Coming off a 6-7 season that ended with a 27-16 win over Georgia State in the inaugural Cure Bowl, San Jose State Spartans football returns to action on Saturday, Sept. 3 on the road facing the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. This marks Ron Caragher’s fourth season as head coach. As Caragher has has had ample time to build a roster that meets his style of play, expectations are high this year. He has two years to go in his contract, and this season is a make-or-break one that will determine the future of the program.
Site: Skelly Field at H. A. Chapman Stadium (Tulsa, Okla.; capacity 30,000)
Time: 6:00 p.m. (Central)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Streaming video: http://www.cbssports.com/watch/cbssportsnetwork/ (requires cable subscriptions with Cox, Frontier, or Optimum)
Radio: 1590 KLIV (San Jose) and Spartan Radio Network affiliates: 910 KKSF (San Francisco); 1460/101.1 KION (Salinas/Monterey/Santa Cruz); 1280 KWSX (Stockton); 1360 KFIV (Modesto).
Streaming audio: KLIV (which converted from news to classic country in June) streams at www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams at www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. For the Tulsa radio broadcast, listen to Big Country 99.5 on www.bigcountry995.com or the TuneIn app.
Tulsa: An overview
Like San Jose State in the Bay Area, Tulsa football has long played in the shadows of two major conference programs, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. San Jose State and Tulsa, in fact, both joined the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 1996 and remained conference partners until Tulsa left for Conference USA in 2005. In 2014, Tulsa moved to the American Athletic Conference (The American).
With head coach Philip Montgomery entering his second season, Tulsa also comes off a 6-7 season and bowl appearance, but Tulsa lost 55-52 to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl. Montgomery was previously offensive coordinator under Art Briles at Baylor from 2006 to 2014; players he coached include current Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III. Historically, San Jose State and Tulsa played just six times, all between 1999 and 2004, when both schools were in the WAC. The series is split 3-3; San Jose State won the last game in the series 34-24 in San Jose on Nov. 20, 2004.
Starting at quarterback for Tulsa will be senior Dane Evans (pictured), who passed for 4,332 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior in 2015. Evans passed for more yards than David Fales did in either of his two seasons at San Jose State! Another senior, D’Angelo Brewer, returns at running back and comes off a season with 837 yards and six touchdowns. Tulsa averaged 507.4 yards of total offense, including 333.2 passing yards per game, to rank second in The American in both overall and passing offense. Four other offensive starters besides Evans and Brewer return this year. Tulsa also runs a fast-paced, hurry-up offense.
“The fact that they snap the ball every 18 seconds means the previous play ends, and they’re going on to the next play,” commented Caragher in Monday’s press conference. “They’re not substituting.”
On defense, honorable mention all-conference linebacker Trent Martin returns for his senior year in a first-team defensive unit consisting of juniors and seniors save for freshman cornerback Reggie Robinson. While Tulsa has a strong offense, its defense is porous and gave up 39.8 points and 536.6 yards per game last year. In fact, in the Independence Bowl, the first time Virginia Tech’s punter came up on fourth down was with nearly a minute to go in the second quarter!
Montgomery praised San Jose State’s players and specifically named tight end Billy Freeman, wide receiver Tim Crawley, and linebacker Christian Tago among returners to watch. “He’s got the chance to become the leading tackler in school history,” Montgomery said about Tago.
What’s in it for San Jose State?
This year’s season opener will be against an FBS team, unlike in Caragher’s first three years when the team opened the year hosting an FCS team at home. Tulsa’s pass-heavy, quick-strike offense will be a test of the defensive unit and new defensive coordinator Ron English. It will determine if English is finally the answer for the run defense’s woes that have hampered the team throughout the Caragher era. Also, can returning starting quarterback Kenny Potter and the offense take advantage of a weak Tulsa defense that is reminiscent of the defensive line at San Jose State in the past three years?
The final results will be telling of the direction of the team in Caragher’s fourth season. Even a 10-14 point loss could be tolerable, if there were not many careless turnovers (think about last year’s game at Auburn). However, a loss by three or more possessions should be concerning. If San Jose State wins, it will be a sign that the team can compete against other comparable mid-major programs. No non-conference game is going to be a cakewalk, not even next week’s home opener against Portland State, who is ranked in the preseason top 25 of FCS opponents.