No Time to Rest in Sparta: No. 17 Utah Next on the Slate

D MillerCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Running back Joe McKnight #4 of  the USC Trojans carries the ball against linebacker Justin Cole #93 and defensive tackle Justin Willis #99 of the San Jose State Spartans on September 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. USC won 56-3.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

On the heels of a 56-3 lambasting at the hands of Southern Cal, the road gets no easier this weekend for the Spartans of San Jose State, who must find a way to rebound from Week One's debacle in time to host No. 17 Utah on Saturday.

It's not as if anyone (sane) inside or outside of San Jose State's football program had any real delusions of grander about the Spartans shocking mighty USC last week, but many who follow the team closely expected less demoralizing results.

Instead what they got was a competitive first quarter that ended in a 3-0 lead for San Jose State, a mere aberration on the road to the brutal end result.

The Trojans erupted for 28 second-quarter points, and doubled it in the final half behind the efforts of many of their backup players, each of whom were all too hungry to feast on San Jose State's worn and weathered starters.

In the end, San Jose State's top rusher (senior Patrick Perry) gained a meager 48 yards, and three quarterbacks combined for just 112 yards through the air. Altogether, the Spartans offense had eight first downs to USC's 22, and converted only once in 16 third down tries.

The Spartans' defense, which is the strength of the team, broke down midway through the second quarter, hamstrung by an ineffective team offense and overmatched by the Trojans' stellar offensive depth.

To be blunt, marching the Spartans into the L.A. Coliseum with a revamped offense and inexperienced secondary was a recipe for disaster that Head Coach Dick Tomey probably should have seen coming.

And how do the Spartans plan to recover from last week? By playing host to defending Mountain West and Sugar Bowl Champion Utah in Week Two.

San Jose State probably deserves a hint of respect for being the only team this year to start out of the gates against two straight BCS bowl winners from last season. At the same time, for a program that is 11-13 the last two seasons, the logic in scheduling two championship-caliber teams in a row is questionable at best.

Nontheless, the Spartans have to quickly put the USC game behind them and find a way to basically put on a performance opposite of last week's. It won't be easy, as the supposedly rebuilding Utes looked more like they reloaded in the offseason when they rolled over the Spartans' WAC rival Utah State 35-17 in Week One.

Judging by that game, San Jose State will need to field a vastly improved offense in Week Two, one that can give their defense a chance to rest in between series and can actually capitalize on turnovers and convert them into points.

Against USC, the Spartans forced two turnovers but were unable to take advantage of them, stalling whenever they crossed the 50-yard line and never even reaching the red zone. Utah State won the turnover battle against the Utes three to one, so San Jose State figures to force a steal or two on their home turf this weekend.

The Spartans' defense will have it's work cut out for it for a second straight week, with the task at hand being to contain an offense that gained 519 total yards last week.

Taking the reigns from graduated quarterback Brian Johnson, junior college transfer Terrance Cain didn't miss a beat as he threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Matt Asiata kept the Utes steady on the ground, carrying 36 times for 156 yards and two scores of his own.

In recent years, Tomey's defenses have shown they can play up to the level of their staunchest opponents, including the likes of other BCS-busters Boise State and Hawaii. But keeping high scoring offenses in check has been a quick-fix solution for San Jose State, as their own mostly impotent offense tends to have trouble keeping up even in low-scoring games.

That's why the keys to success fall into new Offensive Coordinator Terry Malley's hands.

The Spartans appear to be steady at running back, with the return of Perry, the arrival of heralded JC-transfer Lamon Muldrow, and the emergence of sophomore speedster Brandon Rutley.

Top playmaker Kevin Jurovich is back, and despite rather pedestrian numbers by his standards against USC, he appears ready to pick up where he left off in 2007 when he was second-team All-WAC.

The most pressing need for the Spartans this weekend may not even be winning, but settling on a quarterback. Senior Kyle Reed and junior Jordan La Secla split time against Southern Cal, with neither doing much to stake his claim to the starting role.

The best option at this point appears to be Reed, if for no other reason than his mobility, which may become more and more crucial as the season wears on.

A four-star quarterback out of high school, Reed transferred to San Jose State from Cal under much fanfare from Spartan fans and alumni in 2007. He endeared himself to those fans in weeks one and two of last season, coming off the bench to engineer a come-from-behind victory over UC Davis in Week One, and keeping the Spartans competitive with Nebraska in Week Two before an injury sidelined him for the final quarter.

Reed also appeared to have bonded on the field quickly with Jurovich during those two weeks, which wound up being the only games the receiver played in prior to losing his season to an illness.

Unfortunately, he battled injury throughout the latter part of the season and was never able to fully establish himself as the Spartans' guy heading into 2009.

Tomey has been steadfast in his opinion that both quarterbacks performed well enough to earn playing time during the offseason. While that may be true, the flip-flopping under center appeared to prevent the Spartans' offense from establishing any kind of rhythm against USC, and the stats and lack of conversions spell that out.

So while an upset over Utah would be ultimately be the most satisfying result, the most realistic and rewarding one may simply be the emergence of a signal-caller. The Spartans need to know who their leader is, and what their chances of competing in the WAC will be.

By Saturday night, we should have a better idea about both.


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