Aztecs return to Carson for matchup against high-scoring San José State offense

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SDSU then-junior safety Tariq Thompson tackles San José State then-freshman running back Kairee Robinson during the Aztecs’ 27-17 victory over the Spartans on Oct. 19, 2019 at CEFCU Stadium. The win improved the Aztecs’ record to 6-1.

by Andrew Finley, Contributor

San Diego State football welcomes San José State in a pivotal Mountain West Conference matchup tonight, Nov. 6, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

SDSU is off to a hot start heading into week three. The team  has outscored its opponents 72-13 and remain undefeated at the quarter mark of their season. Opponents who have faced the Aztecs thus far have a combined 0-4 record on the season. The Spartans, on the other hand, are already 2-0 on the season and have outscored their opponents 52-27. 

“They’re a really good team,” SDSU junior cornerback Darren Hall said. “We’re going to go out there and play our game, still.”

Unlike the Aztecs, the two games SJSU played in have been decided in the second half and both were also different statistically. The Spartans failed to score in the first half against Air Force in week one but ended up scoring 17 in the second half to win 17-6. In week two, the Spartans scored 21 points in the first half and more than doubled their point total from week one, beating New Mexico 38-21. 

The SJSU offense that showed up in the second half of week one has officially heated up. The performance put up against New Mexico should be eye-opening to an Aztec football team that has yet to give up more than seven points in a game. 

Passing game

All seven of SJSU’s touchdowns have come through the air from senior quarterback Nick Starkel. Starkel is coming off a big game against New Mexico, completing 34 of his 47 passes and throwing for 467 yards and five touchdowns. This season, Starkel has 693 yards through the air with seven touchdowns and one interception. 

Hall said he’s looking forward to facing Starkel and the challenges of the spread offense.

“He throws the deep ball very well.” Hall said. “(With the spread offense) you get a chance to make a play on the ball, which I don’t get that many chances to make. Every play that comes my way I gotta make.”

The Spartans run a spread offense and usually have no less than three receivers on the field. Of those receivers, seniors Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker are the standouts on the outside.

SDSU head coach Brady Hoke said both Gaither and Walker present the Aztecs with their biggest defensive challenge yet.

“They’re really good football players,” Hoke said.”They’ll be the best that we’ve faced so far.”

Gaither has been Starkel’s favorite target these past two weeks, catching 18 passes for 318 yards and one touchdown. Walker has steadily been the number two option for Starkel. The wideout has 13 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Behind Gaither and Walker, sophomores Isaiah Hamilton and Isaiah Holiness are making plays on the outside. Hamilton has three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, and Holiness has five catches for 38 yards. Senior tight end Derrick Deese Jr. serves as a red-zone threat for the Spartans with two of his four catches going for touchdowns. Three of five passes to all SJSU tight ends have been touchdowns this season. 

Run game

The Spartans’ spread offense has produced poor results in the run game. As a team, SJSU has run the ball 58 times for 166 yards — that’s less than three yards per carry. Their leading rusher is wide receiver Holiness who, in 16 carries, has 49 yards (his longest carry went for eight yards). The next highest rusher for SJSU is sophomore running back Kairee Robinson, who has carried the ball 17 times for 46 yards, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. 

What to expect

A spread offense is built for passing the ball, and that is exactly what the Spartans’ offense has done so far this season. The difference in production is noticeable with passing plays totaling an average of 6.2 more yards than run plays. The Spartans do have a balanced attack, however, with a 57/43 percent split between pass plays and run plays. SJSU has also protected the football on offense so far this season (just one turnover).

This matchup is San Jose State’s first roadtrip of the season. The Aztecs should be able to stop the run but will also look to their defensive backs to be ballhawks against the high-octane pass offense of SJSU.

The only two touchdowns SDSU has given up have been through the air. If the Aztecs are able to take advantage of opportunities to turn the ball over, they could stay undefeated heading into the halfway point of the season.

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