Spartans Prepare To Face Improved Idaho Team

The San Jose State football team opens it's Western Athletic Conference schedule this Saturday against the Idaho Vandals, who Head Coach Dick Tomey calls "one of the top two teams in the conference". Fortunately for the Spartans, they've had the luxury of a bye week to rest, heal, and better prepare.

The San Jose State football team spent their bye week involved in a variety of activities. For some players it was a chance to rest and heal their aching bodies, the result of four tough, physical games that opened the season. For others, specifically the younger players, it was an opportunity to receive additional practice time and to participate in team scrimmages that would normally be filled with veteran players. For the coaching staff, the bye week presented an opportunity to extensively review game film from the first four games, and also get a longer look at the Spartans' next opponent, the Idaho Vandals, who come to Spartan Stadium this Saturday, October 10th, for a 5:00 pm kick-off. The game marks the beginning of Western Athletic Conference play for San Jose State.

"I think the bye week was good" said Head Coach Dick Tomey. "We got some rest; we practiced; we got a chance to take a good look at ourselves in every phase." When asked what his coaching staff learned from all of the additional film study of the first four games Tomey said "You learn that some of the mistakes you're making are fundamental mistakes, and just the way you play the game. You also learn that some of the things you're doing you need to throw out and do something else." Tomey indicated that the result of all of that film study will be some minor changes in special teams personnel. "We've had a good chance to take a look at ourselves, to maybe tweak what we're doing in small ways, because you certainly don't want to do that in large ways" said Tomey. "I think, one of the most important things is that we've re-adjusted our personnel, particularly in the kicking game." Tomey sees a definite benefit in reducing the work load of special teams players, which came as a result of being shorthanded due to injuries. "Because we've got several players back from injury" said Tomey, "that will allow some of the guys on our team to concentrate more on two special teams, rather than be on three or four."

At least five players are expected back, possibly more. Chief among them will be the return of running back Brandon Rutley, who has missed the past two games after being injured during his touchdown run against Utah on September 12th. Rutley provides the Spartans' offense with a legitimate breakaway threat, as well as potentially utilizing the "Wildcat" formation, in which Rutley will line-up in the quarterback spot. Also expected back is defensive safety Dominique Hunsucker, who can also return kick-offs and play running back. The biggest boost might be the return of two defensive linemen, Justin Willis and Joe Nigos. The defensive line has been hit particularly hard by the injury bug this season. Gone for the year is defensive end Mohamed Marah (torn labrum), while defensive tackle Kalvin Cressel (dislocated elbow) is not expected back for at least a couple more weeks. The Spartans were so short on able bodies to play defensive line in their last game, Steve Lightsy, an offensive guard, was moved to defensive tackle, where he started for the Spartans against Cal Poly. Tomey also indicated that running back Patrick Perry should be back to full speed.

Looking ahead to this weekend's game against the Idaho Vandals, Tomey gave high praise to both their players and to their coaching staff. "The University of Idaho" said Tomey, "has done such a good job and is one of the two best teams in our conference. Certainly the record shows that." To the surprise of many, Idaho is off to a 4-1 start, including victories over Northern Illinois and Colorado State, two teams that played in bowl games last year, "This is a huge challenge for us" said Tomey. "They do so many things that just shows great coaching. They've played five games and have not lost a fumble. That takes great coaching. They lead the league in run defense. They lead the league in third down conversions. They're at 54 percent, which is almost unheard of in college football."

Tomey is particularly impressed with Idaho's massive left guard Mike Iupati, who stands 6-foot-6 and 325 lbs, pointing out that some consider him the top pro prospect in the West. "When you watch the film he just sticks out because he's such an outstanding player" said Tomey. Another player that Tomey singled out was defensive safety Shiloh Keo, who was named WAC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. "(He) is just an outstanding player" said Tomey. "He dominated the final stages of their game against Colorado State with his play." Tomey is also impressed with the maturation of Vandal's quarterback Nathan Enderle, now in his third season as the starter. "They're getting tremendous play by their quarterback" said Tomey, "(He) has grown tremendously in his first two years as a quarterback. He's continued to get better and better."

In some respects, this year's Idaho team reminds Tomey of his own 2006 San Jose State team. "They're much like we were a couple of years ago" said Tomey. "We had a team full of guys that hadn't won. And when we started to win, we liked it. We liked the feeling. We didn't want to lose it. And we kept it up and won nine games. And I think they are the same." According to Tomey, having a head coach that is committed to their program has been the difference maker. "They finally have a coach who's planted the flag in Moscow; and that's the important thing" said Tomey. "He bought a house there. He's going to live there. He wants to be there. They understand that. They're spilling their guts for Robb Akey and his staff."

Tomey also pointed out that, although the Spartans have won all four meetings with Idaho since they joined the WAC in 2005, all of the games between San Jose State and Idaho have been relatively close. "We've played four games against them in the last four years, and each of them has been a one touchdown game" said Tomey. "This is, by far, the best (Idaho) team that we've played. We haven't yet played well enough to win this game. But I believe we're capable of that on Saturday."

Other Notes:

The Dick Tomey Radio Show will air live from Original Joe's in downtown San Jose (301 South 1st Street) on Wednesday night October 7th at 8:00 pm. The public is encouraged to attend.

Also open to the public is the second Brown Bag Lunch of the season with Coach Tomey, which will be held this Thursday, October 8th at 12:30 pm in the Student Union Amphitheatre.

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Mike Morgan is a Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Mike with any questions, comments, or tips at mike@insidesparta.com

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