives culminating with touchdown passes in the final minute. Faulkner threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jabari Carr with 54 seconds to play in a 38-31 victory over Colorado State on Oct. 1. Faulkner threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Chandler Jones with 36 seconds remaining to beat Hawaii 28-27 on Oct. 14.

SERIES HISTORY: Louisiana Tech leads San Jose State 6-4 (last meeting, 2010, 45-38 Louisiana Tech).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Spartans have good balance with a strong passing game and effective running game, but they have been way too turnover prone. Senior QB Matt Faulkner has completed 101 of 152 (.664) passes for nearly 1,170 yards in his past four games, but he has thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) over that stretch. Faulkner has a quality running back in senior Brandon Rutley, a solid group of receivers and a dependable offensive line, but he will have to avoid costly mistakes on the road against Louisiana Tech.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans haven't been especially good at stopping the run or the pass, but they have stopped many drives with turnovers. San Jose led the WAC and ranked fifth in the nation with 19 takeaways after forcing six turnovers against Hawaii on Oct. 14. Junior S James Orth is tied for the WAC lead with four interceptions. Senior DE Mohamed Marah is tied for first in the conference with two fumble recoveries. Sophomore LB Keith Smith and senior S Duke Ihenacho are tied for second with two forced fumbles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "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 QB Matt Faulkner, after the Spartans overcame six turnovers to upset Hawaii 28-27 on Oct. 14.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Jose State at Louisiana Tech, Oct. 29 -- Louisiana Tech has won four in a row against San Jose State and each of the past four games the teams have played at Joe Aillet Stadium, but the Spartans have a chance to win in Ruston, La., for the first time since 1993. The Spartans and Bulldogs are tied with two other teams for second place in the Western Athletic Conference at 2-1. The winner will stay in the race for the conference championship while the loser will fall to the middle of the pack.

KEYS TO THE GAME: This game will likely hinge on San Jose State's ability to sustain and finish drives against a Louisiana Tech defense that ranks second in the WAC in scoring defense and rushing defense. The Spartans will try to soften up the defense with senior RB Brandon Rutley, but the big strikes could come through the air. The Bulldogs have been vulnerable against the pass, and senior QB Matt Faulkner is one of the top passers in the conference. The Spartans should be able to move the ball, but turnovers could prove very costly if they don't take better care of the football.


RB Brandon Rutley -- The senior running back rushed for a total of 340 yards in wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State before missing the BYU game with a sprained ankle. Rutley was held to 70 yards on 25 carries in an Oct. 14 win over Hawaii, but he should be back at full strength coming off a bye week.

WR Chandler Jones -- Jones was named Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week after scoring three touchdowns against Hawaii. 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.

S James Orth -- 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, has intercepted seven passes in 15 games as a safety.


--Senior S Duke Ihenacho expects to play against Louisiana Tech after suffering 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.
--OT Andres Vargas also is expected to play against Louisiana Tech. Vargas had his left foot placed in a protective boot after suffering a mild sprain in the win over Hawaii.

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