The weather in San Jose on Saturday was eerily symbolic of the state of the San Jose State football program. Following days of media questioning Ron Caragher’s future as head coach, Saturday was gloomy and rainy. Judging by the many empty seats shown on the CBS Sports Network telecast, the actual attendance was definitely far below the official figure of 15,161.
Carrying a 1-5 record at kickoff, San Jose State needed this win like a drought-stricken California needed rain. The Spartans delivered, as Kenny Potter ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the final minute for a 14-10 victory over the visiting Nevada Wolf Pack. Potter completed 11 of 17 passes for 142 yards. Sophomore running back Malik Roberson had his first 100-yard career rushing performance and highest number of rushing yards by any player this season, as he rushed for 139 yards on a career-high 35 carries.
Caragher said that Roberson had the “hot hand” during practice, and Roberson agreed.
“A lot of carries, a lot of focus, a lot of responsibility on my hand this week,” Roberson described the practice week.
For Nevada, Tyler Stewart completed nine of 20 passes for 144 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Nevada had just 113 yards rushing and around 3.3 yards per rush and was the second straight San Jose State opponent with 150 or fewer rushing yards in a game. Having made four sacks all season, Nevada sacked Potter four times on Saturday.
“I really credit our defense and how they came out from the get-go, from making tackles in the open field to tackles for losses to the third down attempts for Nevada,” said Caragher. Nevada converted just two of 10 third-down attempts and first converted a third down in the third quarter.
In contrast to Potter’s three interceptions in last week’s 34-17 homecoming loss to Hawaii, San Jose State committed no turnovers to Nevada’s two.
San Jose State had a chance to strike first on offense, as a 70-yard kickoff return by Rahshead Johnson put the starting field position on the Nevada 30. On a run-heavy drive, the Spartans only got 11 yards, after Potter under-threw a pass Tre Hartley near the end zone on third down. On the ensuing 36-yard field goal attempt, James Workman snapped the ball high, and kicker Bryce Crawford grabbed the ball before being tackled at the Nevada 37.
“Throwing the ball in the beginning came out different for Kenny. A couple hit the turf and a couple were overthrown,” said Caragher about the offensive game plan. “But our game plan from the beginning was to run the ball effectively against them. That had been one of their weaknesses, and that’s something we can do pretty good.”
Nevada produced a three-and-out on its first drive, and San Jose State drove into Nevada territory in another run-heavy drive before being stopped at the Nevada 48. Michael Carrizosa punted the ball 37 yards and pinned Nevada back at its 11, but San Jose State stopped Nevada at the Nevada 40. Not even inserting backup quarterback Ty Gangi for a few plays in that drive sparked the Nevada offense.
A personal foul penalty against Dominic Barnes pinned San Jose State back at its own 8 on the ensuing punt. On third-and-14 from the San Jose State 4, Potter hit Hartley with a 29-yard pass, but the offense stalled at the San Jose State 39. Carrizosa’s punt went only 19 yards after bouncing the wrong way; it appeared it could have bounced off a Nevada player and been a change for a San Jose State fumble recovery.
The first quarter ended with both teams scoreless. However, a pick sparked the San Jose State offense. Throwing on the run, Stewart attempted a pass to Wyatt Demps, but Trevon Bierria covered Demps well and picked off the pass midfield. Bierria returned the interception 12 yards, and a facemask penalty against Nevada receiver Jerico Richardson added 15 yards to that return and gave San Jose State another favorable starting position at the Nevada 23. On five rushing plays, Roberson drove San Jose State to the Nevada 5. Potter kept the ball for 2 yards, then scrambled 3 yards for a touchdown that gave San Jose State a 7-0 lead.
For the rest of the second quarter, both teams exchanged punts. At one point, San Jose State drove all the way from its 15 to the Nevada 40, only for Potter to be sacked twice for a net 17-yard loss.
Nevada came up empty on its first drive of the third quarter, but so did San Jose State. On fourth-and-10 from the Nevada 34, Potter’s pass to Justin Holmes came up one yard short. Nevada then drove all the way to the San Jose State 5 with a mix of passing and rushing plays, aided by a pass interference penalty against San Jose State cornerback Andre Chachere that continued what would have been another three-and-out. On third-and-1, however, Christian Tago dropped Nevada running back James Butler for a loss of 5 yards. Spencer Pettit hit a 28-yard field goal to pull Nevada within 7-3 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Tago appeared to slip underneath a Nevada blocker on that pass preceding the flag on Chachere. Explaining that play, Tago said he was attempting to knock down a pass by Stewart.
“The running back came up to me, and I saw the quarterback reaching back with his arm about to throw, so I was trying to get up and throw my body out there to block the pass,” explained Tago.
San Jose State entered the fourth quarter with another empty drive, but Nevada made some more mistakes. First, Stewart mishandled the handoff to Butler and lost 3 yards. Then, Chachere got the second interception of the game and gave San Jose State the ball back on the Nevada 28. San Jose State managed just 5 yards on that play and had a turnover on downs on fourth-and-5, after replay review determined that Shane Smith did not complete what could have been a first down reception in bounds.
Promptly, Nevada punished San Jose State by finally scoring a touchdown. With an all-out blitz coming on third-and-8 from the San Jose State 46, Stewart completed a screen pass to Butler that ended up becoming a touchdown. With a Nevada blocker in his way, San Jose State safety Maurice McKnight could not keep up with Butler. Nevada took a 10-7 lead with 6:52 remaining.
The amount of time left in regulation afforded San Jose State the ability to keep pounding the Nevada defensive line with a power running offense. In the ensuing 12-play, 84-yard drive, Potter passed the ball just four times, and the only third down was on third-and-2 from the Nevada 3. No play went for negative yardage. On that third down, Potter just needed to knock the pylon down to score the touchdown. Video showed Nevada linebacker Gabriel Sewell leading with his helmet on attempting to tackle Potter in the end zone, but officials determined there was no targeting penalty against Sewell.
With San Jose State now ahead 14-10, Nevada had just 44 seconds to reach the end zone. On fourth-and-7 from the Nevada 27, Stewart hit Demps with a 20-yard pass. With four seconds to go and on third-and-10 from the Nevada 47, San Jose State linebacker Alex Manigo hit Stewart as he attempted the Hail Mary pass, and the ball landed in front of Spartan defenders.
Potter praised his team for bouncing back after last week’s homecoming loss.
“Last week, I said we were either going to man up or run away from it, and everyone manned up,” commented Potter, who also credited the defense for “sav[ing] our butts all game.”