On Friday night, BYU travels to the Bay Area to play San Jose State in what feels like their first game in two weeks. I'm not going to dignify the game against Wagner as an actual game, because the Cougars face stronger competition in practice and walkthroughs than they saw from the woefully outmatched Seahawks of Staten Island. The game really felt more like a walkthrough against air, and the Cougars rested their starters after roaring out to 49 first half points. The team suffered no major injuries and the game seriously felt like an extra bye week (BYU spent the actual bye week winning Halloween with a fantastic set of Remember the Titans costumes). At this point in the season it was actually pretty good, since they have dealt with the meat of their schedule and have only a couple of challenging games left on their schedule. These games include next week as BYU travels to take on Missouri and then a trip to Logan to close out the season with the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel against Utah State. Coming in the position that it does, if it were not off of a bye, this game against the Spartans could easily be a trap game for the Cougars, who if they get caught looking ahead to the Tigers, could have a fight on their hands.
Special teams and the defense will be paramount to BYU winning that fight. San Jose State comes into this game with an offense that is much more effective running the ball than throwing the ball. The Cougars only allow 142.4 yards per game on the ground, well below SJSU's average of 184.9. The Spartans only throw for 226.3 per game through the air, so BYU's front seven will do its job, and then it is up to the secondary to continue the fight. One member of BYU's secondary who should step up big is reserve back Michael Shelton. The Redshirt Freshman has played intermittently throughout this season, mostly in a nickel corner role, and while he lacks ideal size, has proven to be very athletic. Shelton had his best game of the season in week five during BYU's dominant drubbing of Connecticut, where he notched an interception, before being suspended for the East Carolina game and then playing sparingly against Cincinnati. Shelton played quite a bit during the Wagner game, where he acquitted himself well, particularly as a punt returner, where he had five returns for 90 yards, with a long of 40. Punt returns is an area where BYU could stand to improve, as Micah Hannemann is loath to call fair catch, and has had some very dangerous collisions following punts. He also lacks Shelton's explosiveness.
To be fair, Shelton should be starting over Hannemann both at cornerback and punt returner, but he should see quite a bit of action in this game as the nickel corner. I expect him to have a couple tackles and pass defenses, I'd love to see an interception, but generally, no news is good news when it comes to defensive backs. What remains to be seen is if the coaching staff will start him in the return game, where he should help BYU win the field position game. A couple big returns by Shelton, if he gets the opportunity, could help break the game wide open, and BYU should cruise on Friday night.