<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Don’t look now, but for the second consecutive week the Utah State Aggies will face a top-20 defense on the road.
Despite USU and Louisiana Tech getting all the preseason attention in the Western Athletic Conference this season, San Jose State has emerged as a serious WAC championship contender. The Spartans are 4-1 on the season with only a three point loss at ranked Stanford to blemish their record. SJSU also gets both the Aggies and the Bulldogs at home in 2012 – starting with USU Saturday.
“San Jose State, first of all we go back two years and (the games) have been battles. They have had the lead in the fourth quarter for the last two years and we have found a way to make some plays and win the game,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “It is going to be a tough, hard-fought game. I know they will be ready for it and we will be ready for it.”
Decently potent on offense over the past few seasons, the Spartans improvement on defense may be the biggest reason for their emergence as a contender. A big part of that defense is defensive end Travis Johnson. The senior is second on the team in tackles (35) and leads the Spartans in both tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (7.5).
“It’s pretty well documented for the last couple years they’ve have if not the best, one of the best pass rushers in this league, and he does it week in and week out,” Andersen said. “He’s a physical kid, he’s athletic, he’s got great use of his hands, and knows when to take advantage of situations, so it will be a big test for us.”
Another test for the Aggies will be the passing game of the Spartans. Guided by junior transfer quarterback Davis Fales – the No. 15 most efficient QB in the country – SJSU is averaging 300 passing yards per game. The Spartans also have an improved rushing attack with the addition of Minnesota transfer De’Leon Eskridge, though they are still a pass-heavy team.
“The throw game is No. 1 for me that we’ve got to be able to take control of. They’re going to complete passes, and we’ve got to be able to tackle well when they complete passes, and then we’ve got to find a way to hopefully get the quarterback a little bit distracted,” Andersen said. “When he’s in a comfort zone and he feels at home, he doesn’t miss very many throws. It’s a good offense, and I’m impressed with the way they play.”
Top to bottom, San Jose State may be the best team the Aggies have faced this season. The Spartans are in the top-50 in total offense and in the top-20 in total defense – no other USU opponent can claim that.
“I think defensively they are solid. Kent Baer does a great job with their defense and has for a number of years. To say he is a well-proven defensive coordinator is the understatement probably of the world,” Andersen said. “He does a great job with defenses and puts the kids in the right spots and gives them a chance to compete at a high level.”
The Aggies, meanwhile, are trying to wash the taste of their second close loss of the season out of their mouth. USU’s first ever 1-0 start in WAC play would certainly help with the rinsing process.
“BYU is always going to be in the back of my head, but I’m excited to start WAC play and get started with the season,” senior receiver Matt Austin said. “Like I was saying, we always break our huddle since day one with ‘WAC Champs’ and that has always been our goal, and then to get to a bowl game after that. I am super-excited to start WAC play and get started.”
Austin was the hero in last year’s game against the Spartans in Logan. Trailing by 13 at the half, the Aggies rallied to score 27 second-half points, including Austin’s go-ahead 21-yard TD catch with 47 seconds left. USU held on to win that game, 34-33.
Saturday’s game is scheduled to the Aggies first afternoon game of the season and is scheduled to kickoff at 2 p.m. Mountain Time. The game can be heard live on 610 AM and 95.9 FM, and can be streamed live on the Internet via 610kvnu.com. The game will also be televised locally on Altitude.