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Game preview: San Jose State vs Portland State

San Jose State hopes to bounce back from a disappointing season opener by returning home for a game versus Portland State.

After a 45-10 loss at Tulsa in the season opener, the San Jose State Spartans return to the South Bay for the home debut, facing the Division I FCS Portland State Vikings, a team ranked #16 in the latest STATS poll.

The basics

Site: CEFCU Stadium, Home of the Spartans (San Jose, Calif.; capacity 30,456)

Time: 1:30 p.m. (Pacific)

TV: None

Streaming video: None; as Jimmy Durkin reported last year in announcing there would be no streaming video of the season opener vs. New Hampshire, the Mountain West Conference prefers "to limit the online streams to professionally produced broadcasts in order to avoid confusion in the quality." In 2013, San Jose State streamed its home opener against Sacramento State by syncing the scoreboard video with the radio broadcast. The following season, ESPN3 streamed the San Jose State home opener against North Dakota. In contrast, neither ESPN3 nor Campus Insiders had broadcast crews for the 2015 or 2016 home openers, and Durkin reported that two local television stations declined to carry the 2015 home opener.

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 streams on www.kliv.com and the TuneIn app. KION streams on www.powertalk1460.com and the iHeartRadio app. For the Portland State radio broadcast, listen to Rip City Radio 620 on www.ripcityradio.com or the iHeartRadio app.

Portland State: An overview

Under second-year head coach and reigning FCS National Coach of the Year Bruce Barnum, Portland State comes off a breakout 9-3 season and FCS playoff appearance. These nine wins included two upsets of FBS teams, first 24-17 over Washington State on Sept. 5, then 66-7 over North Texas on Oct. 10. (No, I did not make up that 66-7 score; that is in fact the historically largest win by an FCS team over an FBS opponent. That blowout loss caused North Texas to fire its coach, Dan McCarney, immediately afterwards.) That marks the first time an FCS team beat two FBS teams in the same season since North Dakota State in 2007. Portland State’s two-game winning streak against FBS competition is second in FCS behind North Dakota State’s five-game streak.

San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said on the Spartan Sports Report television show Wednesday that Portland State runs “a multiple style of offense with shifts and motions.” The current Viking team also features former BYU player Alex Kuresa starting at quarterback. Caragher called Kuresa a good decision maker who “can tuck it [and] can make you pay defensively if you overcommit to the run or the zone-read type play.” Caragher also said Kuresa “can throw the ball well and push it downfield.” A two-star quarterback in BYU’s 2011 recruiting class, Kuresa debuted in 2012 as wide receiver after a redshirt season; he played in BYU’s 20-14 loss at San Jose State that season. Kuresa then went on an LDS church mission before transferring to Snow College for a year as quarterback at the junior college level and coming to Portland State in 2015. Last season, Kuresa passed for 1,975 yards, 17 touchdowns, and seven interceptions and rushed for 755 yards and seven touchdowns. He made the honorable mention All-Big Sky team.

Caragher also praised backup quarterback Paris Penn, who is listed on the roster as a quarterback but has also lined up at wide receiver and running back. A senior, Penn has 619 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and 203 yards and a touchdown through the air in his collegiate career. Portland State also returns second-team all-Big Sky Conference offensive lineman Kyle Smith and third-team all-Big Sky offensive guard Cam Keizur, both now seniors.

On defense, Caragher said that Portland State creates “chaos with their blitzing and stunts” and described the defensive line as having “big, girthy type guys [who] occupy offensive blockers, so it frees up their backers to run through the gaps when they do criss cross type blitzes.”

Last weekend, Portland State struggled in the first three quarters before going scoring 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Division II Central Washington 43-26. Barnum said in his weekly video interview, “I thought we had a different team, honestly, from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. If you watch the film, I saw some guys grow up.”

Barnum also commented that San Jose State is “faster than us” with “quality coaches” and praised Spartans defensive coordinator Ron English, running backs coach Phil Earley, and offensive coordinator Al Borges. In fact, Borges and defensive line coach Barry Sacks both have coached at Portland State in the past, before Barnum’s time. Regarding San Jose State’s run defense, which has been a continuous frustration in the Caragher era, Barnum said, “We’re gonna run the ball ‘til they stop it.”

What’s in it for San Jose State?

After the horrendous season opener, this game will be Caragher’s chance to win big and save face before the rest of the season. A loss or tight win over this FCS team will anger an already annoyed fan base even more and could be demoralizing to the team, as much as Caragher talks about his team being resilient and “bouncing back”. The results of this game will reflect how the players feel about playing for Caragher. To avoid a major disadvantage come National Signing Day next February, athletic director Gene Bleymaier must make a decision to extend Caragher for several more years or let him go, as 2017 is the final year in Caragher’s current contract.

In his Tuesday press conference, Caragher said that senior linebacker and defensive co-captain Christian Tago will miss the Portland State game while recovering from knee surgery. Tago’s absence could be felt as the defensive line gave up big runs to Tulsa; that must not continue against an FCS opponent. The other defensive team captain, safety Maurice McKnight, is expected to start, after being suspended for the first half of the season opener following a targeting penalty in last year’s bowl game. McKnight playing a whole game will bring back much-needed  leadership on defense.

On the offense, expect team captains Kenny Potter and Tim Crawley to regain their composure and set better examples for their teammates, after they accounted for two of the team’s three turnovers in the season opener. Potter had a good game in his Spartan debut last year against New Hampshire, a similarly challenging FCS team, with 13 of 14 passes completed for 167 yards.

It is frustrating to see that the importance of beating an FCS team has become so much more important than ever. The last time San Jose State lost to an FCS team was in the 2010 homecoming game in Mike MacIntyre’s first season as head coach, when UC Davis beat San Jose State 14-13. The 2010 team had NCAA-mandated scholarship and practice time reductions due to an unsatisfactory yet rising Academic Progress Rate that stemmed from Fitz Hill’s long-gone tenure. In the same season, San Jose State escaped Southern Utah with a 16-11 win and finished with a 1-12 record. The Tulsa game caused a KSJS sportscaster to compare the game to San Jose State’s 63-7 loss to Nevada in the 2-10 season of 2009; this coming Saturday must not bring back more bad memories of the 2009 and 2010 dark ages.

P.S.: Although Bruce Barnum’s coaching staff has no one named Bailey, the defensive coordinator is named Malik Roberson, not to be confused with the San Jose State running back. We can only hope our Malik Roberson has a great game against theirs.


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