Spartans fall short at Air Force

The San Jose State Spartans fall 37-16 at Air Force in the Mountain West opener.

For an entire offseason, San Jose State fans have had week two reluctantly circled on their calendars. The matchup at Air Force was the Spartans’ first conference game, against a team coming off a 10-win season, which also runs an option offense - a weak point for the SJSU defense.

The opening drive had a ‘here we go again’ moment when Air Force took the fourth snap of the game for a 63 yard touchdown run from Garrett Brown.

The Spartans actually contained the Falcons’ option attack over most of the first three quarters following the big gain, however. Over the next four AFA possessions, the Falcons managed only 29 yards, two first downs, and had thrown an interception to the San Jose State’s Jimmy Pruitt.

Offensively, San Jose State started with Kenny Potter at quarterback with limited success in the first quarter. Both of the Spartans’ first two drives were plagued by crucial penalties, but Potter was able to capitalize on Pruitt’s interception with a 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Tyler Ervin.

The Spartans had control of the defensive side of the ball and got into a groove on offense when Joe Gray made his first appearance. Gray led the offense 61 yards on 14 plays for nearly 7 minutes of game time when the SJSU special teams struggles appeared once again. Gray’s drive stalled at the 19-yard line and freshman Bryce Crawford’s 36-yard field goal bounced off of the up-right, no-good.

The play seemed to be the first of several momentum swings that blew the wind out of San Jose State’s sails. After the missed field goal, the Falcons’ running attack marched 80 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown to give Air Force a 14-7 halftime lead.

Seven first-half penalties kept the Spartans’ offense from getting in rhythm and made it easier on Air Force to move the chains.

“That hurt us,” head coach Ron Caragher told the media. “Instead of third-and-three and being able to convert, it was third-and-eight. It hindered our drives. It took us out of our game.”

Tyler Ervin broke a 66-yard touchdown run to open the second half and get the Spartans within one point after the PAT was blocked. The Spartans forced an AFA three-and-out, but with Potter in on the ensuing possession Al Borges’s offense punted after just one first down.

The Spartan defense provided the SJSU offense three opportunities to take the lead, allowing only a field goal on the Falcons first three possession of the half. The Potter-led offense could only manage a field goal themselves, and when Potter’s pass was intercepted by Kalon Baker, momentum escaped the SJSU defense for a second time. AFA started 35 yards away from the end zone and three straight runs of at least eight yards resulted in an Air Force touchdown.

Also in the series of events, Air Force receiver Tyler Williams was flagged for targeting. His hit blindsided San Jose State’s star linebacker Christian Tago. Tago had logged a team-high 14 tackles even though the hit knocked him out of the game.

“It took out our leader, it took out our captain,” Caragher said. “It was tough for us and it was painful to see that happen.”

Trailing 23-16, SJSU head coach Ron Caragher went back to Gray at quarterback, but the senior came in cold and the Spartans failed to move the ball forward on three plays and punted back to Air Force.

A 44-yard run by Air Force quarterback Nate Romine set up a touchdown to extend the Falcons lead to 30-16.

With seven minutes remaining, Gray was able to lead the Spartans into falcon territory, but a desperation throw resulted in an interception and ended any comeback chance. With little motivation for the defense, the Falcons ripped off runs of 52 and 34 yards to put the game to rest at a final score of 37-16.

The Spartans fixed penalty issues which hindered their offense in the first half, but Air Force’s dominance on time of possession hindered the SJSU offensive rhythm in the second half. San Jose State had the ball for only 9:12 in the second half.

"They changed their scheme up on us,” defensive lineman Tony Popovich said. “They schemed us pretty well in the second half. They came out and starting throwing some things we hadn’t seen before.”

Penalties, possession and changes at quarterback seemed to keep San Jose State from ever moving the ball to the best of its ability - leading to a very winnable game quickly slipping through their fingers. It doesn’t appear a starter will be named in the near future. Caragher said he would ‘ride the hot hand.’

“It’s hard to say, did that hurt us?” Caragher said of the quarterback rotation. “I don’t know. We’re still in an evaluation process… Until one really emerges, it’s hard to make that investment in one.”

Gray finished with 11 completions on 18 attempts for 88 yards. Potter was 7-of-14 for 52 yards and a touchdown while adding 48 rushing yards. Both had one interception.

Ervin led the offense overall with 121 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries, as well as 28 yards and a second touchdown as a receiver.

Air Force finished with 428 rushing yards and only 24 yards through the air. The bulk of the damage came at the very beginning and the fourth quarter. Quarterback Nate Romine led with 116 yards while D.J. Johnson also eclipsed 100 yards and had 3 touchdowns.

Aside from Tago’s 14 tackles, Epie Sona and Maurice McKnight added 10 tackles and linebacker William Osai had two tackles for loss.

“On defense, I think outside of the long touchdown run in the beginning, played really solid,” Caragher said.

San Jose State hopes to put the complete package together when they travel to Oregon State on Sept. 19.

“Our guys are turning the corner, but we didn’t turn it enough,” Caragher said.

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