29 September 2011

A tardy little SJSU post game analysis and WAC picks for the weekend

I went to last Saturday's SJSU/NMSU football game, and SJSU won 34-24. Once again RB Brandon Rutley was a fugitive from the defensive justice. In the Spartans' first possession, he scored a 66-yard rushing touchdown; the Aggies scored a field goal on their first possession after the Spartans forced a 4th & goal from the 1-yard line. Although SJSU ended the 2nd and 3rd quarters with ties, SJSU scored a touchdown and field goal in the 4th and didn't allow any Aggie scoring to seal the win. Watch the full game on WatchESPN here.

Spartan QB Matt Faulkner threw no interceptions that day, and SJSU lost only one fumble, compared with the 3 lost fumbles vs. Nevada and the last-minute end zone interception that sealed the win for Nevada. However, the one interception that Aggie QB Matt Christian threw in the 3rd the Spartans returned for a TD to go up 31-24 in the 4th. While both teams (box score) had very close receiving yardage (NMSU 238, SJSU 236), the Spartans had the edge in rushing, 230-185, after falling behind to Nevada 138-261. This will be one key for the upcoming away game at Colorado State: outrushing wins games. Most telling of all: the Aggies racked 8 penalties for a loss of 76 yards, while SJSU had only one 5-yard penalty on an ineligible downfield pass. Two of those penalties came after SJSU 3rd downs, and one of them was during an SJSU scoring drive.

Preview: SJSU at Colorado State
On Saturday, SJSU plays the Colorado State Rams in Fort Collins, Co. at 2PM Mountain Time (1PM Pacific too). Listen on the radio at KLIV 1590 (either on the air or streaming online) or if you have DirecTV watch on the MountainWest Sports Network "the mtn." I think the mtn is available in HD. So what's my pick for that game? Well, Colorado State's quarterback Pete Thomas will be quite a challenge for the Spartans, with a whopping 67.7% completion rate in 4 games! The last time the Spartans faced a quarterback with a 60%+ rate, they lost...56-3 to Stanford on the first season game, whose QB Andrew Luck had a 65.3% completion rate.

The Colorado State vs. Utah State game
However, keep in mind that the Rams' last game (in Logan, Utah) was against another WAC team, the Utah State Aggies, and Colorado State won by one only because Utah State's 2-point conversion after a TD failed. In that game, Pete Thomas completed 16 of 28 passes (57.1%), and Utah State's Chuckie Keeton completed 9 of 15 (60%). Utah State, who last year narrowly beat SJSU 38-34 in a roller coaster back and forth game, outrushed Colorado State 281-124 but lagged in receiving 86-108. In fact, although USU led CSU 21-13 with about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, CSU scored the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion after USU's Eric Moats fumbled a kick return, and while Utah State managed to score TD's on both its OT drives, Utah State's 2-point conversion in its final drive for the win was unsuccessful. (That game was also on ESPN3, watch in full here.) The Rams' only loss so far was 28-14 in an away game against in-state rivals Colorado Buffaloes (who joined the Pac-12 this year after being in the Big 12). Similar to the Utah State game, Colorado State won 14-10 against the still-winless New Mexico Lobos over a 4th-quarter go-ahead TD.

New Mexico Bowl champs
Here's another interesting historical tidbit: in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl, Colorado State rallied in the 4th quarter to beat Fresno State 40-35. SJSU won the 2006 New Mexico Bowl over New Mexico, 20-12.

The quarterbacks
And regarding quarterbacks: so far Matt Faulkner's only thrown interception was the end zone one vs. Nevada that prevented SJSU from taking a lead with one minute left. Meanwhile, CSU's Pete Thomas threw 3 interceptions in CSU's victory over Northern Colorado, and his completion rating has fallen each game from a high of 84% in the opener to 57% against Utah State. Against New Mexico State, Faulkner completed 63% of his passes.

So far, SJSU has never blown a lead to lose a game in 2011, but did in 2010 three times: against UC Davis (a I-AA team), New Mexico State, and Utah State. Colorado State has won two games on comebacks: the one against New Mexico and another in OT against Utah State. The factor that made the Aggies slide down the Rockies was the fumbled punt return by Moats. So far, SJSU has never fumbled a kick return. The Spartans' victory v. NMSU was a heavier victory than SJSU's one victory in 2010 - a 16-11 win over the I-AA Southern Utah decided by a last-minute TD run by Lamon Muldrow. SJSU's two victories in 2009 were in low-scoring contests: 19-9 over the I-AA Cal Poly and 13-10 over New Mexico State.

Now comparing other statistics between the Spartans and Rams. Meanwhile, Colo. St.'s leading wide receiver, Crockett Gilmore, averages 11.3 yards per catch as opposed to SJSU's Noel Grigsby with 8.5 yards per catch. However, SJSU's Rutley has 388 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry while CSU's Raymond Carter has only 245 (5.2/carry). Three Spartans (Rutley, Ryan Otten, and Jabari Carr) have had receptions/runs of 60 or more yards, a feat no Ram has yet. Defensively, as the SJSU preview article points out, in the past 2 games the SJSU defense has allowed 0 4th quarter scoring by opponents in both the past 2 games.

In coach Mike MacIntyre's second year with the team, the Spartans have now won a truly hard-fought victory with little flaws or carelessness. Still, the 3-1 Colorado State Rams appear to have the edge, and it is doubtful that San Jose State can really pull off an upset victory unless they continue improving. Still, at my most optimistic, my pick will be San Jose State by 3.

Other WAC Games...
Utah State at (I-A independent) Brigham Young (Friday at 6PM Mountain/8PM Eastern on ESPN and ESPN3.com): Utah State by 7. BYU has yet to win a game by more than 7 points this season and appears to be on the decline ever since leaving the Mountain West after 2010. BYU's victories over Mississippi (14-13) and Central Florida (24-17) both came following deficits. Meanwhile, Utah State appears to have promise this season. In its opener, the Aggies nearly beat the defending national champions Auburn Tigers...IN AUBURN, ALABAMA TOO!...but lost 42-38 after Auburn's successful on-side kick and subsequent touchdown. In that game, Aggie QB Chuckie Keeton's strong arm contributed to Utah State's surprisingly high score with 21 of 30 completed passes, and Keeton has an overall 66.7% completion rate this season compared to BYU QB Jake Heaps' 55.6%. Additionally, Utah State has scored 15 TD's on running plays, 13 more than BYU has this year.

That's the only Friday WAC game this weekend. All others on Saturday.

Nevada at (#4) (Mountain West Conf.) Boise State: Boise State by 10. As the currently 3-0 Boise State, which moved from the WAC to MWC this year, continues to rack high rankings and victories, Nevada is coming off a 2010 season from being the top WAC team to a possibly mediocre season. Boise State Broncos QB Kellen Moore is going to hunt down the Wolf Pack with his 79% completion rate and will give much advantage to the Broncos' receiving unit that has scored 13 TD's on receptions, while the Wolf Pack has only 3 receiving TD's as of now. In 2010, Nevada came back from behind in the 4th and beat Boise State 34-31 in OT.

Idaho at (Atlantic Coast Conf.) Virginia (will be on ESPN3): Virginia by 14. Besides the obvious competitive differences between the WAC and ACC, with 10 rushing TDs so far in 2011 and QB Michael Rocco having a 62.2% completion rate the Virginia Cavaliers will put their rushing game at an advantage. Furthermore, Idaho's only victory has come against the I-AA North Dakota.

Hawaii at Louisiana Tech (ESPN3): Hawaii by 7. Hawaii has yet to win any road games this season, and while both the Rainbow Warriors and Bulldogs QBs have completion rates in the 60 percent range, given how the Rainbow Warriors have scored 11 TDs on receptions they can put up a great offensive threat against LT.

New Mexico State at (MWC) New Mexico: New Mexico State by 9. With regular starter Andrew Manley out for the season due to injury, NMSU Aggies QB Matt Christian showed much potential in his first game of 2011, the loss to SJSU, with 17 for 28 completed passes. In 4 games, New Mexico Lobos have yet to win a single game...and are so bad they even lost to the I-AA Sam Houston State in OT! Furthermore, Lobos RB James Wright averages only 3.2 yards per carry over 114 yards, while Aggies RB Kenny Turner averages 7.

(Southeastern Conf.) Ole Miss (Mississippi) at Fresno State: Fresno State by 3. I was about to pick Mississippi alone on being an SEC team, but given how the Fresno State Bulldogs have a wide receiver (Jalen Saunders) who averages 30.5 yards per catch, I'd be a bit hesitant.

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