After a convincing win over Idaho in their home finale last week, the Cougars are heading on the road to take on San Jose State. The Spartans are improved over last year's team, and are riding a four game winning streak going into this game.
What we know about San Jose State (8-2)
After winning just five games last year, and just one game in 2010, the 2012 Spartans are the best team that SJSU has fielded in years. That lone win in 2010 was over Southern Utah. Last year, when the Spartans were 5-7, they lost five games by 10 or fewer points, and 3 of those by just 3 or fewer points. Probably the best indicator for how much better this team is this year? Their loss to Stanford. Last year they lost 57-3, and this year, they lost 20-17. Granted, Stanford isn't quite at the level that they were last year, but they really haven't dropped off all that much either. What else? This year SJSU has won five of their games by at least 20 points.
The Spartans have played two common opponents with the Cougars so far this year. They beat Idaho 42-13 (BYU was 52-13) and they lost to Utah State 49-27 (BYU won 6-3).
SJSU has a top-ten passing attack, which averages 325 yards per game, and they add in nearly 120 rushing yards per game on top of that. They score an average of 35 points per game, while their top-25 defense limits teams to just 20. The Spartans have really put together a solid, well-balanced team this year that has been very hard to stop.
Grain of salt time: aside from Navy and UC Davis, they haven't won a game outside the WAC or MWC, but what they have won, they've done convincingly nearly every time.
What we know about BYU (6-4)
The Cougars are coming off a solid pair of performances over Idaho and Georgia Tech. Sure, we'll definitely give more stock to the big win over Georgia Tech than the one over Idaho, but both were good wins where the Cougars played well on both sides of the ball. They will need to do that again this week, as the Spartans are not looking like "just another easy WAC victory."
BYU has a middle-of-the-road offense, averaging just over 400 yards of offense per game (225 passing, 172 rushing) and 29 points per game. Freshman Jamaal Williams is the star running back, and he has turned in three performances of more than 100 yards rushing this season, including each of the last two games. Cody Hoffman, perhaps the most consistently good offensive player this season, has had more than 100 receiving yards in 5 games this season. They are led by future sandpaper salesman, Riley Nelson (think grit), who has 12 TDs, 11 INTs, and a 6.57 yards per attempt average.
BYU's defense is arguably the best one they've ever fielded, and I think we'll be spending years asking ourselves what could have been made of the 2012 season had the offense not been such a dumpster fire. The BroncoD is top ten in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, and pass defense. With the tough 2013 schedule looming, Cougar fans can only hope that Bronco can reload this defense and that Taysom Hill can get back to 100% for fall. The Spartans will most definitely not be scoring as much as they're used to in this game.
Keys to the game
Stop David Fales. The Spartan QB has numbers that Cougar fans have only been able to dream about for the last few seasons. He's thrown for 3,126 yards, completed 72.4% of his passes, and has a 25:7 TD to INT ratio. His average QB rating for the season is 170. If BYU is to win this game, the BroncoD is going to have to handle this guy. Perspective? His worst QB rating this season was 124. Riley Nelson's season average is 122 (his low was -4.5...which I didn't know you could get until just now). If Kyle Van Noy, Ezekiel "Ziggy Ansah, and co. can get in there and keep Fales worried about defenders, it'll go a long way to stopping the Spartans.
BYU secondary vs. SJSU receivers. Related to the first key, the Spartans have a bevvy of talented receivers, including four that have more than 400 receiving yards for the season, and one, Noel Grigsby, that has 914 so far. Each of those four receivers has at least 30 receptions, a per-catch average yardage greater than 10, and multiple touchdown receptions. Basically, the Spartans have a really great quarterback, and he has a lot of good targets to choose from. BYU's defensive secondary is going to have to be alert and ready to go on every play.
Score on offense. San Jose State isn't going to lose easily. They are going to have to be beaten, and that takes scoring some points. Like I said, they sport a top-25 defense, so the Cougar playmakers will have to have big days. Riley Nelson, Cody Hoffman, and Jamaal Williams are the main contributors to this offense, and they all need to have a good night. Nelson needs to throw for 200 yards, with more TDs than INTs (hopefully a 2:1 ratio or better), and Hoffman and Williams will probably need to turn in 100 yards each in their respective elements. The supporting cast will help, but these guys will be critical for a Cougar victory on Saturday.
The Cougars have both won and lost to better teams than the Spartans this year, but things have really come together over the last several games, and I think the Cougars will win in Spartan Stadium, 34-17.