It’s the midway point for the San Jose State Spartans, and after four straight losses, the team has sight on avenging that with a stronger second half to the season.
The Spartans (1-5 overall, 0-2 Mountain West) are coming off back-to-back conference losses to Hawaii (3-3, 2-0 MW) and New Mexico (2-3, 1-1 MW) – teams that SJSU swept last season – but the storyline has been different this time around as thoughts of headlining a bowl game are diminishing.
Hawaii has done what the Spartans haven’t been able to do leading up to this point, which is using its tough preseason schedule to counter it with a sharper opening to conference play.
Despite losses to California, Michigan and Arizona, the Rainbow Warriors sit atop the Mountain West while the Spartans are at the bottom of the pack.
“The moral is still high. We still have high hopes because we’re not out of it,” sophomore defensive tackle Bryson Bridges said regarding the current mental state of the team following Tuesday’s practice. “We just have to keep fighting and keep pushing.”
Within the middle of the pack come the Nevada Wolf Pack (3-3, 1-1 MW), who SJSU will host Saturday (kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT on CBSSN).
Prior to the Wolf Pack’s defeat of Fresno State on Oct. 8, they were bested by the Rainbow Warriors, 38-17.
Nevada has a balanced, efficient offense that averages the same amount of yards passing as rushing at 185 yards apiece.
Wolf Pack running back James Butler is fifth in the nation in total yards (second in the MW behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey) at 728, to go along with five touchdowns on the season.
Complimenting him is senior quarterback Tyler Stewart who has thrown for 970 yards and eight touchdowns on 97-for-149 attempts (65 percent) with just one interception.
“We just got to come out and be strong against Nevada this week,” Bridges said.
Coming out and starting out strong has been the Achilles heel defensively for the Spartans as they gave up three touchdowns in the second quarter alone against Hawaii. For the season, SJSU has allowed 150 total points in the first half but 90 in the second half.
Getting to the quarterback has also been an issue as the defense has recorded just three sacks in the last three games to the eight sacks they had in the previous three games.
Nevertheless, generating points – particularly on the ground – remains a stumbling block for the Spartans. Besides the three rushing touchdowns at New Mexico, the run game was shunned from reaching the end zone against Utah, Iowa State and Hawaii.
Spartans running back Malik Roberson, who finished with a team-high 91 yards on 19 carries this past weekend, said the amount of carries isn’t the issue even with the recent struggles at the quarterback position.
“We’re getting a good amount of touches, we’re getting opportunities. We’re working together as a team, as an offense, to help expand and help do better as a rushing team,” Roberson said.
Nevada’s weak spot on defense is defending the run, as they allow an average of 270 rushing yards per game.
With a lack of efficiency from the passing game recently, SJSU will need to establish a reliable run game if they want a shot at getting back into the win column.