SAN JOSE — There will be more eyes than usual on San Jose State’s football team for its home opener.
A week after trailing No. 6 USC by just a touchdown at halftime in an eventual season-opening 56-28 loss in L.A., the Spartans will face another ranked opponent in No. 16 Oregon State. If that’s not enough, the game will be broadcast on CBS — San Jose State’s first regular-season game on the prestigious network in four decades — as part of a rare college football Sunday doubleheader.
SJSU head coach Brent Brennan said it’s another challenge for his young team.
“The difficulty is that you’re playing two really good teams right off the bat and you don’t know who you are as a football team yet,” Brennan said. “We’re still getting new players acclimated and into the fold and adjusted to the scheme. We’re playing some really young players and some guys in some different spots.”
“I also think it’s an awesome opportunity … This group that’s coming in here this coming weekend is excellent in all three phases. So this is another big challenge for us.”
Here are some keys to San Jose State upsetting the Beavers, who enter the game as a 16.5 point favorite. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium.
Winning the trenches
The Spartans are playing a very different team than the high-powered offense that they faced at USC.
Oregon State prides itself on strong offensive line play and winning the possession battle. The Beavers had the highest run-blocking grade and the third-highest overall grade among offensive lines in college football last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Led by tackles Taliese Fuaga (6-foot-6, 333 pounds) and Joshua Gray (6-foot-4, 304 pounds), fortified the Beavers’ rushing attack as Oregon State rushed for 196.5 yards per game last season. Sophomore running back Damien Martinez returns for the Beavers after rushing for 982 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
If the Spartans want to win this game, they cannot get worn down by the Beavers. Last week, SJSU gave up 160 rushing yards and three touchdowns to a USC team with an average offensive line and not nearly the same bruising type of running backs that Oregon State possesses.
Stopping the run also means a less effective play action attack for Beavers’ quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Brennan said Uiagalelei, a transfer from Clemson, is one of the most talented quarterbacks he has had to coach against, so taking away one of Oregon State’s biggest strengths will surely help.
Get the playmakers involved
SJSU quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and wide receiver Nick Nash hooked up for 89 yards and three touchdowns in the opener. The Spartans could use a repeat performance from the duo.
All-Mountain West preseason selection wide receiver Justin Lockhart did not practice this week after not playing against USC. It is unlikely he suits up against the Beavers.
Nash stepped in as the No. 1 receiver in Lockhart’s absence and was named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. One of his TD catches ended up being the No. 2 play on SportsCenter that night.
Oregon State lost most of its stingy secondary to graduation and the NFL draft, meaning the Spartans could target the Beavers through the air.
SJSU’s ability to run the ball against USC was encouraging. Utah Tech transfer running back Quali Conley rushed for 108 yards on six attempts which included a big gash up the middle for 57 yards.
“I think we just need to keep giving the ball to our playmakers and block,” said SJSU offensive lineman Jaime Navarro. “I think if we do that and pay attention to detail, we’ll have a great game.”
Capitalizing on opportunities
When the Spartans have an opportunity to put points on the board, they need to capitalize. Oregon State had the best red zone defense last season with opponents scoring on 64% of its red zone trips.
Aggressive play calling inside the 25-yard line could backfire, especially against a team who was in the Top-25 in average time of possession last season. SJSU will have a favorable crowd at home, so taking a field goal in enemy territory wouldn’t be the worst decision in a game like this.
Sunday’s game will be somewhat of a crossover for both fanbases.
Brennan was the wide receivers coach at Oregon State before taking the helm at SJSU in 2017. He brought with him five coaches who worked with him in Corvallis to his staff in San Jose, most notably offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven and defensive coordinator Derrick Odum.
The last time the Spartans played the Beavers in 2015, Brennan was dawning the orange and black, helping Oregon State pull out a 35-21 victory in Corvallis.
Current Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren had a quick pit stop in San Jose when he was the offensive coordinator in 2012 under then-head coach Mike MacIntyre.
“It is amazing how much crossover there is with the staff and all the people,” Brennan said.
The SJSU coaching staff seemed more amped for this game during practice this week. Some coaches refused to talk to the media about Oregon State while others said they were looking forward to the challenge this Oregon State team presented.
— The Spartans won’t have to face Oregon State’s four-star defensive lineman, Jacob Schuster, according to the Oregon Live. Schuster is a transfer from Minnesota who was brought in outside the transfer portal window for immediate eligibility. The Beavers requested a waiver to get Schuster on the field this season, but he will have to wait until next season, according to the report.
— Sunday’s game will be the first time SJSU will have a nationally televised regular-season game on CBS since 1982. The last time the Spartans had a nationally televised regular-season game on any network was a 30-23 loss to Nevada that aired on ABC in 2005.