Will San Jose know the way?

<i>Should a limping, decimated Washington really be a 17-point favorite?</i>

San Jose State (2-2) at Washington (0-4)
Husky Stadium
Saturday, October 9 - 12:35 PM (PDT) – No TV)
Series All-time: Washington leads, 8-0-0
Last Meeting: September 7, 2002 – Washington 34, San Jose State 10)
Line: Washington by 17


Now wait just a Dawg-picking minute. Did Stanford really win last week's game with the Huskies in Palo Alto?

"That was the ugliest game I think I've ever seen – and I coached in it," Stanford coach Buddy Teevens said after the affair was over. "(Our players) are certainly disappointed in their performance."

Cardinal quarterback Trent Edwards would exclaim, "I was lethargic all week, and didn't come out with a lot of intensity. On the whole, we didn't get the job done."

Echoed J.R. Lemon, "We have got to play better than we did today."

Pity poor J.R. He only rushed for 162 yards and a score.

In a not-so-distant past, those kind of epitaphs usually meant that Stanford fell again to the Boys on the Lake for the umpteenth time in a row. But here we had a team that hadn't beaten Washington since the Clinton days, and yet they couldn't even get excited about exacting some revenge – which they almost reluctantly did.

Boy, the films must be bad to bore the opposition so much. It just helps to prove that the Husky cupboard is about as bare as Whoville after a Grinch raid.

And now in comes another hopeful Dawg-kicker in San Jose State, who has never won in Seattle in their eight opportunities. Oh, they've come close a couple of times – against far better Washington teams. And you can sense coach Fitz Hill's Spartans see a ripe opportunity to do some legitimate pelting. Dr. Hill even had the audacity to exclaim on Monday, "We will have to play for a full sixty minutes, and the records can go out the window," when the two schools meet on Saturday afternoon.

Huh? The records can go out the window? Isn't that normally reserved for the bitterest of rivals?

So we must conclude that San Jose State considers this game VERY winnable. We even surmise that San Jose State will be tremendously disappointed if they don't win it. Should a limping, decimated Washington really be a 17-point favorite? Or have the oddsmakers, like the Husky season, fallen off a cliff?

Of course, the SJSU contingent can be forgiven for that rarin'-to-go feeling – last week they came from far back with grand Nintendo-style aplomb to edge Rice 10-9 – in touchdowns. "The rules of football just didn't apply," was Dr. Hill's quick summation of the scoreboard carnage.

Clearly, the visiting Spartans – though 0-2 on the road while being outscored 79-16 – are looking more forward to this Seattle trip than any other. It would not be an upset of epic proportion – theirs is a legitimate opportunity. There could be upwards to 15,000 Husky Stadium seats that will go wanting for warm butts this cold and dreary Saturday afternoon – eerily reminiscent of Nevada last year. And to Washington, that's pocketbook larceny – boos or no.

But to San Jose State, it'll be like Woodstock. Last week's 70-63 flag-football victory over Rice drew 4,093 Spartan supporters – including the dozens of ushers that kept busy fighting the crickets for extra points in empty end-zones.

No matter the attendance, will all stadium eyes remain focused on the field, or will there be sneak wrist-TV look-ins on USC and Cal, set to kickoff at the same time?

At least that one is sold out.

SAN JOSE STATE OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  33.2 points, 353.2 yards
             (144.5 rush, 208.8 pass)
             
RUSHING:     Tyson Thompson 55-335-3 TD (6.1), long 74
             Dale Rogers 26-102-2 TD (3.9), long 31

PASSING:     Dale Rogers 43-65-3 (.662), 691 yards, 7 TD

RECEIVING:   Rufus Skillern 13-187-2 TD (14.4), long 45
             James Jones 12-196-1 TD (16.3), long 67
             John Broussard 7-192-2 TD (27.4), long 67


After hyper-extending his knee in a 36-13 loss to SMU, senior signal-caller Dale Rogers figured to be resting up last week after not practicing, but when Rice raced to a 34-7 lead he entered the fray – and his first two snaps resulted in Spartan touchdowns. Rogers completed a grand total of 10 passes for 359 yards, elevating him to 5th overall in NCAA pass efficiency - even though he was picked off three times. Freshman Adam Tafralis started both the SMU and Stanford games, but he's only completed 24 percent of his passes.

San Jose State starts in a three-receiver set, and all three starters have enjoyed 100-yard days this year. After averaging only four yards per reception a year ago, senior John Broussard have popped for nearly 30 per catch this season – his only grabs last week went for a meager 67 and 64 yards. Junior Rufus Skillern had a pair of scores against the Owls, while James Jones racked up 109 yards in San Jose's season opener. In all, seven different receivers have tallied for the Spartans in 2004.

Junior running back Tyson Thompson took off for a 74-yard TD scamper a week ago, but was otherwise held to 11 yards on 13 carries in SJSU's single-back set. He did post a career-best 158 yards in the Morgan State win. Five-foot-five junior Lamar Ferguson, who redshirted in 2003, carried for 51 yards in the teams' last meeting in Seattle, and will definitely be hard to find.

Senior tackles William Obeng and Osmar Staples lead an offensive line that, for all of its come-from-behind efforts, have allowed just six sacks in four games. They average 306 pounds up front.

GAME OUTLOOK: In a classic case of the futile vs. the futile, the Huskies face an offense that has its own third-down woes, converting only 28 percent of the time. But the suddenly confident Spartans figure to roll out a lot of tricks – the diminutive Ferguson even threw for a TD last week. Figure to see a lot of long balls in the air, and with the way things have gone in 2004 you have to assume that at least ONE Spartan will have a career day.

SAN JOSE STATE DEFENSE
2003 STATS:     42.5 points, 444.8 yards
                (293.8 rush, 151.0 pass)

TACKLES/TFL:    Ezekiel Staples 45/6.5
                Josh Powell 32/0.0
                Eric Wilson 28/0.0

PASSES DEF/INT: Jerrell Hardy 3/1  
                Brian Nunez 2/2
                Katrell Collier 2/1

SACKS:          Tony Ficklin 5.0
                Larnell Ransom 2.5
                Ezekiel Staples 1.5


Face it, "defense" is a foreign language in Silicon Valley. The Spartans, who run a defense similar to Arizona's old double-eagle flex, have allowed nearly 36 points and well over 400 yards per game the past three seasons, with no hints of better numbers in 2004 (42.5 points, 445 yards per game). The Rice double-wing ran for 570 yards a week ago – with TWO quarterbacks both exceeding 100 yards - breaking the SJSU school-record for rushing yards allowed (set by Washington in that rainy 1996 affair when Corey Dillon ran for an NCAA-record 222 first-quarter yards).

Their front four can bring heat, though. The sack unit is up to 12 on the year – the Spartans only had 18 all last season. Junior defensive end Tony Ficklin leads the way with five sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss. Linebacker Ezekiel Staples (no relation to starting OT Osmar Staples) had a hand in 24 tackles last week as Rice ran 100 offensive plays – 85 of them on the ground. Staples, who had one carry for one yard as a fullback when SJSU last played Washington, leads the WAC in total tackles and has two sacks.

Junior corner Trestin George (former Husky target in recruiting) has scored TDs in five different ways during his San Jose State career – one each by rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return, and an interception return. Safety Eric Wilson is second on the team with 28 tackles – 22 of them a week ago, though Josh Powell is probably the Spartans' best safety. Powell already has 118 career tackles, though he's just a sophomore.

GAME OUTLOOK: San Jose State ranks 117th in NCAA rushing defense, and Washington doesn't have a single receiver that can be relied upon, so the formula is simple. If a depleted Husky offense can't at least move the chains against the Spartans, heaven help them. Carl Bonnell, who got a little beat up against Stanford last week, should find the going easier here.

SAN JOSE STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Jeff Carr 4-6 FG (long 40), 17-17 XP

PUNTING:       Waylon Prather 16-39.9 (long 59),
               .313 inside the 20

KICK RETURNS:  John Broussard 14-28.1 (long 66), 0 TD
               Trestin George 4-15.8 (long 25), 0 TD

PUNT RETURNS:  James Jones 5-10.4 (long 19), 0 TD


Junior place-kicker Jeff Carr has hit on 11-of-17 career field goal opportunities, the longest being a 47-yarder against Grambling in his first-ever collegiate game. He's made his last 29 point-afters, leaving him seven short of the school record. Carr's 10 PATs against Rice tied an all-time WAC record. RS-freshman punter Waylon Prather, at 40 yards per boot, was also an all-conference tight end at San Lorenzo High in Felton, CA.

Both John Broussard and Trestin George make the Spartans dangerous in their return game. George returned a kickoff 99 yards against Nevada and Broussard peeled off a 77-yard punt return versus Tulsa, both last season. Broussard also broke a kickoff for 66 yards a week ago.

GAME OUTLOOK: Neither team hasn't blocked a single kick all year – so on a probable wet weekend, we should expect at least one. The Huskies haven't shown a propensity to break anything big in the return game – advantage San Jose State. But with some expected offensive fireworks field position might not mean a whole lot in this one.


KIBBLES AND BITS

Yikes. Does Purdue's Kyle Orton really have 17 TD passes – and zero picks? ... No, the scoreboard operator wasn't paid overtime, but the combined 133 points by San Jose State and Rice was unique in another way – that was more points than 13-of-14 basketball meetings between the two schools. And the one hoops game that exceed 133 (a 71-66 Rice win) was won in overtime. The Spartans only ran 49 offensive plays during the cavalcade of points – which works out to an average of 1.42 points per play ... and SJSU is getting rather used to strange looking scores. Recall that last year, they beat UTEP 69-41 in El Paso, and lost at Boise State 77-14 ... Junior walk-on tight end Josh Williamson from West Valley High in Yakima is the only Washingtonian on the Spartan roster ... With only California and USC left to (clearing throat) test, the Huskies will – on top of their 27-year non-losing season streak - most likely see their 16-season run of having beaten at least one ranked team come to an end ... Washington has converted 10 turnovers into a paltry 16 points – and have given up 42 points in their 12 giveaways. Meanwhile, San Jose State has committed eight turnovers in its two wins – and none in its two losses ...
Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@comcast.net

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