From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Losers of 10 straight road games, the San Jose State Spartans try their luck this weekend against 21st-ranked Nevada in a Western Athletic Conference showdown in Reno.
San Jose State, which is now guided by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, has had the cards stacked against them so far in 2010. In taking on Nevada, the Spartans are facing their fourth nationally-ranked program already this season, having already lost to Alabama, Wisconsin and Utah. The lone victory for the Spartans came against a school outside of the Football Bowl Subdivision as they topped Southern Utah, just barely, by a score of 16-11 back in the middle of September.
Most recently, SJSU again faced off against a school from outside the FBS and this time it wasn't as lucky as UC Davis recorded a narrow 14-13 win in San Jose last weekend, extending SJSU's losing streak to two in a row.
As for the Wolf Pack, they've taken care of every obstacle in their way so far, defeating each opponent by no less than two touchdowns. Last weekend Nevada not only ran its win streak to five in a row with a 44-26 thumping of in-state rival UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium, it also retained ownership of the Fremont Cannon for another year by topping the Rebels for the sixth consecutive time.
"Cannon stayed blue, sixth straight time...seniors have never lost to UNLV...that's pretty special," Nevada head coach Chris Ault stated after the win. "This is a rival game, anything can happen in these games, you know."
With five straight wins to begin 2010, the Pack is off to its best start since joining the ranks of the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992 and is 5-0 for the first time since 1991 when the program began 12-0.
Dating back to 1899, Nevada owns a 14-8-2 edge in the all-time series with the Spartans, thanks in part to a 62-7 thrashing of the opponent last year in California.
San Jose State played its best first half of the season last weekend, putting up 13 points in the first 30 minutes of action and holding UC Davis scoreless, but it all changed after the break as the Spartans fell by a point at home. Harrison Waid booted field goals of 35 and 36 yards for SJSU and Matt Faulkner connected with Jalal Beauchman on a 25-yard scoring strike, but in the second half the offense fell silent.
Faulkner finished the outing 5-of-7 for 63 yards after stepping in for an injured Jordan La Secla who, prior to injuring his ribs, converted 11-of-17 passes for 162 yards and an interception. Running back Lamon Muldrow generated a team-best 137 yards on 22 attempts, the only player on the team with positive ground yardage, as the squad finished with a net of only 114 yards. Further down the field Josh Harrison turned his five catches into 119 yards for the Spartans as well.
"We always play Matt (Faulkner) in the third series and he did a good job," noted coach MacIntyre after the setback. "Then Jordan got hurt so that's why Matt came back in. I don't know how serious the injury is going to be, but we'll find out more as the week goes on."
Defensively the Spartans forced UC Davis to punt on four straight possessions to open the meeting and the first three of those were three-and-out for the Aggies. However, SJSU failed to get adequate pressure beyond the line of scrimmage consistently and made just two stops in the backfield and only one sack, credited to Cedric Lousi.
Through five games this season, San Jose State ranks eighth in the WAC and 112th in the nation in tackles for loss with an average of just 3.6 per game and sacks are almost as rare for the group, coming up with only 1.4 per outing to rank 88th in the country at the moment. Take away the meetings with UC Davis and Southern Utah and the only semi-strong effort by the SJSU defense came against Wisconsin in the second week of the season when they limited the Badgers to 27 points.
Certainly the weak play on defense has to be a concern for the Spartans, but for the moment they really need to focus on who will be controlling the offense when it steps on the field this weekend. La Secla, who is listed as questionable to begin with, was barely getting the job done when he was healthy, and still the unit is ranked 120th in the country in total offense (248.6 ypg) and is last among every team in the FBS in terms of scoring with a scant 9.8 ppg. The Spartans will have their share of opportunities to put points on the board on Saturday, but that's only because Nevada will be kicking off following every touchdown it tallies.
"The offense did pretty well, we stopped ourselves a few times," admitted Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick after the rivalry win against UNLV on Saturday. "Just stupid mistakes...and if we cut that out we'll play better."
It's scary to think just how much better this offense could be without those miscues, especially since they are fourth in the nation right now in scoring with 44.6 ppg. Kaepernick didn't have his best game of the season, but what he did do was direct the offense in a way that no one was going to stop them. The signal-caller converted 13-of-17 passes for 124 yards and a score and also picked up 97 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries for a team that generated 374 yards and five TDs on the ground.
Vai Taua stretched the UNLV defense by gaining a game-high 188 yards and three TDs on just 19 carries. Dontay Moch, one of the most feared defenders in the WAC, dialed up the pressure against the Rebels and delivered nine tackles, three TFLs and one sack.
Kaepernick, who is now seventh on the NCAA's career rushing list for quarterbacks with 3,454 yards, has thrived in Ault's pistol offense during his time in Reno. Sure, there have been times when the QB's accuracy down the field wasn't that crisp, but there's so much more to the scheme than simply winging the ball all over the field. The nation's leading rushing team last season, the Pack sits in the fifth spot at this point in the season with 303.8 ypg, but that's only because Kaepernick is getting more comfortable with his receivers and his own ability to shoot the ball down the field.
Taua (641 yards, eight TDs) and Kaepernick (548 yards, nine TDs) are both well on their way to cracking the 1,000-yard barrier again this year, while the QB is also hitting his targets at a staggering 69.9 percent for eight touchdowns and a mere two picks. In terms of pass efficiency, Nevada is fourth in the conference and 17th nationally with a mark of 157.17.