Spartans Face A Daunting Challenge In Boise

With a rough first half of the season behind them, the San Jose State Spartans begin the second half with one of their toughest challenges of the year, when they travel to Boise State to face the nationally-ranked Broncos. As it turns out, what was already known to be a tough schedule before the season began has turned out to be even tougher than anyone imagined.

Although the San Jose State Spartans (1-5 / 0-2 WAC) have struggled thus far, head coach Dick Tomey is not dismayed with the thought of having his team travel to Boise, Idaho to face the nationally-ranked Boise State Broncos this Saturday. In fact, Tomey relishes the challenge that awaits his players. "This is a great opportunity for any team, to go into Boise and take your shot" said Tomey. "They have an outstanding team on offense, defense, and special teams." Tomey is particularly impressed with the job that Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, a former offensive coordinator, has done with the Broncos' defense. "Since Coach Petersen has been there, the thing that's improved the most has been their defense" said Tomey. "They are, unquestionably, the best defense in the conference. They lead the conference in almost every defensive category." The game will mark the third time this season that the Spartans will face a nationally-ranked opponent, having faced USC and Utah to open the season. Boise State (7-0 / 2-0 WAC) is currently ranked #7 nationally in the latest BCS poll.

Tomey believes that the Boise State program is miles ahead of any other program in the Western Athletic Conference. "Its not even close" said Tomey. "If someone in our conference is going to overtake them as a dominant team, they've got a lot of work to do." Tomey points to Boise State's overall long tradition of winning as setting the foundation which allowed for their meteoric rise that the program has experienced in recent years. Since they began playing major college football in 1968, the Broncos have only finished five seasons with a losing record. "The level of accomplishment on their part has gone up significantly over the past five-six years" said Tomey. "They have all the infrastructure you need in terms of fan support, facilities, and all the things that attract recruits." Tomey went on to say "I think it's going to take a long time for someone (in the WAC) to equal them in terms of the strength of their program."

The Broncos are particularly tough playing on their home "blue" turf, where they have won their last 22 home games, and are 48-1 since 2002. Their last loss at home was against Boston College in the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl. Asked what the most difficult aspect of playing the Broncos in Boise is, Tomey did not hesitate. "(It's) their team" he said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with anything else. It has nothing to do with the turf. It's just (that) they've got a good team, and they've had good team for a long time. Somebody is going to beat them up there, sometime; hopefully this week. But that doesn't mean you have the same program as they do. That just means you've won one game."

Perhaps the scariest aspect of Boise State is that they're still a very young team. After reviewing game film of the Broncos this past week, the San Jose State coaches agreed that of their top 50 players, only three are seniors. Tomey is particularly impressed with sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, whose 171.3 pass rating leads the entire nation. "He's just so poised for a young player" said Tomey. Moore has thrown 21 touchdown passes this season. But, even more impressive to Tomey, is that he has only thrown two interceptions thus far. "He's not a prototypical quarterback. He's not big. He's not fast. He's a nifty operator. He is an excellent, excellent quarterback."

Tomey is optimistic that, despite their struggles in their first six games, his team can play well against Boise State. "We believe we can be competitive" said Tomey. "Obviously we've got a lot of work to do. Struggling is not a bad thing, as long as you understand that you are. We've just got to keep working. We've got to stay together. We've got to keep believing we can. We've got to focus on getting better today."

Expect Some Changes On Offense And Defense

Two of the Spartans starting offensive linemen are out indefinitely with injuries. Center Ronnie Castillo (ankle) and guard Ailao Eliapo (knee) will both miss the next few weeks, but may return before the season ends. Castillo's center spot will be filled by junior Robbie Reed, who started the first four games of the 2008 season. Taking Eliapo's spot will be sophomore Andres Vargas, who Tomey pointed out as having played very well in the second half of the Fresno State game, despite his not having played the guard position previously. It's likely that the Spartans will have only one senior starter on offense against Boise State; wide receiver Kevin Jurovich. "We've gone from a team that was going to be a senior laden team to a team that is a very young team, in six weeks, which is not a bad thing" said Tomey. "We've had some underclassmen beat-out some seniors at this point. We've also had some seniors, because of injuries, that haven't played as much as we hoped." On defense expect linebacker Ryno Gonzalez to play more. "(He) went into the last game as a linebacker and gave us a shot in the arm, in terms of being physical" said Tomey. Also expected to play more are three true freshmen; defensive backs Ronnie Yell and Chris Hill, and defensive end Travis Johnson , who Tomey said "is really starting to develop into a good player."

Tougher Than Expected Schedule

Prior to the start of the season, the Spartans looked at the schedule and saw the likes of USC, Utah, and Boise State, and they could tell that it was going to be a difficult challenge. No one, however, anticipated just how tough the first eight weeks of the schedule would be. In the latest Sagarin NCAA rankings, the Spartans' schedule is rated the 7th toughest in the nation, easily the highest position for a non-BCS school. As it may turn out, the Spartans might be the only team in the country that will have faced seven bowl teams in their first seven games against FBS opponents. Thus far, the Spartans' FBS opponents have been USC (6-1), Utah (6-1), Stanford (5-3), Idaho (6-2), and Fresno State (4-3); with Boise State (7-0) and a surging Nevada (4-3) team (riding a four-game win streak) coming up. Four of those opponents are already bowl eligible (USC, Utah, Idaho, and Boise State) and we haven't even reached the end of October. Stanford needs one more victory to be bowl eligible, and the remaining schedules for both Fresno State and Nevada look to be very favorable for their bowl endeavors. The lone game in which the Spartans faced a non-FBS team was their 19-9 victory over Cal Poly.


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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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