2008 Review: Stanford, Hawai'i, Utah State

As kick-off 2009 approaches, Inside Sparta continues the look back at the 2008 season. 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 Stanford, Hawai'i, and Utah State games.

Second in a four-part series.

San Jose State at Stanford Cardinal, September 20th, Loss, 10 – 23 (Attendance: 33,293)

Which Spartan team showed up at Stanford last year? The one that struggled against U. C. Davis? Or the one which played well at Nebraska, then bulldozed San Diego State? The answer: both showed up. The "good" Spartan offense played the first half, the "bad" Spartan offense played the second. By game's end, things got ugly, and the 2008 Spartans revealed a pronounced "Jekyll & Hyde" personality.

The game started well enough for San Jose, as the defense held the Cardinal on its first series. Then the Spartans, from their own 34, moved behind Kyle Reed to the Stanford 22 before stalling, settling for a 39-yard field goal by Jared Strubeck.

The Spartan defense held Stanford to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. SJSU took over at its 37, moving the ball to the Stanford 30. From there, Reed was sacked on third down, losing six yards. In a questionable move, the Spartans punted from the Stanford 36.

Phil Zavala's kick was fair caught at the Stanford 11, and the Cardinal moved from there across mid-field before a Coye Francies interception at the SJSU 21 ended the drive.

SJSU then marched 79 yards, sending Brandon Rutley into the end zone from four yards out, for the games first TD. The PAT was good, the score Spartans 10, Cardinal 0, and things were looking up in Sparta.

The Spartan defense was heroic protecting the lead. Stanford took the kick-off and moved to the SJSU 39. QB Tavita Pritchard then hit Doug Baldwin for a 38-yard completion. Baldwin was about to score when Coye Francies knocked the ball lose just before he crossed the goal line.

SJSU kept its lead, but punted on its next possession, giving Stanford the ball at their own 36. The Cardinal then marched 64 yards, in just two minutes, 46 seconds, for a TD. The score was 10 – 7, Spartans, but the Cardinal offensive line was beginning to assert itself.

With 38 seconds left in the first half, SJSU took the ensuing kick to its own 38, and, aided by a 15-yard penalty, moved to the Cardinal 19. But the Spartans closed the half by missing a 36-yard field goal attempt.

San Jose's first possession in the second half ended with a punt. Stanford, starting at its own 15, drove 65 yards to the Spartan 20, where they were stopped by the SJSU defense. But the Cardinal did manage a field goal, tying the score.

After SJSU's next three-and-out, Stanford took the field at its own 22, moving to the Spartan 35 and Aaron Zagary's 52-yard field goal. The Spartan defense had denied the touchdown, but Stanford led, 13 – 10.

Trailing by three, San Jose took its next possession to the Stanford 35, where Reed fumbled the ball away. The Spartan defense stopped Stanford on its first two possessions of the fourth quarter, keeping the game close. But the Spartan offense continued to sputter, losing 11 yards on its first possession, 10 on its next. Reed, sacked three times in that span, ultimately fumbled again, this time at the Spartan's own 13-yard line.

But again the Spartan defense held at the seven, denied Stanford the TD, and limited them to a field goal. San Jose was still in the game, though trailing 16 – 10.

The Spartans last chance ended when Reed was sacked on a fourth-and-six at his 43. Stanford sealed its win with a touchdown with nine seconds showing.

For San Jose, it was a bitter loss, but there were positives: Reed completed his first 16 pass attempts, and was 23-of-26 on the day (but for just 165 yards, a 6.34 average). The Spartan defense was magnificent, repeatedly denying Stanford the end zone, making big plays, and keeping San Jose in the game.

But it also got pretty ugly. The Spartan offense was held to just 38 total yards in the second half, and negative 24 in the fourth quarter. Reed was sacked eight times! San Jose was just 3-of-13 on third down conversions, and had just 54 net rushing yards (Reed lost 31 yards on the day). Another critical field goal was missed, and two drives into Stanford territory netted zero points.

What the stats only suggest was how the Spartan offensive line was totally dominated by the Cardinal, especially in the second half. Now at 2 – 2, the Spartans looked ahead to a trip to the islands.

SJSU at Hawai'i, September 28th, Win, 20 – 17 (Attendance: 40, 571)

The Spartans earned their best win of 2008 in this wild game played on Oahu. In 2007, the Warriors had come to Spartan Stadium and handed San Jose a tough overtime loss in the rain, en route to an undefeated season, and a BCS appearance in the Sugar Bowl (where they lost, 41 – 10, to Georgia). Hawai'i had beaten San Jose seven straight years, going back to 2001.

The Warriors asserted themselves early, taking a 17 – 7 first half lead, on touchdown drives of 45 and 72 yards, and a field goal. San Jose scored on its second play of the game when Rutley took the snap, passed laterally to Reed lined up on the left, who then tossed a 77-yard touchdown strike to Dave Richmond! But they punted on their next five offensive possessions. The Spartans would have to come from behind in this one.

And they did. The Spartan defense threw a shut-out in the second half, forcing five Hawai'i turnovers, dominating the Warrior offense. Late in the third, SJSU linebacker Kyler O'Neil (one of the O'Neal brothers) sacked Hawai'i QB Inoke Funaki for a 13-yard loss at the eight, forcing a fumble to boot! The "D" had given the offense a chance, and the "O" capitalized, scoring a TD three plays later. It was Hawai'i 17, SJSU 14.

On Hawai'i's next offensive play, cornerback Christopher Owens forced a fumble, and it was again San Jose's ball. The Spartans drove to the Hawai'i 30, where Jared Strubeck missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. But on Hawai'i's next series, Coye Francies intercepted Funaki, returning it 17 yards to the Hawai'i 26. The Spartan offense took over, racking up seven yards – backwards!! – before Strubeck finally hit on a 50-yard kick to tie the game at 17.

The teams traded possessions until Duke Ihenacho intercepted a Tyler Graunke pass at the Hawai'i 35, and returned it to the 30. With 2:56 left, the Spartan offense again took the field, managing to burn nearly two minutes off the clock, picking up zero yards. (It was a good drive -- no yards were lost!) This set up Strubeck's winning (and redeeming) boot of 47 yards, making it Spartans 20, Warriors 17.

The Spartan defense then stopped the Warriors on downs, allowing the Spartan offense to march triumphantly from the Hawai'i 20 to the Hawai'i 30, ending the game. The Spartans were 3 – 2 on the year, and the team's split personality was clear: the defense was Jekyll, the offense Hyde.

Utah State vs. SJSU, October 11th, Win, 30 – 7 (Attendance: 20, 318)

After the tough loss at Stanford, and the thrilling win in Honolulu, the Spartans took a bye week, then hosted the Aggies at Spartan Stadium. San Jose did not exactly score early, but they did score often in a romp. Kyle Reed threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. David Richmond had eight pass receptions for 89 yards, and a TD. Duke Ihenacho snagged two pass interceptions, returning one 43 yards for a touchdown.

The Spartan defense held Utah State to just 190 yards total offense, three first downs, and forced 10 punts. Utah State finally scored with just 1:50 left in the game, following a Phil Zavala punt that travelled just 13 yards, to the SJSU 40. Even though the Aggies moved the ball to the Spartan four-yard line, the defense put on a great goal-line stand, not giving up the TD until third down, when Sean Setzer completed a two-yard toss to Ronald Scott. It was the closest the Spartans had come to a shut-out since their 2003 blanking of Grambling State.

Despite the big win, the offense continued its disturbing trends. The Spartans punted on their first four possessions of the game. Strubeck missed a 39-yard attempt to end the first half, and missed the PAT after SJSU scored on the first play of the second half (a 53-yard TD reception by Terrance Williams). There were three straight Spartan punts in the fourth quarter. Despite Reed's performance, the Spartans rushed for just 87 yards, and converted just six of 18 third down conversion attempts. Although a respectable 4 – 2, and atop the WAC at 2 – 0, the flaws in the offense would eventually emerge to undo what might have been a bowl season for San Jose.

Previous: UC Davis, Nebraska, San Diego State

Next: New Mexico State, Boise State, Idaho

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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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