TSX Files: Running Game Struggles

San Jose State players and coaches are wondering what went wrong after watching their bowl hopes evaporate over the past three weeks, and their sputtering running game is getting much of the blame.

The Spartans won three of four games in late September and early October. The first win snapped a 13-game losing streak. The second created a buzz among recruits. The third, a dramatic 28-27 home win over preseason Western Athletic Conference favorite Hawaii, spurred excitement on campus.

Things have changed since then. The Spartans are reeling from three consecutive losses going into their final home game, a nonconference encounter with Navy. They have fallen to 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the WAC. Their last setback, a heartbreaking 34-33 loss at Utah State, eliminated them from bowl contention.

San Jose State has blown double-digit second-half leads in each of its last two games. The Spartans had a 20-0 lead on Idaho before falling 32-29. They led Utah State 33-21 with 8:21 to play only to see the Aggies score the last 13 points.

"It's crushing," senior quarterback Matt Faulkner told the San Jose Mercury News. "Same as last week -- you just lose it in the fourth quarter. You hate it when you can't come through and just somehow finish a game. It came down again to they made a few more plays than we did, and it's been the same story the last couple of weeks."

Senior running back Brandon Rutley played a huge part in helping the Spartans exceed expectations early in the season, but he hasn't been much of a factor since suffering a sprained ankle. He has rushed for a total of 124 yards on 54 carries over the past three games, averaging 2.3 yards per carry.

With Rutley struggling, the Spartans have not been able to regain the balance that made them successful in victories over New Mexico State, Colorado State and Hawaii. They also haven't been able to keep the clock running in the fourth quarter, which gave Idaho and Utah State time to rally from big deficits.

"It's not just the running game," San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said in the Mercury News. "But the running game does run the clock and put more pressure on the opponent's offense, especially when they're trying to come from behind."

NOTES, QUOTES

--K Jens Alvernik set a single-game school record with four field goals against Utah State. He made field goals of 27, 38, 21 and 24 yards before having a desperation 67-yard attempt blocked as time expired. Alvernik has made 14 of 19 field goals this season.
--San Jose State will play Navy for the first time in school history Nov. 19. This is the first meeting between the teams in a four-year home-and-home series that will take the Spartans to Annapolis, Md., next season.
--The Spartans have played four games this season and two in the past two weeks in which the outcome was decided by a touchdown in the final minute. They prevailed in the first two games that went down to the wire, beating Colorado State and Hawaii in dramatic fashion. They were as fortunate the past two weeks in losses to Idaho and Utah State.

SERIES HISTORY: San Jose State and Navy tied 0-0 (first meeting)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Matt Faulkner has completed 56 of 90 passes for 629 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception in the past two games, but San Jose State's offense isn't as good without an effective running game. They rushed for just 61.4 yards per game in the past five games and averaged 1.9 yards per carry in losses to Louisiana Tech, Idaho and Utah State.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: An opportunistic San Jose State defense leads the Western Athletic Conference and is tied for second in the nation with 29 takeaways. The Spartans recovered four fumbles and recorded an interception against Utah State. They had a season-high six turnovers in an Oct. 14 victory over Hawaii. The Spartans lead the nation with 17 fumble recoveries and are tied for 21st with 12 interceptions.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Definitely we'd like to score touchdowns more than kick field goals. But if we've got to kick 'em, we've got to make 'em, and he did a good job for us." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, to the San Jose Mercury News, after K Jens Alvernik set a school record with four field goals against Utah State.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Jose State will break from its Western Athletic Conference schedule to play Navy for the first time in school history. This marks the start of a four-year home-and-home agreement which will include two games in San Jose and two in Annapolis, Md. The Midshipmen are 4-6 this season and coming off back-to-back wins over Troy and Southern Methodist.

KEYS TO THE GAME: San Jose State's beleaguered run defense will be tested again when Navy comes to Spartan Stadium. Containing Navy QB Kriss Proctor and senior FB Alexander Teich won't be easy. Proctor has rushed for 735 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Teich has rushed for 741 yards and three touchdowns. The Midshipmen have rushed for 319.7 yards per game this season. The Spartans are seventh in the Western Athletic Conference in rushing defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RB Brandon Rutley -- The senior tailback hasn't been nearly as effective since returning from a sprained ankle that forced him to miss the BYU game Oct. 8. Before hurting his ankle, Rutley rushed for a total of 340 yards on 56 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. In four games since, Rutley has rushed for 194 yards on 79 attempts, averaging 2.5 yards per carry.

WR Noel Grigsby -- The sophomore receiver went into the Utah State game as the Western Athletic Conference leader with 7.8 receptions per game, but he was held to four catches for 50 yards. He had 11 catches against Idaho on Nov. 5 to become the seventh San Jose State player to catch 70 or more passes in a season. He has 74 catches this season and needs only 12 more to break the single-season school record.

DE Travis Johnson -- The junior pass rusher failed to record a sack against Utah State after tying a school record with four against Idaho on Nov. 5. He is tied for second in the WAC with eight sacks.

ROSTER REPORT

--OL Fred Koloto did not play against Utah State. The senior guard has missed three of the past five games with a knee injury. His status for the Navy game is uncertain, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.
--OL Robbie Reed also missed the Utah State game. According to the Mercury News, the senior center was cleared to play at the last minute but coaches chose to hold him out as he recovers from a concussion. He is expected to start against Navy.



Join the rest of the Inside Sparta community in discussions of this article, and more, on the Inside Sparta Discussion Forums!

Inside TheSpartans Top Stories