Four years ago, an aberration in the San Jose State Spartans’ otherwise magical 11-2 season was a 49-27 loss on homecoming day to Utah State, in which David Fales was sacked 13 times. On Saturday at CEFCU Stadium, Pac-12 opponent Utah Utes overwhelmed the San Jose State offensive line for 10 sacks as Utah won 34-17. San Jose State dropped to 1-2, while Utah remained undefeated at 3-0.
Kenny Potter, who left the game due to injury, completed 10 of 18 passes for 65 yards, one touchdown, and one interception and was sacked seven times. Backup quarterback Josh Love completed 11 of 21 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown, and one interception and took three sacks. Tre Hartley led in receiving yards, with 81 yards on four catches. There was hardly a running game to be found, as Deontae Cooper had just 45 yards on 12 carries, and Potter rushed for 20 yards on 13 carries.
For Utah, Troy Williams completed 20 of 28 passes for 257 yards, one touchdown, and one interception and was sacked three times. Tim Patrick led in receiving yards with 121 yards on six catches, including one touchdown. Zack Moss rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
San Jose State took a 3-0 lead on the first drive of the game on a Bryce Crawford 29-yard field goal. Utah responded with a tying 37-yard field goal by Andy Phillips on a drive that included a 45-yard pass from Troy Williams to Corey Butler-Byrd, who was reinstated this week after a monthlong suspension.
Both teams then exchanged punts, with San Jose State forcing a three-and-out on Utah’s next possession thanks to a Nick Oreglia sack that dropped Williams seven yards backwards. However, Tim Crawley muffed the catch of a rugby-style punt by Mitch Wishnowsky, and Utah got the ball back in the red zone. The defense held strong and limited Utah to a field goal.
“You have to have a clean handle on it...otherwise, steer clear, [and] stay away from it,” remarked San Jose State coach Ron Caragher about the muffed punt.
“Those balls can bounce all over, and we try to simulate it in practice, but nothing like game situations when you’re out there on an island and 11 guys are coming out,” added Caragher about Wishnowsky’s rugby-style punt.
Six and a half minutes and fifteen plays later, spilling into the second quarter, San Jose State drove down the field to take the lead back, 10-6, as Potter found a wide-open Josh Oliver for a one-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal. On that play and an earlier Cooper run that took San Jose State to the Utah 3, the Spartans used six offensive linemen.
Utah needed just four rushing plays, including a 51-yarder by Moss and 16-yard touchdown run by Troy McCormick, to take the lead back, 13-10. With two and a half minutes to go before halftime, San Jose State had good field position near midfield, after an ugly Utah three-and-out that ended with a 4th-and-36, due to a mishandled snap and 12-yard sack by Owen Roberts. However, on the third play, Potter threw an interception under pressure that was initially ruled an incomplete pass but overturned on replay review, as the officials determined Reginald Porter caught the ball in bounds. Patrick caught a 54-yard pass in a drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Patrick. Utah led 20-10 at halftime.
San Jose State’s first three drives of the second half ended in three-and-outs, but the defense kept the game close. Inside six minutes to go in the third quarter, Maurice McKnight grabbed an interception in the end zone to keep the score 20-10. The offense could only produce a three-and-out in response, and Potter left the game after that drive with a deep bruise to his leg, following a first down-saving hit by Utah safety Chase Hansen.
Caragher said he kept Potter out of the game after that injury, because it limited Potter’s mobility, a strength for Potter.
“Long term, it’s nothing that’s going to be hampering [Potter] season-wise,” said Caragher.
Caragher also praised the Utah defense and described adjusting the offense in response.
“You go to a three-step drop where the ball’s gone quickly; they still got pressure on the quarterback. You move the pocket as well [and] change the launch point up so they can’t pin their ears back,” said Caragher. “Nevertheless, it seemed like the theme of the night was getting pressure on the quarterback.”
On the subsequent drive, Utah went 68 yards in just five plays, punctuated by a 28-yard pass by Williams to Patrick and 19-yarder to Rae Singleton to the San Jose State 10, from which Zack Moss rushed for a touchdown that put Utah up 27-10.
While the offense improved with Love at quarterback, it still struggled to score. In his first drive, Love completed a 30-yarder to Billy Freeman and took the offense all the way to the Utah side of midfield, only to stall at the Utah 47.
“For a freshman, I was very encouraged by Josh Love, being thrown out there in the heat of the battle,” said Caragher. “He looked like he had poise, and he again was under duress with the pocket collapsing and the blitzes in the game.”
McCormick took the ball 31 yards into the red zone, but Trevon Bierria created San Jose State’s second takeaway of the night as he popped the ball out as he brought McCormick down, and Jeremy Kelly recovered the ball. San Jose State converted a first down on the next drive, only for Love to throw a pass under pressure right into the hands of Utah safety Marcus Williams. Utah proceeded to score yet after several running plays, capped by an Armand Shyne 17-yard rushing touchdown to go up 34-10.
Oreglia, a team captain for this game, praised Utah as having one of the best offensive lines he has seen in his collegiate career.
“There’s going to be lows and highs; just stay steady,” summarized Oreglia of his leadership to the other defensive players.
Love hit Tre Hartley for 52 yards one yard short of the red zone on the next drive. Two sacks later, Love could only toss a screen to Malik Roberson for a loss of 2 yards on 4th & 25. With backup Tyler Hundley in at quarterback, Utah went three-and-out, before San Jose State scored its first and only touchdown of the second half in the following drive, with Zamore Ziegler going 46 yards on a catch-and-carry.
Potter was frustrated yet optimistic in his postgame remarks.
“We made mistakes, including myself; I gotta take ownership of the mistakes I made out there, and we gotta bounce back,” said Potter. “We’re kinda tired of saying it, but it’s time for the words to stop and the actions to start.”
“We are optimistic about us going forward; we showed signs of good football out there, but we couldn’t put it all together,” added Potter.