That San Jose State would even have a I-A football program in 2012 wasn’t always a given.
Football in the Cal State system has always been a bit of a dicey proposition thanks to tight budgets and low attendance. Schools like Long Beach State and Cal State-Fullerton both dropped the sport in the early 1990s, and there was a time in the early 2000s where it looked like San Jose State might follow suit. SJSU football lost several scholarships because of academic issues, and budget cuts in 2004 led the school’s faculty to pass a resolution to drop the sport from the I-A ranks. The resolution was non-binding, but as the school was in the process of hiring a new president, the faculty wanted to make a statement to whoever was hired about what direction they felt the school should be moving.
Fortunately for Spartans fans, the new president wasn’t quite ready to give up on the football program. Instead, he hired Tom Bowen to be his athletic director and restructure the department. Bowen was previously employed as the head of the San Francisco 49ers’ community outreach program, and spent two years as director of the 49ers Foundation. It was a role that gave him extensive local fundraising experience, which was instrumental in getting the Spartans’ athletic department back on the good side of the ledger. As part of his plan, Bowen hired a name-brand coach in Dick Tomey to lead the football program. Tomey made a difference right away, leading San Jose State to a 9-4 record in his second season and earning the program’s first bowl berth in 16 years. While he injected some immediate credibility into the program, though, Tomey wasn’t the long-term solution; he retired after the 2009 season. Bowen turned to Mike MacIntyre to pick up where Tomey left off.
While Bowen has since moved on from San Jose State to lead a similar rebuilding effort at Memphis, the coach he left behind has kept up the momentum. After winning only one game in his debut season, MacIntyre rebounded to go 5-7 last year and has his Spartans off to a 3-1 start in 2012. San Jose State is a program on the rise and a contender for the league crown in the WAC’s final season. For those who aren’t just fans of college football but truly believe in it as something that brings value to an institution, the progress that SJSU has made since almost dropping out of I-A is a real feel-good story.
As a Navy fan, I’d feel better if they still stunk.
The coaching staff at San Jose State has a lot of experience against the Navy offense. MacIntyre came to San Jose State after two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Duke, where he faced Navy in 2008. Duke won that game, 41-31. SJSU’s defensive coordinator is Kent Baer, who had the same job at Notre Dame from 2002-2004. Well all know who won those games. In Navy’s loss to San Jose State last year, you could see how both coaches’ approaches to the spread option made their way into San Jose State’s game plan.
While Navy lost to Duke in 2008, they were leading 24-20 at the half. The difference? Kaipo played the first half, while Jarod Bryant played the second half. Jarod had trouble making the right read. MacIntyre was using the squeeze & scrape stunt, where #1 would squeeze the playside tackle (sometimes even holding him) to prevent him from making his block on the middle linebacker. With #1 pushing inside, the quarterback reads that as a keep. If #2 takes the pitch, then the QB keeps, and is tackled by the unblocked middle linebacker. There are ways to beat that stunt, such as with the toss sweep. That’s why Alexander Teich had only 11 carries for 49 yards, while Aaron Santiago and Gee Gee Greene combined for 13 carries and 109 yards. That’s where Baer’s influence took over.
Baer completely disregarded the threat of the pass, similar to what he did in 2003 against Craig Candeto. The safeties played almost exclusively in run support to stop the outside threat from the slotbacks. Coach Jasper tried to make the defense pay, but Kriss Proctor could only complete 9 of 20 (!) passes. There were even more pass plays called, but Kriss was also sacked three times, and most of his 82 rushing yards came on scrambles.
This is the exact strategy that Louisiana Tech used against Navy in 2010. The difference between those two games is that Ricky Dobbs was a much, much better passer than Kriss Proctor. Kriss was effective enough in the passing game when the coaches were able to use it as a change of pace through play-action to catch the defense off-guard, but it was a different matter when they were forced to rely on his arm to move the ball. Trey Miller has been hot and cold in the passing game so far this year and isn’t quite as good as Ricky, but he is undoubtedly a better passer than Kriss. If the Navy offensive line can give him time, he is accurate enough to make the throws that Kriss couldn’t.
That’s a big if, though. The reason why the San Jose State coaching staff feels so comfortable daring Navy to pass is that they can get tremendous pressure on the quarterback, thanks in large part to defensive end Travis Johnson. Johnson had 11 tackles in last year’s game (including 1.5 sacks) as he chased Kriss all over the field whenever he dropped back to throw. He had a 4-sack game against UC Davis, and his 24 career sacks lead all active I-A players. San Jose State has already recorded 17 sacks on the year, including 5 last week in a win over San Diego State. Their defense hasn’t been very good against the run, but they will use their scheme to force the Mids to play to their biggest strength.
Offensively, San Jose State is even better. They like to throw the ball and have a top-20 passing offense that is averaging 305 yards per game. Even more impressive than that– and more dangerous for Navy– is that they are 13th in the nation in passing efficiency. Starting quarterback David Fales just doesn’t make many mistakes, completing 72% of his passes so far while throwing 9 TDs and only two INTs. He had 370 yards against Colorado State, and threw for 260 and 4 TDs against a very respectable San Diego State team last week. For a defense that likes to play bend-but-don’t-break while counting on missteps from the opposing offense, that’s bad news.
As much as Notre Dame challenged Navy’s defense physically, San Jose State will test them schematically. SJSU uses a lot of formation-shifting and motion before the snap in an effort to throw defensive players off their assignments. While they like to throw more than they run, their running attack is very similar to what the Mids saw against Notre Dame, with a lot of zone stretch and option plays out of pistol formations. The option is particularly a factor when quarterback Blake Jurich comes into the game. SJSU uses a two-quarterback system, with Fales as the passer while the bigger, stronger Jurich is more of a runner. Jurich isn’t only a runner, though, and completed passes when defenses became too aggressive against the run. Navy’s defense has played a lot better the last two weeks, but between the shifting, zone running, option, Fales’ accuracy, and the two-QB system, their newly discovered discipline will be put to one brutal test.
Regardless of how Navy has looked in their games so far this year, the end results have been what most people expected them to be. The Mids are 1-2 after facing two BCS-level behemoths and one overmatched 1-AA team. This is the first “normal” game, for lack of a better term. Because of that, it might also be the most telling. San Jose State is a very good team, maybe the best that Navy has left on the schedule. A win here would mean a lot. There’s a huge difference between 2-2 and 1-3.