Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

SJSU beats New Mexico 31-21 with strong defense and ground game

The San Jose State Spartans defeated the New Mexico Lobos 31-21 on Saturday to improve to 4-4 on the season and 3-2 in Mountain West play.

Throughout the week, San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher emphasized the need for his team to recover, following a 30-7 homecoming loss to San Diego State on Oct. 17.

On Saturday, the Spartans did that and more. With improvements across the board, from quarterback play to defense, they beat New Mexico 31-21. Kenny Potter completed 16 of 20 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another, and Tyler Ervin rushed for 272 yards and a touchdown. This came the week after Ervin only had 22 rushing yards and Potter threw two interceptions.

SJSU got an early 7-0 lead after Ervin made a 71-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. However, by the second quarter, New Mexico would go up 14-7, thanks to a 79-yard touchdown run by Teriyon Gipson and a 52-yard touchdown drive with eight rushing plays that concluded with a 4-yard run by Diquan Woodhouse.

Defense dominated the first half. After Ervin’s 71-yard TD run, SJSU had two three-and-outs and two drives stall at the UNM 39. UNM’s first drive also stalled in a three-and-out, and with the game tied 7-7 early in the second quarter, SJSU linebacker Christian Tago prevented an early UNM lead by blocking a 28-yard field goal attempt by Zack Rogers. The snap was high, and this allowed the defense to bring more pressure.

After UNM’s initial 14-7 lead, SJSU would score 24 unanswered points to take a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter. SJSU tied the game at 14 with a drive that included a 41-yard run by Ervin and a 35-yard, play-action, touchdown pass from Potter to Hansell Wilson.

The defense then forced a quick UNM three-and-out to give SJSU the ball back with just over two minutes to go. A UNM pass interference penalty on third down extended what could have been another SJSU three-and-out. In the final two plays, Potter rushed for 16 yards to convert a second-and-15, then completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Billy Freeman. SJSU would run up the blue carpet at the half with a 21-14 lead.

In the first half, New Mexico’s triple option offense gave the Lobos 22 rushing but only three passing plays. UNM would switch to a more balanced offense on the other side of halftime. That would prove costly. Austin Apodaca nearly threw an interception to SJSU’s Jimmy Pruitt, who missed the previous game due to a concussion, in UNM’s first drive of the third quarter.

On UNM’s next drive, Apodaca did throw an interception this time, on third-and-9 from the SJSU 45. SJSU cornerback Cleveland Wallace III picked off a pass that bounced off a receiver’s shoulder. Apodaca ultimately completed only 8 of 20 passes for 130 yards and an interception.

With a favorable field position around midfield, SJSU would go up 28-14 late in the third quarter following a Kenny Potter 12-yard run, in which he zigzagged in the pocket to avoid pressure, then ran through a hole into the end zone. Then, with 9:25 left the fourth, Austin Lopez hit a 43-yard field goal to put SJSU up 31-14. However, Lopez drew a five-yard penalty against SJSU on the ensuing kickoff that landed out of bounds at the UNM 38.

“When we’re kicking into the wind, that gives [UNM’s] returner a nice, running start,” explained Caragher after the game regarding that play. He later explained that he intended to have Lopez make a “bloop kick” that would land around the UNM 25 and force a fair catch by one of the special team coverage players.

UNM needed just 4 plays - two passes and two rushes - to score a touchdown and come within 31-21. But SJSU followed by draining exactly seven minutes off the clock in a drive with 13 rushing plays, highlighted by a 50-yard Ervin run that put SJSU at the UNM 30. The Spartans came one yard short of a fifth touchdown, but there were only 46 seconds remaining for UNM to score at least 10 points from their own one-yard line. New Mexico’s last play was a desperation hook-and-lateral that ended with a fumble recovered by SJSU cornerback Dominic Barnes.

“When I take care of the ball, the rest of the offense goes,” commented Potter. “I just gotta make sure I do my job, and everything else works for itself.”

San Jose State (4-4, 3-2 MWC) wraps up their three-game homestand with a Friday night matchup against BYU (6-2) on November 6. Both teams have byes this week.

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