Three quarterbacks led touchdown-scoring drives, and six players recorded quarterback sacks, in San Jose State’s spring game on March 21 at Spartan Stadium.
As San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher announced to fans before the game, Saturday’s scrimmage simulated various in-game situations. Offensive drives started from the blue (offensive) team’s own 20 and 40-yard lines as well as in the red zone. Some of those drives were played as two-minute drills, in the later part of the game, with only 50 seconds on the game clock and starting from the blue team’s 40-yard line. Special teams also had kickoff and punting drills.
Joe Gray, a senior who started 7 of last season’s 12 games, started for the blue team and completed 9-of-11 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Also auditioning to be the Spartans’ next starting quarterback were juniors Malik Watson and Kenny Potter, along with redshirt freshman Ian Fieber.
Watson completed 8-of-9 passes for 88 yards. Potter passed for 2 touchdowns and rushed for another, despite completing only 5 of 13 passes for 56 yards and throwing an interception in the end zone. Fieber completed 2 of 3 passes for 13 yards and one interception.
Gray told Inside the Spartans after the game that the offense has made a “huge jump” after some “hiccups” at the beginning of spring camp and he is satisfied with the direction of the offensive unit. Gray is most interested in reviewing his dropbacks on film.
Watson listed footwork in the pocket as an area of his for improvement. Potter praised the coaching staff and said he has adjusted well from the junior college level. He also credits the offensive unit as a whole for producing touchdowns and is turning mistakes into learning opportunities.
The defensive unit had much to show, also. Six players sacked a quarterback. Linebacker Christian Tago and defensive end Eugene Taylor, both juniors, had 2 each, while junior defensive tackle Nick Oreglia and freshman safety Drew Mount simultaneously split a sack of Fieber. Two players had interceptions: sophomore cornerback Maurice McKnight picked off Kenny Potter in the end zone, and freshman defensive tackle Owen Roberts intercepted a Fieber pass and returned the ball 40 yards.
Following the game, Roberts described his interception.
“I rushed the passer,” Roberts said. “My lineman just let me go. I looked for the running back…I just stuck my hand out, and [Fieber] threw it still, and I picked it and just started running…I see all blue grass, and then next thing you know, I was on the ground.” Roberts also said that he got more playing time due to injuries among defensive players. Tago credited the defensive players strengthening their techniques and fundamentals for their ability to pressure quarterbacks.
On special teams, senior placekicker Austin Lopez made all 6 extra point attempts and a 26-yard field goal, his only attempt of the day. He also had two kickoffs of 50 and 64 yards. Sophomore punter Michael Carrizosa, coming off a freshman season averaging only 37.1 yards per punt, punted five times averaging 49.8 yards.
Speaking to media after the game, Caragher described his players as “playing hard” and competing for top spots on the depth chart. Regarding quarterback competition, Caragher referenced Ohio State winning the national championship led by their third-string quarterback as a reason why more than one quarterback needs to be ready to lead the Spartans. He sees all three quarterbacks at this point as “even” and felt encouraged with the emerging pass rush this game.
Emerging from a disappointing 3-9 season in 2014 could be a feel-good story for 2015: the return of Jared Leaf. The senior linebacker who transferred from Hawaii in 2013 was expected to be a starter but sat out the season after suffering second and third-degree burns in an apartment fire on April 24, 2014. After PA announcer Russ Call announced that Leaf made a tackle—Leaf had at least 6 tackles this game—the crowd erupted in loud applause.
Jimmy Durkin, San Jose State reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, suggested that Leaf could “be an early strong contender for the FWAA Courage Award”, whose past winners include other San Jose State football players who overcame severe injuries or illnesses, Anthony Larceval and Neil Parry.
Injuries and Updates
Because he also plays on the San Jose State baseball team, who had a game scheduled for Saturday, junior quarterback Mitch Ravizza did not participate. Senior offensive guard Doug Blacksill sat out this game due to illness, according to Caragher.
After a weeklong spring break, the Spartans return to the field with five more practices from March 30 to April 8.