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Oregon Football

Ultimate Breakdown: San Jose State

September 13, 2018
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Coming off a 2-11 season under first-year coach Brent Brennan, the San Jose State Spartans were looking to improve in 2018. With some experienced returnees on each side of the ball, especially along the defensive line, hopes were high heading into the season.

That optimism has since been gashed. The Spartans fell 44-38 at home to begin the season to FCS-level UC-Davis. SJSU gave up 589 yards and never seemed to be able to stop the Aggies.

Junior Josh Love (No. 12) started the game at quarterback and got the Spartans out to a quick 14-7 first-quarter lead, but the offense sputtered for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, UCD took off, scoring 21 unanswered and taking a 35-21 lead into the half. (The Spartans' home opener game was not televised at any level, so I reviewed the stats and game recaps from both sides to get a feel for the outcome.)

It didn’t get much better for the Spartans last week in the Palouse. Wazzu shut out San Jose 31-0 in a fairly ugly game all around.

WSU jumped out early with a quick 2-minute scoring drive and San Jose St. never gained traction After coming in and leading a comeback attempt in Week 1, sophomore QB Montel Aaron (7) got the start but was unable to move the chains consistently.

Things won’t get easier for the Spartans in Mountain West play. While they get five home games and miss playing Group of 5 power Boise State, three of their home games now appear to be tougher than many thought heading into the season.

On top of facing resurgent Hawaii at home in two weeks, the Spartans go on the road to play four MW title contenders. Doubling their 2017 win total to 4 might keep Brennan and his staff in San Jose for another season of this multiyear rebuild.

Nevertheless, the Spartans can't be thrilled at the likelihood of being 0-3 going into a game with a Rainbow Warriors team that has QB Cole McDonald putting up numbers like the second coming of Timmy Chang.

 

Offensively, SJSU will run a very up-tempo, read-option-heavy spread offense, which has a tendency to shackle its defense with repeated, quick returns to the field.

Unless the starting quarterback's production is off the charts (which obviously would be very bad for Oregon), expect both Love and Aaron to see action early. Despite standing 6-5, Aaron is the more electric option; he just hasn’t shown the consistency to win the job outright.

On the outside, senior Tre Hartley (15) was the leading receiver last season, hauling in 37 balls for a 527 yards and 2 touchdowns. So far this year, however, he only has 1 catch for 17 yards.

Junior Bailey Gaither (84) poses the best deep threat after leading the team with 4 touchdowns last season. Gaither can flat out fly (rumors of a 10.5 100 meters); he had 6 grabs for 137 yards and two scores against UCD but was shut out against the Cougs. JaQuan Blackwell (11) also scored in the season opener and has 5 receptions on the young season.

TE Josh Oliver (89) is probably the best player on offense and will be a big target Saturday. On the year he has 13 catches on 19 targets for 137 yards. After being burned twice deep by Portland State's Charlie Taumoepeau, can Oregon shut down the TE this week?

The Spartans' leading rusher is injured sophomore Tyler Nevens (23). The 214-pounder ran for 670 yards on 163 carries last season and had 79 yards on 18 rushes and 2 scores against UC-Davis, but he figures to miss a second straight game. In his stead, expect San Jose to employ a running back committee led by seniors Malike Roberson (20) and DeJon Packer (21).

If coach Brennan and offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven (formally of Oregon State) want to keep their jobs, they will need to find more offensive balance and consistency. Compounding the rushing difficulties is the departure for 2018 of four senior starters on the offensive line.

Video from last season and the WSU game shows there are talented skill players on this team. At this point, however, with an inexperienced offensive line that has given up 8 sacks in two games, it looks to be a long day for the Spartans in Autzen.

Defensively, the Spartans return all three of their starting lineman. To be frank, they are probably the only reason Wazzu didn’t score more than 31.

In 2017, the defense showed heart and potential early in games before getting worn down and blown out late. This season seams to be the exact opposite. After giving up 35 and 28 respectively in the first halves this season, they have given up just 16 points total in the second. The effort seems better after halftime – at least, that was the case in Pullman.

The Spartans' base defense is a 3-4 look that they will run on first down and third-and-short situations. On long-yardage second and third downs, or in passing situations, the Spartans will drop into a 3-3-5 nickel package.

With either front, the secondary is typically in a cover 4 alignment, with an occasional cover 3 look. Don't be fooled if the corners come up and threaten to press the Oregon receivers; it is just a ruse used to give the opposing QB a different look. As the ball is snapped, they have bailed on apparent bump-and-run nearly every time.

With their veteran hogs up front, the Spartans will hope to stand up against the Ducks' big and talented offensive line and stuff up-the-middle runs. The defense is vulnerable on outside zone plays and was gashed time and again last season and against Wazzu.

If defensive ends Bryson Bridges (9) and Sailosi Latu (4) and nose tackle Owen “Boogie” Roberts (8) can continue to improve, it should help ease the pain of breaking in a relatively inexperienced LB corps. On the positive side, leading returning tackler Ethan Aguayo (31) has shown signs of being able to step in for departed Frank Ginda (who set a Mountain West record with an NCAA-leading 173 tackles last season). Aguayo and Jamal Scot t (5) lead the backers, while Jesse Osuna (11) and Tysyn Parker (28) have started the first two games alongside them.

In the secondary, CB Dakari Monroe (19) returns after leading the team in 2017 with 3 interceptions; he has 1 so far this season. Safety Jonathan Lenard Jr. (27) is the only other returning starter, and it appears the rest of the secondary is a work in progress. Safety Tre Webb (3), who moved over from cornerback in spring, is tied with Scott for the team lead with 19 total tackles. John Toussaint (2) will start opposite Monroe; he has two pass breakups this season.

 

For the Ducks, this game has a little extra meaning for four members of the staff. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo was the Spartans' QB from 1998 to 2002, and he got his first career start as a true freshman against none other than No. 22 Oregon in a 58-3 loss. Arroyo also coached at San Jose from 2006 to 2008, and Oregon colleagues Jim Mastro, Joe Salave’a and Dont─ŚWilliams all made stops in San Jose during their careers.

Oregon must repeat the mantra from its first two games: continue to improve in all three facets of the game, come out injury-free, and limit penalties and play disciplined football.

Offensively, I don’t expect much change in the game plan. Anticipate the passing attack to come out and focus on the outside, in order to open up the seams and post routes across the middle. As has been the case the first two games, Herbert will continue to spread the wealth.

Say what you want about the drops in the first two games by Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson III, and I have said plenty, JH is comfortable and confident in those guys, and that is truly an underrated quality for a quarterback. Arroyo will continue to employ only a handful of basic plays, disguised for the defense by being run from different sets. The offense won’t have trouble moving the ball if they continue to keep Herbert upright while opening lanes for the stable of running backs.

I am hoping to see more big plays this game. I would love to see Herbert hit on a long pass for a TD to show off the combination of touch and strength of his right arm. Spreading the wealth for the running backs in the red zone is nice, but would love to see more plays like Travis Dye’s 49-yard touchdown scamper against PSU. Open up holes against a three-man front, peel off to the second level and watch the WRs block downfield.

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