Don’t let San Jose State’s record fool you.
The Spartans are much better than their 3-7 mark indicates, according to Utah State head coach Matt Wells said.
“This is a team that when you flip on the tape and nobody tells you what their record is, you’re like, ‘Holy smokes, these guys are really good,’” Wells said. “I’m watching the defensive side and then I look where their stats are, they’re No. 1 in the country in pass defense, they’re No. 1 in the league in total defense.”
SJSU, which is tied for fourth in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division with a 2-4 mark, only allows 127.2 passing yards per game to rank first in the nation.
The Spartans give up just 343.9 ypg to rank first in the MW and 26th in the nation.
“Honestly, if you don’t look at their record, you don’t know what it is, they’re a tremendously talented team that poses many issues for us on both sides of the ball.
“We’re going to have to have a great week of prep — our players and coaches schematically — and get ready to go on a short week because this is a talented football team.”
However, it’s a team that has suffered four straight setbacks, including a 13-0 home loss to Hawaii last Saturday — the first time the Spartans had been blanked since a 48-0 rout at the hands of Boise State on Oct. 16, 2010.
On top of that, the setback to the Rainbow Warriors marked the first known circumstance in which SJSU did not attempt a punt in a game.
The Spartans, who look to snap their skid Friday night at Utah State, will enter the game nationally ranked in the top 30 in seven different categories.
“I know San Jose State is a good team,” USU offensive lineman Kevin Whimpey said. “... They play hard, they’re well-coached. This is another week where we’ll need to dial in.”
Greg Robinson, who was the defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos when they won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 and 1998, is in his first season as SJSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
“It’s impressive to see what he’s done,” Wells said. “It’s a major challenge for us as an offensive unit and an offensive staff to go against Greg Robinson and that defense. They’re playing a mix of zone and man, pressure and all-out pressure with no help in the back.
“It challenges your protections, it challenges your receivers and it’s not all feast and famine. It can be, at times. They are mixing things up and being very, very multiple in some different coverages and fronts. ... They’ll be a tremendous challenge.”
Sophomore cornerback Cleveland Wallace III ranks first in the MW and tied for 13th in the nation in passes defended with 14 — 13 breakups and one interception.
Fellow SJSU cornerback Jimmy Pruitt is tied for sixth in the league with eight passes defended, including two interceptions.
Linebacker Christian Tago leads the Spartans with 89 tackles, including 5.0 for loss, while fellow linebacker Vince Buhagiar has 85 stops.
As a team, SJSU allows 27.4 points and 343.9 yards of total offense per game.
Offensively, the Spartans are led by junior quarterback Joe Gray, who is 201 of 317 for 2,215 yards and 10 touchdowns, to go along with nine interceptions.
In last week’s loss to Hawaii, Gray became the third MW player in history to pass for 300 or more yards in five consecutive games. He threw for 305 against the Rainbow Warriors.
“He’s a dual-threat kid,” Wells said of Gray. “Joe is very athletic. He throws it well on the run and he puts the ball in some tight spots, which tells you he has confidence. I like to see that in a quarterback. I don’t like to see it playing against us, just if I were coaching him.
“I think he’s coached up really, really well. He has a bunch of guys to distribute it to. They have a solid tight end, solid running back who’s a dual-threat kid and then they have three wideouts. We’ve seen these kids and they’re really, really talented.”
Tyler Ervin leads SJSU’s ground game with 701 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 119 carries, while wide receiver Tyler Winsten has caught 68 passes for 633 yards and five TDs.
“Offensively, they run a lot of zone, so they zone up to the linebackers really well,” USU linebacker Zach Vigil said. “The running back is a good player, he keeps his legs going. Obviously, they’re always going to be a challenge at the wide receiver spot. They’re always talented there.”
In his second season at the helm of the Spartans, Ron Caragher is 9-13 overall.