2014 CFN Preview - San Jose State Spartans
San Jose State LB Christian Tago
San Jose State LB Christian Tago
Posted Jul 12, 2014

Preview 2014 - After a bit of a step back, the program has to show if can keep rolling. (Getty Images)

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 San Jose State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Ron Caragher
2nd year: 6-6
Returning Lettermen
Off: 21, Def. 23, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best SJSU Players
1. LB Christian Tago, Soph.
2. WR Tyler Winston, Soph.
3. DT Travis Raciti, Sr.
4. PK Austin Lopez, Jr.
5. S Forrest Hightower, Sr.
6. QB Joe Gray, Jr.
7. TE Billy Freeman, Soph.
8. QB Blake Jurich, Sr.
9. OT Wes Schweitzer, Jr.
7. LB Isaiah Irving, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 North Dakota
Sep. 6 at Auburn
Sep. 20 at Minnesota
Sep. 27 Nevada
Oct. 4 UNLV
Oct. 18 at Wyoming
Oct. 25 at Navy
Nov. 1 Colorado State
Nov. 8 at Fresno State
Nov. 15 Hawaii
Nov. 21 at Utah State
Nov. 29 at San Diego St

Where’s the respect?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the bowl season is about fan bases, and ticket sales, and a whole slew of business things, but still, San Jose State won six games, ruined Fresno State’s perfect season, and beat UNLV and Colorado State along the way, yet there was a big, fat snub at the end of the fun.

It might have been a step-back season for the Spartans after going 11-2 in 2012, but considering the coaching change, and considering just how bad San Jose State football had been for a long, long time, something happened last year that was a bit of a shocker – beyond not getting a post-season invite – there was actual consistency.

There was some thought that the program would fall off the map after losing head coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado, but with David Fales back at quarterback and a slew of good defensive players returning, Ron Caragher was able to keep the momentum going just enough to give San Jose State its first two-season stretch of non-losing seasons since 1991-1992. But can he take the Spartans back to 2012 and get to double-digit wins again?

Considering the defense finished 103rd in the nation last season and was royally roasted by Navy and Fresno State – in very, very different ways – over the last two games of the season, and allowed 34 points or more in eight of the 11 games against FBS teams, there’s work to do. With eight starters returning, even with the loss of tackling machine linebacker Keith Smith and do-it-all defensive back Bene Benwikere, there’s a great chance to be a little bit better.

The offense will almost certainly take a big step back after losing Fales, but even if it doesn’t finish sixth in the nation in passing again, there are enough good parts at the skill spots, and enough promise in the ground game, to hold its own in Mountain West shootouts.

If nothing else, San Jose State football should be wildly entertaining with lots of high-scoring battles and plenty of fireworks. If there’s a third non-losing season in a row when all is said and done, and if there’s a bowl game attached to the finish, all the better.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offense go on without David Fales? The team’s signature star over the last two years and the bomber who threw for 4,189 yards and 33 touchdowns has to be replaced, and it’s not going to be easy even with a couple of very good options returning in Blake Jurich and Joe Gray. Jarrod Lawson might not be a special back, but he can start carrying the offense a bit more, and there’s talent behind him coming from last season’s recruiting class. Don’t expect a massive shift in philosophy – the O will still throw – but there should be a wee bit more balance.

What to watch for on defense: What happened to all the big plays behind the line? One of the biggest keys to the 11-2 2012 campaign was the defensive pressure that generated a whopping 91 tackles for loss and 42 sacks after generating just 16 sacks and 56 tackles for loss the year before. In 2013, the defense regressed in a huge way, coming up with a mere 18 sacks and 49 tackles for loss despite the return of several key parts. Losing Travis Johnson was part of the problem, but Travis Raciti was MIA for big stretches and there just wasn’t the overall burst to come up with anything to change around games. That showed with a woeful year from the pass defense. It’s going to take some manufacturing, but with all four starters back up front, including Raciti, look for more aggressiveness.

The team will be far better if… the defense can get off the field. Along with all of the sacks and all of the tackles for loss in 2012 came lots and lots of third down stops, allowing offenses to convert a mere 34% of their chances. Last year was a completely different story, giving up 46% of third down tries and getting destroyed by the more efficient attacks. Stanford converted 12-of-15 third down chances, Navy came up with 8-of-12 tries, and overall, six teams were able to convert 40% of better. It all starts with the pass rush and being disruptive, and then it’s all about getting off the field.

The Schedule: The Spartans aren’t taking it easy early on with trips to Auburn and Minnesota after starting out the season with North Dakota, and then it’s right into Mountain West action with a West showdown with Nevada. The second half of the season is when it’ll get rough with three road games in four weeks including a rematch of last year’s shootout with Navy along with the revenge game for Fresno State on the road, If that wasn’t bad enough, the last two games against Utah State and San Diego State are on the road, meaning five of the last seven games are away from home. There’s no Boise State from the Mountain, but getting Colorado State, Fresno State and Wyoming will be challenging.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Tyler Winston. Chandler Jones might have been the star of the receiving corps catching 79 passes for 1,356 yards and 15 scores, but Winston was every bit as dangerous at times in his true freshman season. He didn’t see any action in his first three games, caught one pass for 25 yards against Utah State, and then blew up from there catching 159 yards worth of passes the next week against Hawaii, rolling for 151 yards against Colorado State and making it a devastating three game stretch with 171 yards against Wyoming, finishing the season with 58 grabs for 858 yards and five touchdowns. With Jones gone, Winston is the star of the show.

Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Christian Tago. While it was Keith Smith who made 159 tackles and was in on everything, it was Tago who was more explosive and more disruptive. With the talent, quickness and range to be one of the Mountain West’s best defenders, Tago is a phenomenal pass rusher and great at making huge hits and big plays. This will be his defense over the next few years, and he’ll be the signature star on the outside, even though he has the ability to play in the middle if needed.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Joe Gray. Senior Blake Jurich will be right in the hunt for the starting job after seeing a little bit of time last season, but it’s Gray who has been groomed for the job to be the main man with a good, accurate passing arm with the ability to hit the short to midrange targets like David Fales was able to do. Can he completed 64% of his passes for 4,189 yards and 33 touchdowns like Fales did? If he can’t, it’ll be up to Jurich with a bigger arm, great size and excellent athleticism.

The season will be a success if ... the Spartans win seven games and get to a bowl game. After getting snubbed last year for the post-season, six wins might not get it done. Making it a second winning season in three years would show staying power. It’s not going to be easy with eight bowl teams of last year – not including Nevada and a trip to Wyoming – to deal with, but if the defense is a bit stronger, and if the offense can keep up its production, this could be another decent year.

Key game: Sept. 27 vs. Nevada. It’s the Mountain West opener, and it’s the exact type of game the Spartans need to have this season. It’s a home date, and with so many road games left to deal with, this could be a knockout game. The Wolf Pack will be far better this season, and the offense is the type that gave SJSU problems last year – allowing 311 yards and four scores in the 38-16 Nevada win. The pressure will be on.

2013 Fun Stats:
- 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 14-of-19 (74%) – Opponents 16-of-26 (62%)
- Second Half Scoring: Opponents 193 – San Jose State 153
- Rushing TDs: Opponents 29 – San Jose State 12

- 2014 San Jose State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players