Taking a Look Back at the 2008 Season

As kick-off 2009 approaches, what say we take a look at last year? We'll look at the high-lights, the low-lights, and offer a bit of commentary on what went right, and what didn't. This installment covers the U.C. Davis, Nebraska, and San Diego State games.

U. C. Davis Aggies vs. San Jose State, August 30th, Win, 13 – 10 (Attendance: 18, 730)

It could have - maybe should have - gone the other way. The Spartans were favored to win their season opener against a respected Football Championship Subdividion (Formerly Division 1-AA) team. But less than three minutes into the game, Davis quarterback Daniel Alfaro hit Bakari Grant for a 54-yard TD pass, and the Aggies were out front, 7 – 0.

A Davis pass interception later in the first led to a three-point field goal, making it 10 – 0, Davis, and that's where the score remained until late in the fourth quarter.

San Jose started Myles Eden at quarterback, then sent in Jordan La Secla, then went back to Eden. It wasn't until early in the third quarter that the ball was finally handed to Kyle Reed. He didn't waste the opportunity.

The transfer from Cal debuted with a 12-play, 43-yard scoring drive, culminating on a fourth-down, three-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams. Ominously, though, SJSU missed the extra point (blocked). Perhaps more telling were the 10 minutes and 48 seconds it took San Jose to travel those 43 yards.

The Spartan defense held the Aggies scoreless through the fourth quarter, and SJSU, still trailing, got three more drives. The first resulted in nine yards and a punt; the second ended with a missed field goal. But the third was charmed.

With one minute, 29 seconds on the clock, Reed and the offense got the ball at their own 36-yard line. Reed rushed on first down for nine yards, then, on second-and-short, hit Kevin Jurovich for a first down across the 50. Reed immediately went back to Jurovich for a 37-yard gain to the Davis 14, and the crowd was on its feet.

Reed's next two passes fell incomplete, and on third down he was sacked for a three-yard loss. On fourth-or-forget –it, the crowd roaring, Reed hit Jurovich for a 17-yard TD. Spartan Stadium went wild. There were just eight seconds left on the clock. The extra point made the final 13 – 10, Spartans.

But knowledgeable Spartan fans saw trouble brewing. The offense rushed for only 42 yards on the game, and was just three-of-12 on third-downs. Time of possession was just 25 minutes, 34 seconds against a Division 1AA team. San Jose was zero-for-two on field goal attempts, and just one-of-two on points-after. Although Reed had come in and completed 14 of 18 passes for 132 yards, two TD's, and the exciting win, the offense had struggled all day. It was a portent of things to come.

SJSU at Nebraska Cornhuskers, September 6th, Loss, 35 – 12 (Attendance: 84,146)

But it was a lot closer than that, as the Spartans took an early lead, and kept it close going into the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, this was one of San Jose's better games in 2008. They were on the road against one of America's most-fabled football teams, and decided under dogs. After struggling to a win against U. C. Davis the week prior, the Spartans who went to Lincoln looked like a different team.

Nebraska got the ball to open the game, and their first series resulted in a net loss of 10 yards. San Jose, with Reed at quarterback, took its first possession 59 yards, culminating in a 12-yard run for a TD by Reed. But the PAT was missed. Nebraska answered with a nine-play, 86-yard drive of its own, and hit their extra point to take a 7 – 6 lead.

SJSU began its next series at their own 20, and moved to the Nebraska 47. Reed then tossed an interception that Nebraska returned 49 yards for a touchdown, making the score 14 – 6, Nebraska.

Toward the end of the first quarter, the Spartan offense again moved the ball to the Nebraska 22, before stalling and missing a field goal attempt. On its next drive, San Jose took the ball from its own 26 and drove 50 yards to the Nebraska 24, and stalled again. This time, Will Johnson hit a 41-yard field goal, and it was Nebraska 14, SJSU 9.

With 1:34 left in the half, Duke Ihenacho intercepted a pass at the Nebraska 30. The Spartans burned up the clock getting to ‘Husker 15, where Jared Strubeck missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.

The teams exchanged possessions through the third quarter until, with 1:21 left in the period, the Spartans' Justin Cole recovered a Nebraska fumble near mid-field. From their own 48, the Spartans moved the ball to the Nebraska nine-yard line, but again could not punch into the end zone, settling for a field goal. The score was 14 – 12, Nebraska. But San Jose was in the game. Until the next play.

That's when Nebraska's Niles Paul returned the ensuing kick-off 85 yards for a TD, and the ‘Huskers never looked back.

It was a disappointing loss for San Jose. Take away 14 Nebraska "gift" points; add in 7 SJSU points missed in field goals and points-after; and just 4 points from a "red zone" touchdown instead of a field goal, and maybe SJSU wins.

There were many positives. The team was competitive into the fourth quarter. The defense held Nebraska to just 99 yards rushing. SJSU held the ball for 30 minutes, 23 seconds. SJSU improved its rushing game somewhat, and registered just two "three-and-outs" the entire game.

But there were also negatives. Reed completed 18 of 26 passes, but had one intercepted for a TD, threw no TDs of his own, and had just a 6.2 yards per attempt average. The kicking game was dismal, and the team could not score a TD when close to the end zone on repeated occasions. (Myles Eden also moved the team to the Nebraska 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter, only to throw an interception that killed the drive.) The Spartans failed to capitalize on opportunities – and, in "Tomey Ball," nothing could be worse.

Still, the outlook of Spartan fans was buoyed as the team headed home to face the San Diego Aztecs.

San Diego State Aztecs vs. SJSU, September 13th, Win, 35 - 10

Too bad they all can't be this fun, as the Spartans never trailed in what may have been their easiest game of the year. Kyle Reed opened at quarterback and completed his first 12 pass attempts, and rushed for three touchdowns on the day. SJSU rolled up 476 total yards, and improved their third-down efficiency to 7-of-17.

The Spartan defense, meanwhile, held the Aztecs to just 146 total yards, and only one first down the entire game. It did not give up a touchdown.

There were, however, some troubling negatives. Kyle Reed threw another interception which was returned for a touchdown. It was Reed's second of the year, and second in two weeks. San Jose also missed another field goal attempt.

Still, the Spartans were now 2 – 1, and an upset of Stanford the following week seemed possible. The big question was, "Which team would show up at The Farm? The one that struggled against U.C. Davis? Or the one that played well in Nebraska, and rolled over San Diego?"

Next: Stanford, Hawai'i, Utah State

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R. P. Cotta, Jr., is an Associate Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact R.P with any questions, comments, or tips at rpcottajr@insidesparta.com

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