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1. They survived
Coach builds up football program from ashes. Coach leaves for another job. Program returns to ashes. It happens all the time in college football, and when head coach Mike MacIntyre left San Jose for Colorado a year ago, there had to be at least a little bit of concern that it would happen to SJSU. MacIntyre inherited a program that had gone 2-10 in 2009 and had managed just two winning seasons and one bowl since 1992. But he pulled off a 10-year rebuilding job in just three years; SJSU went 1-12 in Year 1, 5-7 in Year 2, and 11-2 in Year 3, and he was gone.
Instead of latching on to whatever remnants of the MacIntyre it could find -- something that seems to have worked for Utah State in replacing Gary Andersen with his offensive coordinator, Matt Wells -- SJSU took a chance on hiring a bit of an outsider to replace its best coach in a generation. The Spartans hired former University of San Diego coach Ron Caragher; Caragher grew up in San Jose, but his coaching experience came elsewhere: UCLA (1996-2002 under Bob Toledo), Kentucky (2003-06 under Rich Brooks), San Diego (2007-12). Could he maintain MacIntyre's winning ways right out of the gates?
Yes and no. SJSU suffered a drop-off, but between departed players and unsustainable injury luck, that was pretty much unavoidable. Still, the Spartans stayed alive and relevant. They fell to 74th in the F/+ rankings, not 114th. They fell to 6-6, not 2-10.
Despite incredible youth in quite a few units, San Jose State was fun and interesting. It passed its first test in the post-MacIntyre era. Now it faces another stiff test in Year 2: life without star quarterback David Fales.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 6-6 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 74|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|29-Aug||Sacramento State||N/A||24-0||W||17.6 - 26.0||L|
|7-Sep||at Stanford||3||13-34||L||26.5 - 30.6||L|
|21-Sep||at Minnesota||55||24-43||L||44.0 - 31.0||W|
|27-Sep||Utah State||32||12-40||L||36.6 - 33.9||W|
|5-Oct||at Hawaii||82||37-27||W||25.5 - 29.4||L||-0.1|
|12-Oct||at Colorado State||66||34-27||W||43.5 - 34.4||W||3.4|
|26-Oct||Wyoming||102||51-44||W||41.4 - 39.8||W||4.5|
|2-Nov||at UNLV||96||34-24||W||34.8 - 24.9||W||3.9|
|9-Nov||San Diego State||89||30-34||L||24.5 - 33.1||L||1.6|
|16-Nov||at Nevada||88||16-38||L||15.3 - 41.0||L||-2.7|
|22-Nov||Navy||58||52-58||L||36.0 - 38.7||L||-5.1|
|29-Nov||Fresno State||49||62-52||W||52.2 - 43.8||W||-3.7|
|Points Per Game||32.4||44||35.1||104|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.2||32||33.9||107|
2. A defensive fade
There almost has to be a drop off here. SJSU was not particularly lucky in terms of Turnovers Luck or Yards Per Point, but the Spartans did benefit from a glaring lack of devastating injuries, which allowed them to pull off their no-depth-whatsoever act with minimal damage. Four defensive linemen made almost all of the line tackles, two linebackers made almost all of the linebacker tackles, and in the secondary, only Damon Ogburn, Jr., missed serious time. Plus, on offense, the same five linemen started every game, and Fales, Eskridge, and most of the receiving corps made it the entire season without missed time.
This probably isn't going to happen again. The defense as a whole still returns quite a few interesting playmakers, but last year's lack of depth could cost the Spartans if new options don't emerge.
Like turnovers luck (which also turned against SJSU last fall), injuries luck isn't guaranteed to turn from year to year. Just because you were particularly lucky or unlucky doesn't automatically mean you'll be the opposite soon.
That said, SJSU's injury situation was basically the exact opposite in 2013 as it was in 2012. Already tasked with breaking in new players to replace stars like running back Shady Eskridge, tight end Ryan Otten, offensive tackle David Quessenberry, and defensive end Travis Johnson, Caragher had to find replacements for other stars on the fly. Leading returning rusher Tyler Ervin played one game. Potential All-American receiver Noel Grigsby played two. Star linebacker Vince Buhagiar missed the entire season. Only three of eight defensive linemen played in all 12 games. Regression to the mean was swift and cruel on the injury front.
Thanks to Fales, receiver Chandler Jones, and an experienced line, SJSU was able to not only hold steady on offense but improve as the year progressed. Despite freshmen littered among the skill positions, SJSU only fell from 26th to 29th in Off. F/+. The defense, on the other hand, sprang some leaks.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Opponent 30.2, SJSU 30.0 (minus-0.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): SJSU 39.9, Opponent 33.0 (plus-6.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 39.2, SJSU 32.0 (minus-7.2)
After playing decent ball against some pretty solid offenses early on -- Stanford, Minnesota, and Utah State combined to average 5.6 yards per play, which isn't particularly good or bad -- SJSU struggled to keep up. The Spartans allowed 6.2 yards per play or greater in six of their final seven games, 7.0 or greater in four. Shootouts became the way of life: a 51-44 win over Wyoming, a 58-52 loss to Navy, a 62-52 win over Fresno State. This is entertaining, but it's not a particularly good way to finish better than about 6-6.
Experience will help the defense in 2014, but Caragher brought in a new defensive coordinator as well.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.6%||25||Succ. Rt. +||106.9||38|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.5||107||Def. FP+||96.4||94|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||33||Redzone S&P+||101.7||55|
|Q1 Rk||31||1st Down Rk||26|
|Q2 Rk||16||2nd Down Rk||27|
|Q3 Rk||61||3rd Down Rk||76|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Blake Jurich||6'4, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||3||6||22||0||1||50.0%||2||25.0%||1.1|
|Joe Gray||6'2, 202||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Malik Watson||6'3, 220||Jr.||NR|
|Ian Fieber||6'1, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
3. Replacing Fales
That SJSU got 10 catches from Noel Grigsby and two carries from Tyler Ervin and still played prolific offense in 2013 is staggering. It reflects well on both offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty and quarterback David Fales, and SJSU's hoping that the former was responsible for as much as possible.
Fales had other experienced players around him, but he was the guiding light for this offense. A likely draft pick, he completed 64 percent of his passes, cut his sack rate down dramatically while still getting the ball downfield (13.4 yards per completion), and adjusted on the fly to a younger receiving corps than he expected to have.
The battle to replace Fales began this spring, with junior Joe Gray seemingly asserting himself over senior (and 2013 backup) Blake Jurich; Gray completed 17 of 20 passes in the spring game, and if he or Jurich can provide general competence and consistency, his skill-position supporting cast could be ready and able to help him out quite a bit. (The line, on the other hand, is a concern. But we'll get to that.)
|Jarrod Lawson||RB||5'8, 190||So.||NR||164||788||4||4.8||3.0||44.5%|
|Thomas Tucker||RB||5'10, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||66||338||3||5.1||4.5||42.4%|
|Tim Crawley||WR||5'7, 160||So.||NR||51||219||1||4.3||3.0||41.2%|
|Tyler Ervin (2012)||RB/WR||5'10, 176||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||45||205||1||4.6||4.3||N/A|
|Osirius Burke||RB||5'9, 209||So.||NR||7||12||0||1.7||1.3||14.3%|
|Blake Jurich||QB||6'4, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||6||25||0||4.2||5.8||33.3%|
|Shane Smith||RB||6'2, 231||So.||NR||4||4||0||1.0||N/A||0.0%|
|Alvin Jelks||RB||6'1, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Brandon Monroe||RB||6'1, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Ray Lomas IV||RB||5'7, 180||RSFr.||NR|
|Tyler Winston||WR||6'2, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||86||58||858||67.4%||18.0%||54.2%||10.0||172||10.0||113.3|
|Billy Freeman||TE||6'3, 235||So.||2 stars (5.4)||47||27||427||57.4%||9.9%||62.5%||9.1||80||9.1||56.4|
|Tim Crawley||WR||5'7, 160||So.||NR||36||22||197||61.1%||7.5%||73.1%||5.5||-77||4.0||26.0|
|Jabari Carr||WR||6'0, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||35||25||173||71.4%||7.3%||62.1%||4.9||-115||5.4||22.8|
|Thomas Tucker||RB||5'10, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||27||23||232||85.2%||5.7%||59.3%||8.6||-12||8.5||30.6|
|Jarrod Lawson||RB||5'8, 190||So.||NR||26||20||223||76.9%||5.5%||68.0%||8.6||1||7.9||29.4|
|Tyler Ervin (2012)||RB/WR||5'10, 176||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||10||126||83.3%||2.6%||58.3%||10.5||N/A||10.6||18.8|
|Shane Smith||RB||6'2, 231||So.||NR||6||5||49||83.3%||1.3%||83.3%||8.2||-5||7.4||6.5|
|Hansell Wilson||WR||5'9, 172||Jr.||NR||5||3||67||60.0%||1.0%||75.0%||13.4||29||12.6||8.8|
|Jordan Thiel||TE||6'4, 238||So.||2 stars (5.4)||3||1||17||33.3%||0.6%||100.0%||5.7||-1||9.5||2.2|
|Daniel Bradbury||WR||6'1, 189||Sr.||NR|
|K.C. Pearce||WR||6'2, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Michael Tate||WR||6'1, 170||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jourdan Soares||WR||6'0, 167||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Justin Holmes||WR||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
4. Youth becomes experience
From the "injuries hurt in the present tense but help in the future" department, SJSU has already been forced to figure out how to replace Noel Grigsby; it came 10-11 games earlier than anticipated, but Grigsby's injury thrust then-freshman Tyler Winston into the spotlight, and he mostly held his own. A converted defensive back, Winston averaged 10.0 yards per target (despite almost half his targets coming on passing downs) and took full advantage of his unknown status. He caught just one pass for 25 yards in the first four games, then caught 23 for 481 in the next three. He couldn't keep up that level of production -- he'd have been an All-American if he had -- but he rebounded for 10 catches and 164 yards in the shootout against Fresno State.
Winston averaged nearly 15 yards per catch while catching more than two-thirds of the passes thrown to him. That's fantastic for a senior No. 5 receiver, much less a surprise freshman No. 2. And now he'll be asked to replicate those numbers without the help of speedy Chandler Jones, who fared even better in 2013 (17.2 yards per catch, 71 percent catch rate).
Winston's not the only potential star sophomore. Tight end Billy Freeman had his moments, and Tim Crawley was a frequent short target on standard downs. Meanwhile, running backs Jarrod Lawson (a former walk-on) and Thomas Tucker combined for 230 carries and 43 catches last year. Their production was decent on the ground, and they got upfield well on check-down passes. And all of these players have three years of eligibility remaining. That's not a guarantee of success for 2014, but that's exciting for 2015 and beyond.
|Nicholas Kaspar||RG||45||2nd All-MWC|
|Wes Schweitzer||LT||6'5, 275||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||13|
|David Peterson||C||6'5, 297||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||10|
|Evan Sarver||RT||6'5, 281||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Keith Bendixen||RG||6'4, 291||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Doug Blacksill||C||6'5, 275||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Fernando Villanueva||RT||6'7, 298||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Oscar Barron||LT||6'4, 270||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Kyle Hart||LG||6'3, 275||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Michael Talafus||RG||6'3, 269||So.||NR|
|A.J. Samataua||RG||6'3, 295||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Nate Velichko||RT||6'7, 275||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Jeremiah Kolone||LG||6'3, 290||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Kyle Wright||LT||6'7, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Troy Kowalski||OL||6'5, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. New quarterback, meet your new line
Fales and Jones found themselves surrounded by freshmen in 2013, but Fales did at least have a sturdy, seasoned line protecting him. The new quarterback, be it Gray, Jurich, or Other (freshman Ian Fieber, perhaps?), won't have that luxury. Line coach Keith Carter does have tackle Wes Schweitzer and David Peterson, both of whom started most or all of 2013, at his disposal, but they're basically the only known quantities. Career backup Keith Bendixen, sophomore Evan Sarver, and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Kolone were listed as starters at the end of spring camp. As with the quarterback position, all the line needs to offer is competence, not necessarily a repeat of last year's top-50 numbers. But that's not a given.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.2%||110||Succ. Rt. +||85.2||110|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.4||115||Off. FP+||95.5||101|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||100||Redzone S&P+||81.9||115|
|Q1 Rk||113||1st Down Rk||113|
|Q2 Rk||78||2nd Down Rk||98|
|Q3 Rk||110||3rd Down Rk||87|
6. A most interesting career
Few defensive coordinators have their own internet meme. This is not a good or bad thing, just a thing. Greg Robinson, the "pwned" of college football, takes over at SJSU's defensive coordinator after an interesting few years.
Actually, Robinson has had an interesting overall career, multiple careers in one. He was UCLA's defensive line coach during one of the Bruins' most successful runs (1982-88), switched to offensive coordinator for one year, then went to the pros. He was the Jets' defensive coordinator for one year (1994), then took over the Broncos' defense (1995-99) and was at the helm for a pair of Super Bowl titles. He moved on to Kansas City for three years, then ran Mack Brown's blue-chip unit for a season (2004), parlaying that success into his first head coaching gig. Though Broncos and Chiefs fans certainly didn't love him by the time he departed those respective jobs, Robinson's career to that point had been quite successful. He had Rose Bowl and Super Bowl rings and some serious clout on the résumé.
Then he went 10-37 at Syracuse.
Then he took over Michigan's defense and oversaw defenses that ranked 46th (2009) and 104th (2010) in Def. F/+.
After a hiatus that included a brief stint as a high school assistant under a former player, Robinson was hired as a consultant for Mack Brown at Texas, then ended up replacing coordinator/scapegoat Manny Diaz a couple of weeks into the 2013 season. He didn't improve things, but he didn't make them worse, either.
At his core, Robinson likes to preach simple, aggressive defense. His back-to-basics approach last year in Texas reaped some early benefits before regression, and he inherits some personnel that appears amenable to an aggressive approach.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Isaiah Irving||DE||6'3, 248||So.||NR||11||31.5||4.5%||5.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Travis Raciti||DT||6'5, 290||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||29.5||4.2%||4.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Bacon||DE||6'3, 244||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||26.0||3.7%||3.0||3.0||0||1||0||0|
|Eugene Taylor||DE||6'3, 225||So.||2 stars (5.2)||12||17.0||2.4%||4.0||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Foloi Vae||DT||6'3, 286||Sr.||NR||12||15.5||2.2%||3.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tony Popovich||DE||6'2, 280||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||7||10.5||1.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Garrett Guanella||DE||6'5, 235||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||4||6.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Nate Falo||DT||6'1, 286||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||5.5||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Keenan Sykes||DT||6'3, 250||So.||2 stars (5.2)||4||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Adrian Blake||DE||6'3, 255||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||6||3.0||0.4%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Christian Hill||DE||6'4, 258||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Nico Aimonetti||DT||6'5, 257||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Travis Miller||DT||6'4, 295||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Vic Vernon||DE||6'3, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Christian Tago||OLB||6'1, 226||So.||3 stars (5.6)||11||69.5||9.9%||10.5||4.0||1||0||0||0|
|Vince Buhagiar (2012)||OLB||6'4, 237||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||68.0||9.8%||9.5||3.0||0||1||1||1|
|Moses Saucedo||MLB||6'0, 229||So.||NR||12||17.5||2.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Hector Roach||OLB||6'1, 216||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||6||9.5||1.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Goforth||OLB||6'1, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|MLB||6'2, 238||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Brad Kuh||MLB||6'2, 220||So.||NR|
|William Ossai||OLB||6'2, 200||RSFr.||NR|
7. Youth becomes experience, Part II
Robinson's hire means that SJSU defenders will be operating under their third coordinator, and third alignment, in three years. Moving from three down linemen to four is awkward, but from a size perspective, this seems about right. And thanks to last year's youth movement, experience appears to be a relative strength. Seniors like Travis Raciti and Vince Buhagiar anchor the front seven, but sophomores like ends Isaiah Irving and Eugene Taylor and linebackers Christian Tago and Moses Saucedo should be ready to make a few more plays than they did a year ago. Throw in transfers like Vic Vernon (JUCO) and Jared Leaf (Hawaii), and you've got a pretty deep front seven.
Of course, depth is good, but it needs to be followed by big-play ability as well. The bar isn't very high after last year, but the least it appears that Tago and Buhagiar could be a lovely combination at OLB.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Forrest Hightower||FS||5'10, 177||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||51.5||7.3%||0.5||0||1||3||1||0|
|Damon Ogburn, Jr.||FS||11||51.5||7.3%||0||0||0||4||0||0|
|Jimmy Pruitt||CB||6'0, 194||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||39.0||5.6%||0.5||0||1||3||0||0|
|Simon Connette||SS||5'11, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||38.0||5.4%||2.5||0||1||3||0||0|
|Dasheon Frierson||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||NR||12||31.0||4.4%||3||0||1||9||0||0|
|Akeem King||SS||6'3, 214||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||13.0||1.9%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Esston Al-Uqdah||FS||6'0, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||7||7.5||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dominic Barnes||FS||5'11, 175||So.||NR||9||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Linton||CB||6'1, 198||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||6||5.0||0.7%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Ryan Harper||S||6'2, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||4||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Vincenté Miles Jr.||S||6'1, 205||Jr.||NR|
|Cleveland Wallace III
|CB||5'11, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Miles Milner||CB||5'11, 170||So.||2 stars (5.2)|
|David Williams||S||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Maurice McKnight||CB||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
8. Depth vs. star power
In losing linebacker Keith Smith and corner Bené Benwikere, SJSU is tasked with improving without its two biggest stars. But the combination of experience and options could help Robinson pull that off. Five of the top seven tacklers in the secondary return (as do the top six on the line), and they're joined by Washington transfer Cleveland Wallace III and a pair of three-star freshmen (David Williams and Maurice McKnight). Corner Dasheon Frierson showed some play-making potential in his first year as a regular, and it appears there is some decent potential overall.
And again, the bar isn't set very high. If the defense simply improves as much as the offense regresses (and the offense will almost certainly regress at least a little bit), the Spartans will break even.
|Austin Lopez||6'0, 187||Jr.||39-40||12-15||80.0%||10-12||83.3%|
|Tim Crawley||KR||5'7, 160||So.||21||18.6||0|
|Damon Ogburn, Jr.||KR||15||17.1||0|
|Tim Crawley||PR||5'7, 160||So.||5||5.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||99|
|Field Goal Efficiency||34|
|Punt Return Efficiency||115|
|Kick Return Efficiency||105|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||60|
Austin Lopez has a damn cannon. San Jose State needs some rather drastic improvement in its return game, and the Spartans need to find a new punter, but Lopez was 10-for-12 on field goals over 40 yards last year and gives SJSU one of the biggest single special teams weapons in the country. The offense doesn't need to get too far down the field to get within scoring range.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|8-Nov||at Fresno State||46|
|21-Nov||at Utah State||69|
|29-Nov||at San Diego State||83|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-11.6% (91)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||117|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-5 / 0.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (4, 8)|
10. Now the real work begins
San Jose State in 2013 was quite a bit worse than it was in 2012 and quite a bit better than it has been at any other point in recent history. The offense is going to regress; the question is how much. Meanwhile, if Robinson's aggressive approach resonates with a more experienced defense, one unit could pick up the slack for the other. If SJSU can hang in the 70s range (in terms of F/+ rankings), the Spartans could once again threaten to reach bowl eligibility.
The schedule is not easy -- SJSU travels to Auburn, Minnesota, Navy, Fresno State, and Utah State -- but every home game is winnable, and a team that ranks in the 70s could reach six to seven wins. Whether that's enough for an actual bowl bid remains to be seen, but a 6-6 or 7-5 season would represent a second season of survival. SJSU finished .500 after losing MacIntyre, and doing so again after losing a special talent at quarterback would be impressive, especially considering how many sophomores will be playing a role and, with five three-star recruits entering the fray this fall, how well Caragher recruited this year.
Thrive, survive, then thrive again. SJSU is one more decent year away from completing step two of three.