First Down: Quick Hitters
Stats listed Opponent/Stanford. Stanford stats Pac-10 only.
Yards Per Game: 348/297
Points Per Game: 20.4/16.4
Rushing Yards Per Game: 84/79
Yards Per Carry: 2.6/2.3
Passing Yards Per Game: 264/218
Yards Per Pass: 7.0/5.9
Returning Offensive Starters: 7/7
Yards Per Game: 408/473
Points Per Game: 29.3/31.1
Rushing Yards Per Game: 165/193
Yards Per Carry: 4.5/4.7
Passing Yards Per Game: 243/280
Yards Per Pass: 6.8/7.8
Returning Defensive Starters: 6/9
2007 Record: (5-7, 4-4 WAC)/(4-8, 3-6)
2008 Predicted Points Per Game: 23/23
2008 Predicted Points Allowed Per Game: 27/28
2008 Projected Record: (4-8, 2-6 WAC)/(3-9, 2-7)
There's a pretty consistent theme here. San Jose State was slightly better in every key category than the Cardinal – but the Spartans played a schedule ranked about 100 spots easier than Stanford's. Take that and Stanford's 37-0 drubbing into account, and turns out it's Stanford with an edge over the Spartans in every category.
Second Down: Offense
This is an average unit by WAC standards, and one that Stanford and its nine returning defensive starters should have little trouble stymieing.
I'll break down the offense from the strongest to weakest link. First mention therefore goes to Yonus Davis, back for a sixth year after earning a medical redshirt in the offseason.
Stanford fans fondly remember Davis as the short, fast back who reversed field on the entire Cardinal defense time and again in the Spartans' 35-34 shocker two years ago. But it's not just Stanford, as the 5'7", 185 Davis has run for a phenomenal 6.4 yards per carry throughout his college career, earning 1,645 career yards and All-WAC honors in 2006. Patrick Perry and Dominique Hunsucker are ready to step in should Davis falter.
San Jose State was down to Hunsucker, its third-stringer and a former safety, by last year's Stanford game, so if its running back corp can stay healthy this year, it will be among the most improved in the country. The Spartans ran for 175 yards per game in 2006, before that number was halved last year due to the injuries. Look for the Spartans to return to their ground game of old.
The receivers are among the most experienced the Card will face, as the one-two combo of Kevin Jurovich (All-WAC last year) and David Richmond (a junior college transfer) combined for over 2,000 receiving yards last season.
However, neither player was a BCS-level recruit out of high school, speaking to their lack of elite size or speed. If you want to be a starting Pac-10 receiver, you better have one or the other, and it looks like the scouts did their homework, because BCS-quality defenses have shut down the tandem. The Spartans caught for just 75 yards against Arizona State, 131 against Stanford and 100 against Boise State last year, but at least 200 yards in their nine other games. While the receivers have enough savvy that they will make a few plays against the Card, Stanford has the athleticism advantage necessary to hold the Spartans' wideouts in check.
The line is probably the biggest question on the offense, and its performance will dictate the success of the Spartan attack. Last year, the line did have an All-WAC performer (tackle John Booker, gone this year) and allowed just 23 sacks, but the 84 yards per game on 2.6 yards per carry was awful. The offensive line coach would probably attribute that ineptitude to the injuries to the Spartans' top-two running backs. But with those guys both healthy this year, we'll be able to see for ourselves.
Three of the starters on the line return, and the front is huge, averaging 312 pounds. Ultimately though, San Jose State simply must run the ball with consistency if it has any prayer of a winning season, and in order to do that, this line must pleasantly surprise.
Finally, we arrive at the quarterback position, where the Spartan faithful shouldn't be expecting much after the graduation of their all-time career passing leader Adam Tafralis (7,548 career yards). The biggest name is junior Cal transfer Kyle Reed, Scout.com's No. 6 quarterback in the country in 2005 (but somehow just a four-star recruit – since when were the Scout star fairies so miserly?), but the starter is more likely to be Myles Eden, Tafralis' backup the past two years. Eden opens the fall depth chart as the starter, but only time will tell whether his familiarity with the Spartan system will be enough to hold off Reed's superior size and talent.
Either way, the Spartans are replacing their all-time passing leader with someone who's never taken a meaningful snap at the collegiate level. The likely dropoff becomes all the more significant once one considers how dependent San Jose State was on the pass last year – their 264 passing yards per game was more than triple their 84 rushing yards per contest. That's one of the most lopsided ratios in the country.
This year, the 61 percent accuracy could drop toward 50 percent and the 264 passing yards to 200. Both would be major blows to the Spartans.
Third Down: Defense
The line is strong, the linebackers a big question and the secondary good enough. All told, this is an average WAC defense that, again, Stanford should be able to have its way with.
In years past, I should have just left this section blank, as San Jose State gave up 36, 35, 43 and 33 points per game in 2002 through 2005 respectively. Dick Tomey, hired before the 2005 season, stressed defense, and it paid off the last two years, with the Spartans yielding 21 points per 2006 game, and then 29 per in 2007. This year, I'm calling for the Spartans to perform about the same defensively, and if I see WAC teams averaging in the high-20s against this defense, I am optimistic Stanford could hang 40 if it needed to.
The defensive line will be opponents' stoutest test, as senior USC transfer Jeff Schweiger, a unanimous five-star out of high school, should dominate the WAC after three years as a Trojan second-stringer. Seniors Adonis Davis and Jarron Gilbert are returning starters, which leaves Justin Willis, a junior who started five games last year, as the Spartans' greenest D lineman. Other teams would kill for that experience at any position group, and so there's no reason San Jose State shouldn't improve dramatically from last year's average of 165 ground yards allowed. The Spartan D also recorded just 18 sacks last year – look for that number to creep toward 30.
The line needs to do its part controlling the point of attack, because it could get ugly once opposing runners hit the second level. The linebackers are one of the weakest groups in the nation after losing two of last year's three starters, the team's two top tacklers by a mile. Middle linebacker Justin Cole started nine games last year but managed only 35 tackles, about a third of his departed teammates Matt Castelo (141 tackles!) and Demetrius Jones (110). (To be fair, Cole did start four games at defensive end, but the low tackle number is still a red flag.)
Lining up outside Cole will be Ryno Gonzalez (no typo, take your place on the All-Name team) and Braden Storassli. Neither was highly recruited out of high school, neither is listed at over 215 pounds, and they have just six combined starts. It's hard to fathom the linebacking corps losing 251 tackles and performing anywhere close to the same level as last year.
The defensive backs – when they're not busy cleaning up after the ‘backers in run support – are among the league's best, like the line. Three seniors will start, including Oregon State transfer (via junior college) Coye Francies, who would have been a five-star recruit out of junior college if there were such a thing. Joining Francies at corner will be Christopher Owens. He snagged six picks and was Second Team All-WAC last year, the All-Conference equivalent of being named runner-up Miss Kentucky. Sophomore free safety Duke Ihenacho was good enough to start as a true frosh last year, which leaves senior strong safety Andrew Ryan, a junior college transfer who also started five games last year.
So while everyone has experience and will do their jobs respectably, I would be higher on the group if not for last year's stats. The lack of true standout talent caught up with the Spartans, who allowed 63 percent of passes to be completed for 243 yards per game. Those numbers will improve this year, which should be enough to win games for the Spartans in the WAC, but a team like Stanford should still be able to throw at will.
Fourth Down: Extra Points
San Jose State keeps shooting itself in the foot with its schedule. (I know, I know, it's not done for competitive reasons, but to collect the guaranteed payout check.) Last year's out-of-conference schedule included visits to Arizona State, Kansas State and Stanford. San Jose State did not come within 20, and the decision not to replace one of those big boys with a creampuff looked mighty silly when the Spartans finished 5-7.
5-7, of course, left the Spartans one win shy of eligibility for their second bowl game since 1990. A nationally-televised bowl game and the bowl payout, in turn, would have probably raised more money and done more for future recruiting than that check from Kansas State.
This year, Nebraska and Stanford are the only BCS opponents, but let this Stanford alum be the first to tell you something, Spartan fans. Don't sleep on your season-opening opponent. When you least expect it, UC Davis can sneak up on you.
Dick Tomey continues to do an incredible job at San Jose State. The talent continues to lag the WAC heavyweights (Boise State, Hawaii, Fresno State) and there's no football tradition to speak of at a school that hadn't been bowling since 1990 until Tomey arrived. Somehow, however, the Spartans keep hovering around the .500 mark under the former Arizona coach. Tomey is 11-13 against the WAC and 17-19 overall in his three years at San Jose State, which includes the 20-12 2006 New Mexico Bowl win over, who else, New Mexico.
One of the best signs you can see in an overmatched team is that they fight top opponents hard. And under Tomey, the Spartans have done just that, pushing Sugar Bowl-bound Hawaii to overtime this past year, and losing at Washington and versus BCS-bound Boise State by less than a score the year before. The Spartans were double-digit dogs in all three games.
The Bay Area market already seems glutted with football
teams (49ers, Raiders, Cal, a resurgent Stanford, plus high schools), and so I
don't know if there's enough fan support left out there for San Jose State, but
if the Spartans can build some momentum and pick up the recruiting, they have
the head coach they need in place.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!