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Cordeiro keeps San Jose State’s offense moving heading into Mountain West opener vs. Air Force

Cordeiro keeps San Jose State’s offense moving heading into Mountain West opener vs. Air Force

SAN JOSE — All things considered, San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is having a better season than you might think.

The Spartans are 1-3 heading into Friday night’s Mountain West Conference opener against Air Force, but Cordeiro is putting up numbers similar to the ones he did last season when he was second-team all-conference and helped guide SJSU to a seven-win season and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

The senior is on pace to pass for about 2,500 yards, 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions despite a relentless season-opening schedule that has seen the Spartans face two top-20 teams and another defending conference champion. According to SportSource Analytics, the Spartans have played the ninth-toughest schedule in the nation to open the season.

“He’s such a valuable asset to our team,” SJSU head coach Brent Brennan said this week. “We go as he goes a little bit on offense.”

Through four games, the Hawaii product has passed for 783 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. Cordeiro had his best statistical game opposing 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and No. 5 USC in the team’s season-opening loss, throwing three touchdown TDs and passing for 198 yards.

Cordeiro hadn’t thrown an interception in 117 attempts (the longest streak in the nation this season) before a pick late in last weekend’s 21-17 loss at Toledo. Through SJSU’s first four games last season, Cordeiro had passed for more yards, but had fewer touchdowns at a lower completion percentage. He finished the year with 3,251 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and six interceptions.

And there’s reason to think that his numbers will trend upward during conference play.

Cordeiro has kept the SJSU offense humming despite not having preseason all-conference receiver Justin Lockhart, who didn’t play in the first four games will undergo season-ending surgery on an undisclosed injury, and other key offensive players like running back Kairee Robinson and tight end Dominick Mazotti missing time with injuries. And don’t forget, Cordeiro’s top target from last season, Elijah Cooks, is now playing in the NFL for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Cordeiro, in his second season with the Spartans after transferring from Hawaii, is climbing the ladders of all-time record lists and achieves milestones that only a small group of college quarterbacks accomplish in their careers.

The sixth-year quarterback broke into the Mountain West Top-10 for career passing TDs earlier this season, and last weekend went over the 10,000 career passing yards mark. He is currently tied for seventh with 74 career TDs, and next up is Brett Smith (Wyoming) at 76.

But for Cordeiro, records and accolades don’t mean anything without the wins which has fueled him even more to help turn this season around.

“To be honest, I don’t really look at those milestones because that’s all really the past,” Cordeiro said. “Really all I’m focused on is Air Force and winning the rest of this season.”

Offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven added, “I’ve never once heard (Cordeiro) talk about individual accolades. The end goal is to win a Mountain West Championship, and whatever comes with it is great, but he’s never mentioned accolades or even made that part of his goals.”

It won’t get any easier Friday night. Air Force (3-0, 1-0 MW) ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, allowing the fewest total yards and the fewest yards per game.

“We just got to show who’s the more disciplined team on Friday and just do our jobs,” Cordeiro said.

Kickoff Friday night is 7:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium.

Stopping the triple option

In a time where the majority of college football teams want to spread out the defense and throw, the Air Force runs the ball more than any team in the country using the triple option, the same offense the Falcons operated in the 1980s.

Air Force has just 10 pass attempts in three games (completing six) for 193 yards, the lowest total among the 130 FBS teams. But their average of 320.7 rushing yards per game leads the nation (no one else is averaging 300 rushing yards per game).

SJSU players have emphasized physicality and winning the line of scrimmage as some of the keys to stopping the Falcons’ ground attack, which has averaged almost 60 rushing attempts per game. Air Force rushed 64 times for 344 yards and five touchdowns in a 39-21 win over Utah State last weekend in their Mountain West opener.

“We got to be ready to knuckle up,” said SJSU linebacker Bryun Parham. “I like to play real physical. I’m just going to prepare and be ready to resort to violence at all costs.”

Brennan has faced Air Force twice as head coach of the Spartans, but said the triple option still gives him and the Spartans difficulties.

“(The offense) changes a little bit every year,” Brennan said. “They do a great job adjusting to their personnel … They’ve had to find a way to be effective within the new structure of the rules and they do it right. It’s really impressive to me.”

Finding more production in the passing game

SJSU’s offense lost another big piece in the passing game last weekend in Toledo when starting tight end Sam Olson exited the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.

Nick Nash has stepped into the No. 1 receiver role well as he leads the Spartans in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. But the Spartans will need to find other players who can step up in the passing game on a consistent basis other than Nash.

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Air Force leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 44.7 yards per game to opponents on the ground while also not allowing a rushing touchdown in three games. If the Spartans can get Cordeiro going through the air, it could open up the offense and help SJSU speed up the pace of the game.

McGiven said he was encouraged to see junior receivers Malikhi Miller and Charles Ross getting more involved in the offense against Toledo.

“We need (Miller and Ross) to develop,” McGiven said. “We need to surround (Cordeiro) with those tools and guys that he can trust. Those are two guys that can make plays and we need to continue to give them opportunities.”

Miller caught four passes for 50 yards against Toledo while Ross caught three passes for 21 yards.

— SJSU defeated Air Force 17-6 the last time the two teams played in 2020. The Spartans are 7-1 in their last eight home games and are 3-1 in their last four Friday night games.