Coming off the best defensive effort through seven weeks, the San Jose State Spartans face another tough task on a short week as they prepare for a conference road game against the San Diego State Aztecs Friday night on ESPN2 (kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT).
The Aztecs (5-1 overall, 2-0 Mountain West) spoiled Fresno State’s homecoming last Friday night with a 17-3 win and are looking to extend their Mountain West win streak to 14, which began on Nov. 21, 2014. Meanwhile, the Spartans (2-5, 1-2 MW) are eyeing their second consecutive win after snapping a four-game losing streak.
Following a valiant 14-10 win over Nevada, where SJSU managed to stave off one of the elite running backs in the country in James Butler to a conference-low 94 yards on 20 carries, they will look to muster up a similar performance against college football’s leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey Friday night.
Pumphrey, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior, was unanimously voted a midseason All-American by CBS Sports (one of four, which included Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez) earlier this week and is in the Heisman conversation after totaling 1,111 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns through six games.
There are a lot of 1s in his stats thus far, which makes it ironic for SJSU because he’s the No. 1 priority heading into this week.
For the Spartans’ Frank Ginda, and the defense as a whole, this generates a chance to show not only themselves, but the national viewers what they’re capable of on a big stage.
“I think our defense takes a lot of pride in playing Donnel Pumphrey because he’s a Heisman candidate,” Ginda said. “At the end of the day, we’re focused on stopping him and it’s really, really big to play on national television like this because it gets our team out and allows people to see how we play.”
Over the past three seasons against the Spartans, Pumphrey has averaged 163.6 yards in three games (9.2 yards per carry) and totaled for six touchdowns.
Similar to what SJSU managed to do against Nevada’s Butler, Ginda said that stopping the run will force opponents to pass – granting the pass game to be easier to defend.
The Spartans meanwhile feature their own back with a similar build to that of Pumphrey’s and he has recently opened up the offense with big performances.
Standing at 5-8 and weighing 185 pounds, sophomore Malik Roberson has had rushing performances of 91 yards on 19 carries against Hawaii and 139 yards on 35 carries against Nevada over the past two weeks, respectively.
Roberson said it’s been a big responsibility after carrying the load in the backfield, but he is providing a spark that they have desperately needed.
It may not come easy, however, considering the Aztecs defense is holding opponents to just 98 rushing yards per game (7th in FBS), but after showing grit in the win over the Wolf Pack, the Spartans are relying on consistency moving forward.
“If we do our job and be consistent week by week and take game by game seriously then we’re going to be victorious or have a great shot,” Ginda said.