2014 SJSU Preview: What You Need To Know
San Jose State WR Tyler Winston
San Jose State WR Tyler Winston
Posted Jul 12, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About San Jose State (Getty Images)

2014 San Jose State Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 San Jose State Preview 
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It’s going to take some reworking, needing to replace the outstanding career of David Fales, who threw for over 8,000 yards with 66 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Also gone is top target Chandler Jones and his 1,356 yards and 15 scores, but young stars Tyler Winston and TE Billy Freeman are back to help the new starting quarterback, whether that’s accurate midrange passer Joe Gray or big bomber Blake Jurich. The line loses three starters and needs to generate more of a push for the running game that took a backseat to Fales and the passing attack. Fortunately, top runners Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker are back – now they need the ball more.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It was a big step back for a defense that was outstanding in 2012, especially when it came to getting into the backfield and hitting the quarterback, but last season the run defense struggled allowing 212 yards per game and 29 scores. Are the playmakers there up front? Tackling star Keith Smith is gone from the linebacking corps, and top corner Bene Benwikere is done, but eight starters are back including rising superstar linebacker Christian Tago and quick tackle Travis Raciti. Can the pass rush start to come from the outside? The experience is there, but the production has to come.

Players You Need To Know

1. LB Christian Tago, Soph.
The 6-1, 226-pounder might not be huge, but he’s a fantastic hitter and tremendous playmaker, finishing second on the team with 90 tackles – despite not playing in the opener - while tying for the team lead with four tackles and leading the way with 10.5 tackles for loss, disrupting things into the backfield on a regular basis and holding up against the run. Very athletic, he was an outstanding high school quarterback throwing for 4,758 yards and 47 scores and ran for 24 more, but after one redshirt year moving from offense to linebacker, he got it. He came up with double-digit stops three times, is excellent in the open field, and he’ll be one of the Mountain West’s biggest defenses stars from his spot on the outside.

2. WR Tyler Winston, Soph.
The offense had plenty of weapons, and it had a terrific No. 1 target in Chandler Jones, but it was Winston’s emergence that really made the offense fly. The 6-2, 185-pounder wasn’t considered an elite recruit, but he showed off good toughness, mature route-running ability, and excellent hands, finishing second on the team with 58 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns despite not catching a pass in the first three games. On fire after catching just one pass for 25 yards against Utah State, he came up with 23 passes for 481 yards and three touchdowns, and was solid the rest of the way before finishing up with two straight ten catch games, rolling up 164 yards and a score against Fresno State. Very quick, and ready for more work, he should come up with at least 70 catches as he gets the ball in a variety of ways.

3. DT Travis Raciti, Sr.
One of the leaders of the 3-4 defense two years ago, he was a dominant interior pass rusher coming up with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss with 52 stops. Last year he took a step back, struggling to get behind the line as much with just 37 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss with three of the big plays coming in one game against Utah State. Even so, the 6-5, 290-pounder is a great athlete with the upside to be terrific, but he has to prove he can produce after struggling last year without Travis Johnson taking the heat off. Originally signed as a tight end, he's extremely quick and too fast off the ball for most interior linemen – it’s time to put it all together again.

4. PK Austin Lopez, Jr.
One of the nation’s top kickers, he has Lou Groza potential after hitting 22-of-27 field goals showing outstanding range connecting on ten of 12 kicks from beyond 40 yards and shots from 50 yards against Nevada and 51 against Hawaii. How much did he improve? He was already great in 2012, making all 17 of his field goal attempts, but he didn’t show off a huge leg. There wasn’t any issue last season, and he’s as dependable as they come. He’ll be one of the league’s biggest difference-makers.

5. S Forrest Hightower, Sr.
Mostly a special teamer two years ago, he was originally thought of as a corner prospect but worked at free safety finishing third on the team with 63 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. At 5-10 and 177 pounds he’s not huge, but he’s extremely quick and can cut on a dime. If he can use his tremendous athleticism to make more plays on the ball, it would be a huge help for a secondary that loses Bene Benwikere. Hightower might not be the playmaker that Benwikere was, but he’s going to be in the mix for all-star honors.

6. QB Joe Gray, Jr.
Is it his job to take over? The 6-2, 202-pounder isn’t all that big, but he’s smart, has a good, accurate arm, and has the midrange passing ability to be a strong fit for the attack. He didn’t say any action last year, but he got in a little bit of mop-up work two years ago to see a little bit of time. A good get for the program, he knows how to put up big passing numbers, but he has to be steady and consistent like Fales was.

7. TE Billy Freeman, Soph.
A fantastic recruit two years ago, he’s built like more of a big wide receiver than a typical tight end, but the 6-3, 235-pounder can block a little bit, too. The team’s fourth-leading receiver, he caught 27 passes for 427 yards and two touchdowns as a steady target who came up with a 32-yard touchdown catch against San Diego State and with a few other big plays down the seam. He’ll be a bigger part of the attack this year with great athleticism and nice route running ability.

8. QB Blake Jurich, Sr.
At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he has the size, the stature, and the big arm, but he’s also a good athlete who can move a little bit and take off from time to time. The backup last year, he completed 3-of-6 passes for 22 yards with a pick in his minor role, but in 2012 he turned into an interesting power runner finishing third on the team with 174 yards and three touchdowns as a big bulldozer.

9. OT Wes Schweitzer, Jr.
The line did a nice job last season in pass protection, but it was spotty for the ground game. Even so, the line was decent, and now it has some work to do with just two starters back. The 6-5, 275-pounder turned into one of the main men up front, and now he’ll be the star of the line at left tackle. While he’s not huge, he’s quick, extremely smart, and has good pass protection skills.

10. LB Isaiah Irving, Soph.
A true hybrid, the 6-3, 248-pounder worked as a defensive tackle in high school, was considered a defensive end early on, but last year he turned in a nice year as a linebacker/end making 40 tackles with two sacks and five tackles for loss. Extremely quick off the ball, he has the potential to grow into a pass rushing terror, and he’s also great in small spaces and is a bit of a mauler – he was a star high school wrestler. He showed he could come up big against the run, making ten tackles against Wyoming, and he came on late in the year – the tools are there to be fantastic.

- 2014 San Jose State Preview