More injuries look like they may force Air Force into again changing its style offensively.
The Falcons went into this season loaded with pass catchers and with a pass-first quarterback in Nate Romine. Then, tight end Garrett Griffin went down to a knee injury in warmups before the first game and Romine was lost for the season in Game 2.
Enter Karson Roberts, a run-first quarterback. Air Force tried making its way behind its two standout fullbacks – D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern. This has helped the Falcons to the nation’s fifth-best running attack at 312.2 yards per game, but the team is also just 1-3 in Roberts’ starts.
Now, it seems some more toggling is on the way. Johnson missed last week’s loss at Colorado State with an ankle injury and his status is in question for this week. Davern left the 38-23 loss in Fort Collins with a knee injury and is also uncertain.
“We’ll just adjust some things,” offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said. “Throughout the year you’ve got to play with your best guys and find ways to get your best guys on the field at the impact spots. We just have to do that. We can’t change our whole system, so we’ll just have to adjust how we do certain things and make it work.”
Injuries have also hit the defense hard, with the team now without both of its original middle linebackers (Connor and Patrick Healy), an outside linebacker (Dexter Walker), a cornerback (Kalon Baker) and nose guard (David Harris).
In many ways, the year is starting to resemble the meltdown season of 2013, when the Falcons shuffled through four quarterbacks and lost the majority of their defense at various points.
The big difference, it seems, is the quality of the Mountain West. The Falcons (3-3, 2-1 Mountain West) already have two league wins in hand, having defeated San Jose State early before the rash of injuries and taking care of a struggling Wyoming team. Looking forward, the Falcons play just two teams (Utah State and Boise State) ranked in the top 120 according to the computer rankings used by USA Today.
So, Air Force is adjusting, and morphing as it goes, but it is not without hope of remaining in the league hunt and qualifying for its eighth bowl game in nine seasons.
Next game: vs. Fresno State, noon Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter is one of three Air Force grads to have served as head coach of a Division I program. The Falcons’ Troy Calhoun is another, and this will be just the second time academy graduates have faced each other as head coaches. … Air Force has won nine in a row at home and hasn’t trailed at any point at home in three games this season. Conversely, the Falcons haven’t held a lead in any of their three road games. … The Falcons lead the overall series with Fresno State 4-3.
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette
Boise State lost its national ranking and control of its destiny in the Mountain West Mountain Division with a blowout loss Saturday at Utah State.
The Broncos committed eight turnovers in the game, including seven in the first half. They fell behind 45-10 at the break — their largest halftime deficit in 17 years — and lost 52-26.
“I guess when the kickoff happened, we just weren’t ready to play,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “We did everything the same as we usually do, the locker room seemed fired up before the game, but when it started, they came out with more fire.”
Boise State coaches put the blame for the loss almost entirely on the turnovers. However, quarterback Brett Rypien threw for just 78 yards in the first half and backup running backs Kelsey Young and Devan Demas combined for 2.75 yards per touch. The tailbacks replaced injured starter Jeremy McNichols.
Meanwhile, the Broncos’ previously dominant defense didn’t force a turnover and allowed five touchdown drives of five plays or fewer, mostly on short fields created by turnovers.
“You just have to eliminate the eight turnovers down the road,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “We can talk about all these other things: It came down to eight turnovers. That’s the bottom line in the game. We cannot let that happen. If we get one, we need to recover faster.”
Boise State has lost to both teams it has played that currently have winning records — BYU and Utah State. The offense ranks 16th in the FBS in scoring (38.6 points per game), 27th in yards (461 per game), 94th in yards per carry (3.9), tied for 106th in sacks allowed (2.7 per game) and 48th in pass efficiency (139.92). The Broncos were better in all of those areas last season.
“There’s a lot of good things about our offense and we’re not going to lose confidence in who we are,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “We’re not going to forget that four straight weeks we had (one turnover total) and averaged over 40 points per game. That’s who we are. We had a slip-up last week. We’re not going to focus on the negative. We’re not going to lose our confidence.”
Next game: vs. Wyoming, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: RB Jeremy McNichols returns to the lineup this week. He missed one game after a helmet-to-helmet hit. He led the nation with 14 touchdowns in the first six games. ... CB Donte Deayon, a senior starter, will miss about four weeks with a knee injury. True freshman Tyler Horton and junior college transfer Raymond Ford are competing to replace him. ... True freshman QB Brett Rypien started his career with seven touchdown passes and no turnovers. Since then, he has six turnovers (four interceptions) and no touchdowns.
— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Mike Bobo knew the first three games of Mountain West play would be difficult on his Colorado State football team.
Utah State, Boise State and Air Force — all 10-win teams a year ago — back to back to back.
The first two didn’t go so well, with the Rams losing 33-18 at Utah State and 41-10 at home to Boise State. They won the third, though, downing Air Force 38-23 to head into a bye this week with a badly needed shot of confidence.
Learning new offensive and defensive schemes under a new coaching staff turned out to be a lot harder than the Rams or their new coaches expected.
From 10-3 a year ago under former coach Jim McElwain to 3-4 so far this season, it hasn’t been easy.
“We don’t have the best record this year, and we had a couple heartbreakers, so we needed the win, and we needed to dominate the game, and I think we did that,” senior receiver Joe Hansley said. “… A win like this is huge for us.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time, either.
The Rams have a bye this weekend before playing their final five games of the season against a lineup of opponents that are a combined 13-22. CSU’s last three opponents were a combined 32-9 a year ago and 12-7 this season.
It wasn’t just the win, though, that meant so much to the Rams. How they won was just as important. Their offense was firing on all cylinders, with quarterback Nick Stevens throwing for three touchdowns before halftime, running back Jasen Oden averaging 8.1 yards a carry while running for 89 yards and two touchdowns and Hansley catching three passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense held Air Force’s vaunted rushing attack to 269 yards, more than 51 yards below its average, and came up with two turnovers on an interception and fumble. Special teams came through, too, with punter Hayden Hunt averaging 42 yards a kick and pinning the Falcons inside their own 20-yard line on all three of his punts, Hansley returning a punt 40 yards and Wyatt Bryan making the only field goal he attempted to get to 8 of 12 for the season after a shaky start.
In this game, at least, the Rams finally got the kind of validation players were looking for to prove what their new coaches were teaching and preaching would actually work.
“We have had some close games, and it’s good to see what we have an offense and defense and what can happen when we come together and how dominating we can be,” receiver Rashard Higgins said.
Next game: vs. San Diego State, Oct. 31
Notable: CSU won the Ram-Falcon trophy that has gone to the winner of the CSU-Air Force game since 1972 for just the second time in 10 years. CSU snapped a seven-game Air Force winning streak in 2013. … Starting WR Deionte Gaines, who ranks No. 39 nationally in kickoff returns at 37.0 yards a return, was suspended for two games for an unspecified violation of team rules, Bobo said. Gaines, a sophomore, sat out against Air Force and also will miss the San Diego State game. … CSU is one of just three teams in the nation (Cincinnati and North Carolina State are the others) that rank among the top 25 in third-down offense and third-down defense. The Rams are No. 19 in third-down offense, converting on 46 percent of their chances, and No. 24 on third-down defense, limiting opponents to a 31 percent conversion rate. … CSU has won 15 of its past 19 home games, its most successful stretch since winning 23 of 27 from 1997 into the 2002 season. … QB Nick Stevens is No. 2 in the MW and tied for No. 23 nationally in touchdown passes with 13, one fewer than Wyoming’s Cameron Coffman.
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
History seems to be repeating itself where the New Mexico quarterback situation is concerned.
Last year at this time, Lobos fans — not all, but many — were clamoring for the UNM coaches to start redshirt freshman Lamar Jordan instead of junior Cole Gautsche, the incumbent starter.
Now, Jordan is the starter. But a growing segment of Lobo Nation has fallen in love with junior Austin Apodaca, who drove UNM 80 yards (all in the air) to the winning touchdown in last week’s 28-27 victory over Hawaii. The week before, in a 35-17 loss at Nevada, Apodaca had come off the bench and moved the offense.
It’s clear that Jordan is the better runner, Apodaca the better passer. Many UNM fans, it appears, prefer seeing the ball in the air.
Coach Bob Davie’s tendency has been to pour cold water on those flames.
“Before we all get carried away with this new ‘Air DeBesse’ offense (that’s Bob DeBesse, the offensive coordinator), keep in mind that we’re a running team,” Davie said after a Sunday evening practice. “Hawaii prepared for us to run the ball, and being able to throw was just the by-product of a good run game.”
Then, however, Davie took a figurative stick and stirred the embers a bit.
“Certainly (Apodaca) adds an extra element, because of the way he’s played the last two weeks,” he said. “There are discussions. Does he deserve more playing time?”
The two quarterbacks had alternated, with unsatisfactory results, in UNM’s first three games. Jordan then cemented his starting role with 147- and 157-yard rushing performances in victories over Wyoming and New Mexico State.
Next game: at San Jose State, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root)
Notable: The victory over Hawaii was UNM’s first under Davie when the team rushed for fewer than 200 yards. The Lobos actually would have exceeded the 200-yard mark had Apodaca not lost 5 yards on a kneel-down on the game’s final play. They finished with 197. ... Defensive linemen Garrett Hughes and Chris Lee and offensive left tackle Reno Henderson sustained injuries against Hawaii — though Henderson never came out of the game. As to their status for San Jose State, “We’ll see as the week goes,” Davie said. ... When Hawaii kicker Rigoberto Sanchez missed a 22-yard field goal that likely would have put the game away for the Rainbow Warriors in the fourth quarter, it was the first time an opposing kicker had missed a field goal against UNM this season. Earlier in the game, Sanchez had connected from 49 and 47 yards. Opposing kickers now are 11 of 12. ... Senior wide receiver Carlos Wiggins was named the Mountain West’s special teams player of the week after returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter against Hawaii. It was the fifth TD kick return of Wiggins’ career; he had held the UNM and Mountain West career records with four. It was his first POW selection.
— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
Even Utah State coach Matt Wells admits his Aggies are “in the driver’s seat” in the Mountain Division race.
Coming off a stunning 52-26 win over Boise State, Utah State is 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies own a one-game lead over Boise State, Air Force and New Mexico in the division race. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos. Both Air Force and New Mexico still have to play in Boise.
The bottom line?
Utah State is probably positioned to win the Mountain Division even if it loses one of its final five league games.
The Aggies, who visit San Diego State on Friday night, tied a school record by forcing eight turnovers in their lopsided win over Boise. All came during a remarkable nine-possession stretch, when Utah State turned a 10-3 lead into a 45-10 halftime advantage that carried into the third quarter.
“That was a performance we’re all very, very proud of,” Wells said. “The credit goes all the way around but, first off, it starts with the players. I thought they prepared themselves very, very well. … It was a performance we’ll all remember around here for a long time.”
Wells praised the sellout crowd of 22,509 in under-construction Maverik Stadium. On the field, it sounded like many more.
“The atmosphere was off the charts,” Wells said. “It was electric. Honestly, we had to do two different things with the headsets because I couldn’t hear. I mean that. It was loud.
“There’s a legit home-field advantage in Maverik Stadium and I want the fans and our students to know it has an effect on the game. Our players feed off that energy. It was awesome.”
Utah State’s players and most of the coaching staff took 24 hours to unwind after beating Boise State. Then, it was back to work in preparation for the Aztecs, who are 4-3 overall but 3-0 in the Mountain West.
“San Diego State … [is ] extremely physical,” Wells said. “That’s what they brand themselves to be and that’s what they are. That’s a staff I have a tremendous amount of respect for. They will be ready to play. There’s no doubt about it.”
Next game: at San Diego State, 8:30 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN2)
Notable: Utah State has won 39 of its last 53 games, going back to the 2011 season. … Sophomore quarterback Kent Myers is 8-1 as a starter during his college career. … The Aggies are 22-1in their last 23 games when they run the ball at least 40 times. They are 3-0 this season. They rushed 43 times for 177 yards against Boise State. … They play San Diego State on Friday night for only the second time since 1977. At Qualcomm Stadium in 2010, the Aztecs prevailed, 41-7. … It is not known if Utah State senior nose guard David Moala will play against San Diego State. He suffered an apparent knee injury in the Boise win. Wells has a policy of not discussing injuries unless they are season-ending. Asked if Moala would be sidelined the rest of the year, he said, “No.”
— Steve Luhm, Salt Lake Tribune
The Cowboys (1-6, 1-2) may be without their top wide receiver when they at Boise State on Saturday.
Second-year coach Craig Bohl is “hopeful” to have junior Tanner Gentry for the game, but said Monday Gentry suffered a sprained shoulder in the second half of Wyoming’s 28-21 win over Nevada last Saturday.
Bohl said he will have a better idea as the week progresses if Gentry can play. Gentry leads the team with 37 catches for 678 yards, and is tied for the team lead with four receiving touchdowns. His receiving yardage is 15th in the country, and his 96.9 receiving yards per game is 19th.
True freshman Joe Parker was listed as the backup behind Gentry on this week’s depth chart. Bohl also said true freshman James Price could get more playing time.
Parker has the most catches (four) out of a group of five true freshman receivers who have played this season. Price has three catches
Gentry has a rare combination of size (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) and speed. Physically, Price is more similar to Gentry at 6-2, 208.
“There’s definitely a level of intensity and focus that’s going to have to change in practice,” Price said. “When one of your upperclassmen and leaders is battling an injury, the competition steps up one more notch.
“It may take some time to develop, but that’s where the preparation comes in, both mentally and physically. Sometimes it takes an unfortunate injury to see who’s going to fill those shoes. I feel extremely prepared.”
Gentry and junior receiver Jake Maulhardt have caught 57 percent of Wyoming’s completed passes this season. Bohl wants and needs to see more from his younger guys.
“They’ve got ability, but I think there are times they play a little tentative,” he said. “All the different reads we have in this offense slows them down a little bit. They’re no longer freshmen. They’ve played a lot of football right now.”
Next game: at Boise State, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: The win over Nevada snapped a nine-game losing streak and six-game skid at home going back to last season. The six-game slide was Wyoming’s longest in school history. ... Redshirt senior quarterback Cameron Coffman was the MW Offensive Player of the Week — Wyoming’s first player of the week honor this season. Coffman was 18 of 20 for 213 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada, and one of his incompletions was a drop. Coffman leads the MW in passing yards per game (250.7), passing efficiency (153.8), completion percentage (66.1), passing touchdowns (14), total offense (237.2 yards per game) and points responsible for (14 per game). Coffman’s passing touchdowns rank 18th nationally, and his passing efficiency and completion percentage are 21st. ... The Cowboys get two defensive starters back this week in junior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha and sophomore cornerback Robert Priester. Both missed the Nevada game with concussions. ... Wyoming lost a defensive starter last week when junior nose tackle Chase Appleby suffered what Bohl expects to be a season-ending knee injury. ... Sophomore running back Brian Hill is fourth in the FBS with 985 rushing yards, and sixth with 140.7 yards per game.
— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle/WyoSports
Fresno State has had difficulty in the run game this season, in part because opposing defenses have been able to drop an extra defender into the box to stunt the running of Marteze Waller and the Bulldogs have not made enough plays in the passing game to make anyone think twice about it.
But they finally put some things together in a 31-28 victory over UNLV that stopped a five-game losing streak. The Bulldogs entered and exited that game ranked 11th of 12 in the conference in rushing offense. But after racking up 217 yards at 5.7 yards per play, both season highs against an FBS opponent, their per-game average is up to 130.1 yards from 115.7.
That success was most evident on third-and-short running plays, where they had struggled mightily.
In the Bulldogs’ first six games, they had gained only 18 yards on 13 third-down plays when needing from one to three yards to move the sticks. In averaging 1.4 yards per play, they rushed for a first down only seven times. But against the Rebels, they went 5 for 5.
Three of those conversions came on their opening drive – quarterback Kilton Anderson took a zone-read option 35 yards, on another third-and-1 on that drive the Bulldogs’ quarterback rushed for two yards and on a third-and-3 Anderson again picked up a first down with a 6-yard touchdown run.
On a third-and-2 in the second quarter, Waller busted a 17-yard touchdown run. And in the fourth quarter on a third-and-2 Waller gained six yards and another first down.
That is one of several areas the Bulldogs have started to show some improvement with Anderson at quarterback, their fourth to start there in seven games.
They go into every game with five goals, the first obviously to win the football game and the others tied to percentages in ball security, run efficiency, red zone touchdown production and third down production. They hit four of five against UNLV, the first time this season they have hit more than two.
“I was really proud of our young guys, and I’ve said all year how good our young players are,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “We have really good young players and it takes time to grow up. To be down by two scores in the fourth quarter and, I don’t know if they just have the grit or they’re just not old enough to know that they were down by two scores, they just kept playing. It didn’t matter.
“The message was, ‘Hey, you keep competing,’ and they did until the end. I’m just proud the way the whole team went about it. Senior leadership kind of kept them all together on the sideline and we kept battling. It’s a great thing to build on at this point.”
Next game: at Air Force, noon MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Senior outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine after putting an end to the five-game losing streak: “In the past five weeks, we’ve had games where the defense is playing good, the offense is playing good, the special teams are playing good, but we just never all clicked at the same time. I feel like in the fourth quarter, we did that and the only way you do that is through you deciding, the team deciding, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re not going to lose this game. I don’t care what happens, we’re just going to get this done,’ and I love my brothers for doing that.” … The Bulldogs expect to have sophomore outside linebacker Tobenna Okeke back from a knee injury this week against Air Force. The initial prognosis was up to six weeks, but if Okeke plays against the Falcons it will be four. “It’s the treatment, going to rehab every day, doing what needed to be done, doing what they told me to do,” said Okeke, who has been in on nine tackles in four games including 2.5 tackles for loss. “A lot of prayers went into it, too. All that went into me being back as soon as I can.” … Anderson became the first Fresno State quarterback since Derek Carr in a 2013 victory over Rutgers to lead the Bulldogs to a fourth-quarter comeback victory. The Bulldogs trailed UNLV by 11 entering the fourth quarter before scoring two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes on a 12-yard run by Anderson with 11:02 to go and a 38-yard run by Waller with 2:37 remaining. In the victory over Rutgers, the Bulldogs were down 31-28 entering the fourth quarter and trailed 38-35 and 45-38 before coming back to tie the score with 38 seconds remaining and win 52-51 in overtime. … After racking up 410 yards of offense against the Rebels, Fresno State still is averaging only 294.7 yards per game and is one of only five teams in the nation averaging less than 300. The Bulldogs are ranked 125th of 128, ahead of Missouri (290.4), Hawaii (289.0) and Central Florida (254.4).
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
The Rainbow Warriors are the only Mountain West team without a league victory after being derived because of a one-two combo against New Mexico.
Leading 27-21, the Warriors advanced to the 5, from where kicker Rigo Sanchez was wide left on a 22-yard attempt with 2:14 to play. He previously connected from 49 and 47 yards.
“The long ones don’t really count if I don’t make the ones that really matter,” Sanchez said.
The Lobos then drove 80 yards for the winning touchdown, dooming the Warriors to their fourth consecutive loss.
The Warriors played without injured quarterback Max Wittek, running back Mel Davis, wideout Quinton Pedroza, left guard John Wa‘a, linebackers Benetton Fonua and Jeremy Castro, and nickelback Gaetano DeMattei. Running back Paul Harris, nose tackle Kory Rasmussen and free safety Kory Rasmussen also exited with injuries. There were 34 players on the injury report on Monday.
Wittek is expected to regain the quarterback’s job if he is deemed healthy for Saturday’s road game against Nevada. Ikaika Woolsey, who started 12 games in 2014, opened in place of Wittek, completing 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards in the first half.
Wittek had won the job after spring training because of his strong arm and command of the Warriors’ three-receiver offense. But Woolsey, a fifth-year junior (he grayshirted and redshirted), was at ease running the revised read-option offense. To both protect Woolsey and boost the running attack, the Warriors were in a double-tight-end formation 16 times against the Lobos. They also unveiled a jumbo package in which 300-pound guard Eperone Moananu was aligned as a fullback. Moananu had pancake blocks on both plays.
Next game: at Nevada, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (TWC Oceanic)
Notable: Defensive end Luke Shawley, who started the first five games, did not make the New Mexico trip because of personal reasons. … The Warriors were prepared to play freshman Aaron Zwahlen if Woolsey were ineffective or injured. Zwahlen, who completed a two-year church mission in May, is on track to redshirt this season. He took all the No. 2 reps last week. … This weekend’s game against Nevada will be the Warriors’ fourth road game in five weeks. They are 0-4 on the road this season, suffering setbacks to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Boise State and New Mexico. … The Koloamatangi brothers both started against New Mexico. Meffy Koloamatangi replaced Shawley at left defensive end. Leo Koloamatangi opened as a blocking tight end.
— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
The Wolf Pack football team didn’t only lose on the field to winless Wyoming on Saturday.
It also lost the sidelines, according to head coach Brian Polian.
“This is the first time that I felt like the fact we only have 12 or 13 seniors really showed up,” Polian said. “There was no leadership. They were not vocal enough. There were not enough people emotionally invested in the game player-wise. It’s the first time all year I felt that way. We had a couple of guys going up and down the sidelines as we mounted the comeback, but it was disappointing.”
The Wolf Pack’s 12 seniors are the ninth-fewest in the FBS (Wyoming only has eight seniors, the second fewest in the nation). The team has seven seniors who start, including six of the front seven defensively. Polian said it is up to the seniors to lead the team as it looks to rebound from its 28-21 loss to Wyoming.
“We only have 12 or 13 seniors,” Polian said. “I wish we had 20 of them. I wish we had 25 of them. We don’t. The seniors that we do have that are playing significantly, and there aren’t a ton of them, their challenge this week is to pick the team up right now and go. We need them right now.”
Polian said he and his coaches also have to improve as Nevada (3-4, 1-2 MW) tries to get back to .500 but stressed that his players, specifically the seniors, have to lead each other as well.
“You could say, ‘Coach, that’s your job,’ and it is,” Polian said of firing up his players. “Trust me, the staff was up and down the sideline trying to make sure the team was into it. But ultimately, and any former athlete knows this, there’s got to be some leaderships on your club. They have to follow each other and bring each other along, and personally I didn’t think that happened on Saturday.”
Next game: vs. Hawaii, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)
Notable: After setting a season high with 351 rushing yards against New Mexico on Oct. 10, the team came back with a season-low 118 rushing yards the following week in the loss to Wyoming. … Nevada is yet to score in the first quarter of its three MW games and hasn’t scored on its opening drive since the season opener against UC Davis. … Nevada’s defense has allowed just one second-half touchdown in the three MW games; the Wolf Pack offense has allowed two touchdowns in those three games (a pick-six and fumble returned for a score). … PK Brent Zuzo became the last kicker in the MW to miss a field goal. After hitting his first seven attempts this season, Zuzo missed a 52-yarder against Wyoming. … Starting OG Jeremy Macauley (knee), who has missed the last two games, is expected to return this week and play about 40 snaps. … Special teams player Travis Wilson dislocated his shoulder and is out one to two weeks.
— Chris Murray/Reno Gazette-Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
San Diego State’s football team is in an enviable position, just not one the Aztecs imagined they’d enjoy so early in the Mountain West season.
With the 30-7 victory at San Jose on Saturday night, SDSU fashioned its first 3-0 start in conference in 13 years and took a two-game lead in the West Division’s loss column over the Spartans (2-2), Nevada (1-2) and UNLV (1-2). And that sets up one of the most meaningful home games in recent years on Friday at Qualcomm Stadium against Utah State.
The Aggies (3-0) are the only other undefeated team in the MW, fresh off their stunning, 52-26 win on Friday in which they forced eight turnovers from No. 21 Boise State.
There are five MW games still to be played and both teams hold their division-title destinies in their hands, though it is the Aztecs who are playing with a more comfortable cushion — not always the best state from which to be relentless.
Not that head coach Rocky Long has any of those concerns this week.
“When you’re playing a team like Utah State on a short week, and you look at their score against Boise State, I don’t think there’s going to be any problem being motivated for the game,” Long said on Sunday.
“It feels nice to be on top of the standings right now. Obviously, there’s a lot more we need to do with five games to play. I don’t know how many more we have to win to win our side of the division, but I know it’s several more to get into the championship game.”
Beyond Utah State, SDSU’s four remaining MW opponents are all 1-2 in conference, and UNLV and San Jose State still have Boise State to play. Nevada has the most realistic chance of catching SDSU, but even that is remote because the Aztecs would have to lose a game and the Wolf Pack would have to win four of their last five, including at SDSU on Nov. 28.
SDSU is so well-positioned because of three straight dominating defensive performances (28 total points allowed) and the resurgence of tailback D.J. Pumphrey, who has 424 yards rushing in the last three games. The junior’s 152 yards against San Jose State was a season high, and his 13-yard running TD and 38-yard scoring reception in the first quarter put the Spartans in an early hole.
Quarterback Maxwell Smith was efficient again, completing 10 of 14 passes, and the senior hasn’t thrown an interception in five straight games – a school record.
“We thought it was Maxwell’s best game,” Long said.
On defense, Long said, Damontae Kazee “had maybe his best game ever” as an Aztec. The junior cornerback jumped on a slant route to make an interception at the start of the third quarter that set up a field goal.
Next game: vs. Utah State, 8:30 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN2)
Notable: Utah State is an early 5-point favorite over SDSU. The Aztecs have been underdogs the past two weeks and won their games by a combined 44 points. … This will be the first time SDSU has played another undefeated conference team with a 3-0 record or better since a 1975 showdown with San Jose in the PCAA. ... Linebacker Jake Fely, the oft-injured sixth-year player, suffered a “stinger” to his shoulder in the game. He was sore Monday, but is expected to be ready by Friday. … Aztecs LB Calvin Munson recorded 10 tackles, three sacks and forced a fumble against SJSU. The three sacks were the most by an Aztec since Heath Farwell’s three in 2004. His four tackles for loss were the most since Miles Burris in 2010. … Kicker Donny Hageman booted field goals of 31, 25 and 39 yards and is 8 of 11 for the season.
— Tod Leonard, San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN JOSE STATE
After a stagnant offensive performance, San Jose State coach Ron Caragher strongly stood behind starting quarterback Kenny Potter.
“He played a really solid game,” Caragher said. “In the face of that pressure, Kenny kept his form, he stayed in the pocket and stayed composed and made some plays through the rest of the game.”
Caragher said that despite also conceding “there were no silver linings” to the deflating 30-7 home loss to San Diego State.
“It was tough,” he said. “We took it in the chin in many phases of the game.”
Potter completed 14 of 24 for 113 yards and, most damagingly, threw interceptions on his first two passes of the third quarter.
“I’m pretty good at bouncing back from mistakes,” Potter said after the game. “Those two, I put that on my shoulders. I made those mistakes and I’ve got to own up to them.”
The loss took away a large portion of the Spartans’ margin for error the rest of the way. The West Division is pretty much out of reach now that San Diego State (4-3, 3-0) has a two-game lead in the loss column over SJSU (3-4, 2-2). With the Aztecs owning the tiebreaker, it’s in reality a three-game deficit for the Spartans.
That means it’s time to primarily focus on bowl eligibility and SJSU needs to win three of its final five. Two are against a pair of tough opponents in BYU and Boise State, one is a trip to a place the Spartans almost never play well at Nevada, and another is the always difficult trip to Hawaii.
A loss this week at home against New Mexico would provide a knockout blow that would be almost impossible to recover from. Making that matchup tougher is the Spartans’ struggles against triple-option-based offenses.
In Caragher’s tenure, SJSU is 0-3 against triple-option teams, has allowed an averaged of 427.7 rushing yards per game and a total of 17 rushing touchdowns in two losses to Navy in 2013-14 and one this season to Air Force.
Next game: vs. New Mexico, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root)
Notable: After entering last week as the FBS leader in all-purpose yards per game, SJSU running back Tyler Ervin was shut down by San Diego State. He had a season-low 22 yards on 17 carries, caught three passes for minus-1 yard and had 24 yards on his one kickoff return. He dropped to third nationally in all-purpose yards at 204.6 behind Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV takes this week off, and the Rebels need the extra time to recover from a second tough loss in a row.
The Rebels (2-5, 1-2 MW) blew a 28-14 lead on Friday at Fresno State, losing 31-28. The week before, they went ahead with 3:41 left in regulation, but then fell 33-27 in overtime to San Jose State.
This could’ve been a special season under first-year coach Tony Sanchez had UNLV won both games. The Rebels would have been in the running for the West Division title and in excellent position to make a bowl.
Now neither goal is realistic.
“We don’t reset goals,” Sanchez said. “We eliminate goals.”
The loss to Fresno State was particularly stinging. UNLV wasn’t able to take advantage of a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter or a two-possession advantage entering the fourth period.
During one six-drive stretch in the second half, the Rebels went three-and-out five times.
“I take full blame for the effort we put out there tonight,” Sanchez said. “That was an abomination. That was bad football.”
Now the Rebels must find a way to go forward.
“For a long, long time in this program, we found a way to lose,” Sanchez said. “It’s been kind of the nature of who we are, and that’s got to change.”
Next game: vs. Boise State, Oct. 31
Notable: Quarterback Blake Decker didn’t play for the second week in a row because of a dislocated non-throwing shoulder. Sanchez had said during the week that Decker was about 90 percent recovered. “Once he’s healthy, he’ll be right back in there,” Sanchez said. “It’s a preparation issue. We spent the entire week preparing with Kurt (Palandech).” … Wide receiver Devonte Boyd isn’t putting up the kinds of numbers he had last season when he was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year. Well, except for one number. He has five touchdown catches, one more than he had all of last season.
— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal