As BYU football prepares to take on San Jose State, we asked Jimmy Durkin of the Mercury News to do a little question and answer to help us get more familiar with the Spartans.
1. San Jose State is a top-10 passing team nationally and David Fales is completing 72% of his passes. With that in mind, describe the Spartans' 105th-ranked run game. Do they run out of bare necessity to maintain some semblance of balance, is that simply offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren's philosophy, or is the running game decent but Fales and co. are just really, really good?
The running game has been up and down. It's had a few good games, mostly against second-rate competition (UC Davis, Texas State, New Mexico State). They tend to run a lot early. Their opening script is usually fairly balanced and they try to feel out the running game. If it's successful, they'll stick with it. But if not, because the passing game is so good, they aren't hesitant to go four and five wide and start slinging it. Lindgren and co. want to see more consistency out of the running game, but the short passing game is so efficient that they are able to use it to control the clock and maintain possession and put points on the board.
2. Fales distributes the ball in a fairly balanced way to the three starting receivers (Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones, Jabari Carr) and tight end Ryan Otten. When the Spartans need a big play or a first down, who gets the ball?
Noel Grigsby is definitely the go-to guy. He's recorded a first down or touchdown on 44 of his 58 catches. He's shown an unbelievable ability to haul in catches that seem impossible to grab. Fales has said that he's never thrown to anyone like him.
3. As far as yards allowed, the Spartans have an unheralded defense, ranked 21st nationally by giving up only 325 yards per game. Who are the playmakers for the defensive unit?
Defensive end Travis Johnson anchors the defensive line. He's the NCAA's active career leader with 30 sacks, which is also a WAC and SJSU career record. Until last week against New Mexico State -- when a minor knee injury limited him to playing only on third downs -- he had a tackle for loss in 15 straight games. He can get after the quarterback and create havoc.
In the secondary, Bene Benwikere always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He leads the team with four interceptions and they've all come in clutch situations. He's had defensive touchdowns the last two games. He started the season as a backup safety and nickelback, but an injury pushed him into the starting lineup and he's become the best player in their secondary.
4. Head coach Mike MacIntyre took over a team that had gone 2-10, and in his third year now has SJSU at 8-2. The Spartans don't get much run nationally or even a ton regionally -- as someone close to the program, how did MacIntyre grab such firm control of the program and get it to this point?
MacIntyre has embraced the family atmosphere and his players have bought in. He's intense, but it takes a lot for him to really rail into his players. They respect him and like playing for him. He also inherited a program that was coming into its own. They may have struggled on the field in Dick Tomey's last year, but his tenure will always be remembered for a period of cleaning house. The program had been bogged down by scholarship reductions from APR struggles and that improved during Tomey's years. By MacIntyre's second year in 2011, the school had the full compliment of 85 scholarships for the first time ever. They're in their second year now with 85 scholarships and MacIntyre has taken advantage of that by recruiting good classes and building depth.
5. Despite the success, Spartan Stadium stays relatively empty. Are fans nervous Mike MacIntyre is headed onward and upward and then the program will split? Is it a function of the teams that come to town? What might be keeping fans away, and what would it take for them to come back?
There is a decent amount of concern that MacIntyre could leave for greener pastures. Some fear the likely opening at Cal could be a spot that looks at him, but there's more fear that his SEC and ACC ties could attract him if the right opening comes up. But I don't think that's a factor in the small crowds.
San Jose State hasn't produced a consistent winner in over 20 years. One successful season probably isn't enough to immediately draw people in. Some people are probably just now learning that they are 8-2. They've had minimal games widely televised locally, so there still isn't a lot of familiarity with the team or what they've done. There's so much else to indulge in throughout the Bay Area just in other sports alone. Their smallest crowd, against Texas State, was on the same day as the Giants playing Game 3 of the World Series. There's Cal, Stanford, and so many pro sports teams that the casual fan is attracted to ahead of SJSU.
Also, early in the season the ticket prices were relatively high considering the program's history and the state of an old stadium. I believe general admission tickets were around $30. That's compared to Stanford, which has a new stadium and ranked team and had tickets in the $15-20 price range. They've reduced prices for the last couple of games. Finally, there's simply not a student culture to produce large attendance from the students. There's a heavy foreign presence that's probably not that familiar with the sport. Also, the team has been so bad over the years that a lot of students come down to the game only to tailgate and not go in the game. I think it will take a few years of consistent winning, making bowl games and beating rivals like Fresno State and Nevada, and maybe the crowds will increase.
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Much thanks to Jimmy for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jimmy_Durkin and read more about the Spartans at the Mercury News.