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Game Preview: San Jose State vs San Diego State

The San Jose State Spartans (3-3, 2-1) host the San Diego State Aztecs (3-3, 2-0) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for a spot in the driver's seat for the Mountain West, West Division.

It is homecoming week at San Jose State University. The week concludes on Saturday with the Spartan football team (3-3, 2-1 MW) hosting in-state rival San Diego State (3-3, 2-0 MW). This match pits the top two teams in the MW West Division, with the winner earning the MW West top spot. This summer’s MW preseason media poll picked San Diego State to win the West.

This week’s game: The basics

Site: Spartan Stadium (San Jose, Calif.; capacity 30,456)

Time: 7:30 p.m. (Pacific)

TV: ESPNU; the broadcast crew will include former San Jose State and NFL offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante.

Streaming video: www.watchespn.com and the WatchESPN app (subscription required)

Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 860 KTRB (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto). San Diego radio station XEPRS “The Mighty” 1090 has a 50 kW signal originating from Tijuana that reaches northern California after sunset, for those interested in listening to the San Diego State radio broadcast.

Streaming audio: KLIV streams on www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams on www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. The Mighty 1090 website states that the station is not allowed to stream San Diego State games.

Injuries: LB Christian Tago (foot) and RB Thomas Tucker (ankle) are questionable.

Homecoming specials

As this is the homecoming game, some special events will occur outside Spartan Stadium before kickoff. From 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the East Field parking lot at the corner of 10th Street and Alma Avenue, fans can see all eight Lombardi trophies from the eight Super Bowl-winning San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders teams. This is part of Chevron’s “50 Tour” that exhibits the 49ers’ and Raiders’ Lombardi trophies. Also, David Diaz-Infante will sign autographs for fans at the East Field from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m.

San Diego State: An overview

San Diego State head coach Rocky Long is in his fifth season as head coach and seventh overall with the team. From 2009 to 2010, Long was defensive coordinator under head coach Brady Hoke and was promoted to head coach in 2011 after Hoke took the job at Michigan. Beginning as a graduate assistant at his alma mater New Mexico in 1972, Long has nearly four decades of coaching experience. He also remains defensive coordinator at San Diego State in addition to head coach.

This is the 38th meeting between San Diego State and San Jose State in a series dating back to 1935. San Jose State has a 19-17-2 lead. The two schools have been together in the Mountain West since 2013 and have previously shared conferences from 1969 to 1975 (Pacific Coast Athletic Association, now the Big West Conference) and 1995 to 1998 (Western Athletic Conference, which dropped football after 2012).

The Aztecs visit 7th and Alma with a two-game winning streak, having defeated Fresno State and Hawaii. Maxwell Smith, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, is the expected starting quarterback. Smith has completed 57 of 123 passes (46.3%) for 823 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. Remedying these unimpressive stats is the Aztecs’ strong running game anchored by first-team MWC running back Donnel Pumphrey, a junior who set a San Diego State single-season record with 1,867 yards on the ground in 2014. Sophomore backup running back Rashaad Penny also provides a jolt to his team with big kick returns. He is currently #2 in Division I FBS kick return averages with 37.5 yards per return; on September 19 against Penn State, Penny returned a kickoff the full 100 yards for a touchdown.

“No question, they want to run the football [in] power I formation,” San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher told the Spartan Sports Report television show. “The power run game comes with it and line[s] up their fullback and tailback, something a little throwback. You don’t see that now with today’s spread offenses.”

“They do a good job, they’re big up front in the trenches, they’re a physical team,” Caragher added about San Diego State.

On defense, San Diego State returns eight starters, including 2014 second-team All-MWC cornerbacks Damontae Kazee and J.J. Whittaker. They have combined this season for six interceptions and eight passes deflected. The team has a 3-3-5 defense.

“They do a lot of movement up front,” commented Caragher about the San Diego State defensive unit. “They create a lot of problems from a pass protection standpoint or identifying standpoint for an offense.”

Caragher also pointed out that the San Diego State secondary plays a combination of man and zone coverages.

San Jose State: Keys to the game

In defeating UNLV 33-27 in OT on the road, San Jose state overcame a slow start and late deficit. Returning from injury, starting quarterback Kenny Potter struggled to move the offense initially and even threw an interception. He would finish the game with two passing and one rushing touchdowns and led the important fourth quarter comeback that put San Jose State ahead inside two minutes remaining.

“He doesn’t repeat previous mistakes. He does learn from that, he takes a snapshot in his mind, and he learns from that situation. It’ll make him better down the road,” remarked Caragher about Potter’s return as starter.

To stay competitive with such a talented team as San Diego State, San Jose State will need to gain an early edge with scoring and defensive stops. Potter will need to choose his passes carefully to avoid a costly interception by Kazee, Whittaker, or any of the other Aztec DBs.

The results on the field show that this is not the same Spartan team that was blown out last year at San Diego State. Through six games, San Jose State has a 91% red zone efficiency rate, compared to 75% at this point in 2014. Total offensive yards per game is 440.5, compared to 406.3 last year. The team scores 30.5 points per game, improved from 22.0 points per game after six games in 2014.

Even given these facts, anything can happen beginning on Saturday. San Jose State went 0-6 after a 3-3 start in 2014. The combination of this being homecoming and wanting to avenge the Aztecs after an embarrassing blowout last year should motivate the team to play smart and tough in front of an excited crowd. Caragher so far is 2-0 in homecoming games; it will take a shrewd game plan and cooperation between players and coaches to stretch this to 3-0.

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