The Spartans will visit Utah State on Nov. 12 before playing host to Navy on Nov. 19 and concluding the regular season at Fresno State on Nov. 26. Each of San Jose State's upcoming opponents has endured its share of struggles this season, leaving the Spartans with a sliver of hope and a sense of purpose as they prepare to play the Aggies.
"We've got to find a way," senior quarterback Matt Faulkner told the San Jose Mercury News. "The season's not over. We can win three games in a row."
The Spartans will face a Utah State team that's riding an equal and opposite emotional wave. San Jose State jumped out to a 20-0 lead over Idaho on Nov. 5 at Spartan Stadium but suffered a devastating 32-29 loss after giving up 22 points over the final 9 minutes, 57 seconds. Faulkner completed 29 of 42 passes for 289 yards without throwing an interception, but the Spartans' sputtering running game accounted for just 68 yards.
"That game was pretty tough," senior linebacker Pompey Festejo told the Mercury News. "Emotionally, we're all hurt. We've got to learn from our mistakes and keep punching."
Later that night, backup quarterback Adam Kennedy helped Utah State overcome a 21-point halftime deficit to beat Hawaii 35-31 in Honolulu. Freshman starter Chuckie Keeton suffered a spinal cord injury in the first half and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Kennedy, who will start against San Jose State, completed 8 of 12 passes for 163 yards and threw two long touchdown passes to help Utah State amass 280 of its 433 yards of offense in the second half.
Three weeks ago, the Warriors were the ones basking in the glow of a dramatic victory over Hawaii, the preseason favorite in the Western Athletic Conference. Now, the Spartans are trying to regroup after suffering back-to-back losses.
San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre would like to see a resurgence in his ground game after watching senior running back Brandon Rutley struggle for yards over the past two games, but he isn't waiting for Rutley or the other backs to make something happen. The coaching staff has called for more pass plays in recent weeks with quarterback Matt Faulkner throwing quick hits to sophomore wide receivers Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby, who have combined for 36 receptions in the past two games.
"They have a hard time tackling Chandler Jones," MacIntyre said in the Mercury News. "He makes 'em miss. And Noel Grigsby, they had a hard time tackling him, too. That's one of our ways of being able to run the football."
--Junior DE Travis Johnson was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after tying a school record with four sacks against Idaho on Nov. 5. He also had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery which led to a San Jose State field goal. Johnson was named WAC Special Teams Player of the Week earlier this season. He is the first Spartan in 11 years to earn player of the week honors twice in one season and the first in the WAC in five years to do it at his natural position and on special teams.
--San Jose State raised its season sack total to 12 with a season-high five against Idaho. Johnson had four and DE Mohamed Marah had one. Johnson is tied for second in the WAC with eight sacks, but the Spartans still have fewer sacks than every other team in the conference.
--With three games remaining, the Spartans need only a field goal to outscore the 2009 and 2010 teams. The Spartans have scored 207 points, two less than the 2010 team and 42 more than the 2009 team. They need 38 points to match the 2007 team's total of 245 points.
SERIES HISTORY: San Jose State leads Utah State 20-12-1 (last meeting, 2010, 38-34 Utah State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: San Jose State is capable of moving of the ball with senior QB Matt Faulkner and pass catchers such as WR Noel Grigsby and TE Ryan Otten, but the Spartans need a degree of balance that their sputtering running game hasn't provided in recent weeks. There was one positive development in the loss to Idaho, though. The Spartans had only one turnover after committing 11 in the two previous games.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans had two fumble recoveries and one interception against Idaho. They have gained at least one turnover in eight consecutive games and lead the Western Athletic Conference with 24 takeaways this season, four more than any other team in the conference. They lead the WAC with 13 fumble recoveries and rank third with 11 interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a very tough loss. Our kids played hard. It just kind of slipped away. We controlled 95 percent of the day, but it slipped away. It's definitely a tough loss." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, following a 32-29 loss to Idaho.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Jose State at Utah State, Nov. 12 -- San Jose State is coming off a heartbreaking 32-29 loss to Idaho while Utah State is riding high after a stunning 35-31 victory over Hawaii. The Spartans are still seeking their fourth win of the season after losing their last two games. They have a chance to surpass their combined win total from the 2009 and 2010 seasons, but in order to do so they will have to end a 10-game Western Athletic Conference losing streak.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Spartans must reestablish the run, but they'll have to do it against a Utah State team that ranks third in the Western Athletic Conference in rushing defense. San Jose State has rushed for at least 100 yards in all three of its wins this season. In the past two games, a 38-28 loss to Louisiana Tech and a 32-29 loss to Idaho, the Spartans were held to 80 yards on 42 carries.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Noel Grigsby -- The sophomore receiver had 11 receptions against Idaho to become the seventh San Jose State player to catch 70 or more passes in a season. He has 42 catches in the past four games and ranks ninth in the nation in receptions per game. He is one of three FBS players with 40 or more receptions in their last four games.
RB Brandon Rutley -- The senior running back hasn't been nearly as explosive since suffering a sprained ankle. Rutley rushed for 340 yards in wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State before the ankle injury forced him to miss the BYU game. Rutley returned the following week and rushed for 70 yards in a win over Hawaii, but he has gained just 61 yards on 30 carries in the past two games.
DE Travis Johnson -- What will the junior defensive do for an encore? He had 10 tackles, a school-record tying four sacks and a fumble recovery against Idaho. Johnson leads the team with eight sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He also has blocked two kicks on special teams.
--TE Ryan Otten has emerged as one of the nation's most productive players at his position this season. Among eight tight ends in the Football Bowl Subdivision listed with 3.5 or more receptions per game, Otten has the best yards per catch average (15.31), has the most receiving yards (551) and is the only one with two 100-yard receiving games.
--QB Matt Faulkner ranks second in the Western Athletic Conference in passing average (262.6 ypg) and third in total passing (2,101 yards), but he leads the conference in interceptions (11).
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