2008 Review: La Tech, Nevada, and FSU

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 concludes the series with a look back at Louisiana Tech, Nevada, and Fresno State

Last of four parts

As the final lap of the San Jose State Spartans' 2008 season arrived, the team seemed in good shape. Their record stood at 6 – 3, despite tough losses to Nebraska, Stanford, and Boise State. They had beaten Hawai'i on The Island, and handed Utah State, Idaho, and New Mexico State decisive defeats. With a domineering win at home against San Diego State, and an ugly one over U.C. Davis, all combined to spell bowl eligibility. But what the team really needed to seal a very good year was just one . . . more . . . win . . . Their first chance to get it would be at home against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

Louisiana Tech vs. SJSU, November 8th, Loss, 0 – 21 (Attendance: 16, 170)

But, alas, if there is one 2008 game the Spartans would wish to "do over," this is probably it. It was San Jose State's worst overall game of the year. It was the Spartans' worst offensive effort of the year. And it was the most painful thing a fan had had to watch at Spartan Stadium in a long, long time – nearly 40 years, to be exact.

The game started relatively well for SJSU, with both teams tied at "nuthin'," but didn't stay that way for long. Spartan quarterback Myles Eden started again in place of banged-up Kyle Reed. Eden was coming off a very good game the week before at Idaho. But in the space of 80 seconds, the World ko'd Eden with a nasty one-two punch. The first came just three minutes, 26 seconds into the game, when La Tech's Weldon Brown picked Eden at the San Jose State 21. The Bulldogs ran it in from there on their first try, and it was La Tech 7, SJSU 0.

One minute, 20 seconds later, Eden was picked again, this time by Terry Carter, who ran the ball back 50 yards for La Tech's second TD. With the game less than five minutes old, it was La Tech 14, SJSU 0.

San Jose's defense prevented further damage through the early fourth quarter. Then, Kyle Reed, who had replaced a shaken Eden, hit Dave Richmond long for a Spartan first-and-goal. It was as close as the Spartans would get to the end zone. On ensuing plays, the offense lost yardage, and the opportunity fell dead on an incomplete fourth down pass.

La Tech QB Ross Jenkins hit Dustin Mitchell for a 35-yard TD with about ten minutes left in the game, making the final 21 – 0.

San Jose State made just six first downs in the game, a season low. The team gained just 148 total yards of offense, 28 of it on the ground. It was the first shut out at Spartan Stadium in 40 years, since losing to Washington State 0 – 46 in the homecoming game, November 16, 1968. (Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, Man had yet to set foot on the Moon, there was no such thing as a personal computer, The Beatles were in their prime, and most of the fans at the La Tech game probably weren't even born yet).

The weaknesses in the offense had not cost the Spartans against lesser opponents. They had, however, cost potential wins against Nebraska, Stanford and Boise State, and were now fully exposed. Against La Tech, the Spartan offense became a liability. Head Coach Dick Tomey and the Spartans would get two more chances to secure a seventh win, but it wasn't going to happen. Maybe they knew it, maybe they didn't. That night, at home against La Tech was their Waterloo.

SJSU at Nevada Wolf Pack, November 15th, Loss, 17 – 41.

There would be no balls bouncing off of Spartan uprights this year. Nevada pointed their "Pistol" at the Spartans, and handed San Jose State its fifth loss on the year, leaving the team still in search of a bowl clinching, seventh win.

The Wolf Pack scored early and often, getting out to a 14 – 0 lead before Jared Strubeck got the Spartans on the board with a field goal late in the second quarter. The teams traded touchdowns in the third, each scoring 14 points. Nevada added 10 in the fourth, leaving the final 17 – 41. Although the Spartan offense was back from the dead (barely), San Jose was never really in it.

Kyle Reed was 15-of-27, for 301 yards passing, and hit Dave Richmond with two TDs. But the Spartans lost a net 23 yards rushing, and were – by now, characteristically – just 2-for-13 on third down conversions. Nevada, meanwhile, rushed for 333 yards, 147 by QB Colin Kaepernick and 125 more by running back Vai Taua.

The loss dropped San Jose State's record to 6 – 5 on the year, with just one more chance to secure a coveted seventh win. That would come on a Friday night, on ESPN2, at home, against the Fresno State Bulldogs.

Fresno State vs. SJSU, November 21st, Loss, 10 – 21 (Attendance: 24,384)

It was déjà vu all over again. Eerily similar to the Nebraska game. Painfully reminiscent of the Stanford game. It uncomfortably resembled the Boise State game. For San Jose State in 2008, it seemed the same as it ever was: a strong start against a favored opponent, an early lead, some big hits by the defense, in the game until the fourth quarter, but an offense that just couldn't get the job done against a stronger opponent. There would be no seventh win for Coach Tomey and his Spartans in 2008.

SJSU scored first, on a 35-yard TD toss by Brandon Rutley to David Richmond. (Senior QB Sean Flynn started and played the entire game for the Spartans.) Fresno State answered with a field goal three-and-a-half minutes later, which Jared Strubeck matched early in the second quarter. At the half, it was San Jose State 10, Fresno State 3. The Spartans were in it.

The score held until nearly the end of the third quarter, when Fresno State's Chastin West returned a Spartan punt 49 yards for a TD. After that, the Bulldog offensive line asserted itself against the Spartan defense, and FSU scored two more TDs before the final gun ended the game, and the Spartan's 2008 season.

The Spartan defense was again stalwart, holding Fresno State to just five-of-18 passing, for just 71 yards. On the ground, FSU did pick up 171 yards, but much of it came in the fourth quarter.

But the Spartan offense again struggled. Although Flynn was 20-of-36 passing, it was for just 170 yards – a 4.3 yard average. Flynn also lost 51 total yards trying to run, more than offsetting just 48 gained between Yonus Davis and Rutley. San Jose State ended the night with negative five yards on the ground. Jared Strubeck, who had shown consistency after struggling early in the season, missed field goal attempts of 48 and 31 yards. SJSU registered four three-and-outs on the game.

The offense also failed to capitalize on two turnovers. When Coye Francies intercepted a Tom Brandstater pass in the first quarter, San Jose State, then leading 7 – 0, took over at their own 41-yard line. Two plays later, Flynn was tackled for a 12-yard loss, fumbled, and Fresno recovered at the San Jose State 32.

In the second, Jeff Schweiger recovered a Fresno State fumble at their 39. SJSU marched the ball, aided by a 15-yard penalty called against them, back to their own 39, from whence Phil Zavala punted.

At one point in the fourth quarter, the offense moved backwards 23 yards, from the Fresno State 47, to the San Jose State 30, before punting again.

The Spartans did make 16 first downs in the game, but only four of them by third down conversion. SJSU was penalized 10 times for a total of 88 yards they really could not afford to give up.

All said, it was another tough loss, the team's third in a row against the WAC's top half. Although San Jose State was bowl eligible, the three-game skid probably cost them an invitation. (Many Spartan fans were relieved by that, others bitterly disappointed).

The season ended even, at 6 – 6. San Jose State did improve its win total by one game over its 5 – 7 record in 2007. But after getting off to a 6 – 3 start, that 6 – 6 finish did not look so good to many Spartan faithful.

The defense played well all year, even in the La Tech game. It kept San Jose in nearly every game of the season, at least into the fourth quarter, often against highly favored opponents. The offense did well against lesser opponents, but sputtered badly against stronger teams, and completely imploded against La Tech.

Yet, at the end of Dick Tomey's fourth season as Spartan head coach, fans did not seem totally disappointed. The program was, after all, tangibly improving, especially off the field. But frustration with an inconsistent offense, being left home in December, and enduring two disappointing years following the bowl-winning season of 2006 left fans hungry.

As the 2009 season debuts, Spartan fans are again optimistic, and some, perhaps, grimly determined. Many hope and believe the team will break out this year. Others say next. All, though, expect the Spartan football program to continue to progress under the guidance of Coach Tomey and his coaching staff, and Athletic Director Tom Bowen. I hope reviewing the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, and the wins and losses of 2008 helps put the new season in better perspective for all.

New Mexico State, Boise State, Idaho
Stanford, Hawai'i, Utah State
UC Davis, Nebraska, San Diego 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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