Oct 9, 2021; Carson, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Greg Bell (22) runs the ball against the New Mexico Lobos during the second half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 San Diego St. on upset alert against San Jose St.

If coach Brady Hoke has his way, No. 24 San Diego State won’t take anything for granted Friday night at San Jose State.

“Look at Nevada, they beat Boise State last week and then Boise State beat BYU today,” Hoke said Saturday night after the Aztecs’ 31-7 win over New Mexico in Carson, Calif. “It tells you how good the Mountain West is and what kind of football teams we’re going to have to face in the future.”

What Saturday night also revealed is that the Aztecs (5-0, 1-0 MW) are equipped to win every game with a good running game and a solid defense but must go into each contest wondering just what they’ll get out of the quarterback position.

The Lobos, even with former San Diego State head coach Rocky Long as their defensive coordinator, don’t possess anything resembling top-ranked Georgia’s defense. However, for long stretches, New Mexico made the Aztecs’ offense look pedestrian.

Aztecs quarterback Jordon Brookshire is a capable runner but has completed just 28 of 57 passes for 389 yards in three games played. Backup Lucas Johnson is accurate (27 of 46) but doesn’t have a big arm (only 196 yards).

Brookshire was only 11 of 24 for 130 yards against New Mexico, and it took work to get there. He started the game 3 of 11.

“Jordon got himself out of a rut,” Hoke said. “He did a good job getting himself in a good place from a fundamental standpoint.”

A mediocre passing game hasn’t mattered yet. Greg Bell (520 rushing yards, five scores) would be welcome in a lot of Power 5 locker rooms as a starter, and San Diego State makes big plays on defense. The Aztecs have 18 sacks and seven interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, San Jose State (3-3, 1-1) hasn’t been able to follow up last year’s breakthrough with the kind of success it was hoping for, dropping to .500 with a 32-14 loss Saturday at Colorado State.

The Spartans have been hurt by a combination of injuries and turnovers. Quarterback Nick Starkel (left arm) has missed the past two games. Backup Nick Nash starred in a 37-31 win over New Mexico State and tossed three touchdown passes, but was just 11 of 22 for 154 passing yards with an interception last weekend against the Rams.

Starkel’s status for Friday night wasn’t known since coach Brent Brennan doesn’t discuss injuries, but it’s a certainty that Brennan would like to see his team come out on top in the turnover battle. The Spartans have coughed up 13 through six games and forced only three.

“We are still a work in progress,” Brennan said. “I guess you could say we are still very much like a Silicon Valley startup.”

If San Jose State can take care of the ball, it might have a chance to pull off the upset. The Spartans possess one of the top tight ends on the West Coast in Derrick Deese Jr., who has 11 catches and two touchdowns over the past two games.

The Aztecs own a 22-20-2 lead in the all-time series, although the Spartans’ 28-17 win last year in Carson snapped a seven-game losing streak.

–Field Level Media

Dec 18, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws the ball in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks during the Pac-12 Championship at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State takes on No. 15 Southern California

Reigning Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State seeks a landmark win Saturday, traveling to Los Angeles to face a No. 15-ranked Southern California team with designs on a Pac-12 championship in 2021.

It is the season opener for USC, which is 4-0 against the Spartans all time. The Trojans will play in front of a home crowd for the first time since routing rival UCLA at the conclusion of the 2019 regular season more than 21 months ago.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis set a program record with 515 passing yards in that game, and returned as a sophomore in 2020 to guide USC to the Pac-12 title game.

Despite the Trojans’ perfect regular season, however, Slovis’ individual production regressed. He finished 2020 completing almost 5 percent fewer of his pass attempts, threw almost as many interceptions in six games (seven) as the previous season’s 13 games (nine) and his yards per attempt dipped from 8.9 to 7.3.

“Going through all those feelings and adversity and not feeling your best to now, feeling pretty good, the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Slovis told the Los Angeles Times of his efforts to get back to form after a slight sophomore slump. “It felt like a long journey. I’m just happy to be on the back end of that.”

Slovis is throwing to an outstanding wide receiving corps, including 6-foot-5 playmaker Drake London and veteran Colorado transfer K.D. Nixon. The running back rotation returns fifth-year contributor Vavae Malepeai and Kenan Christon, a promising change-of-pace back who showed flashes of brilliance in 2019.

But defense might be the central component to USC’s Pac-12 title chances.

Coordinator Todd Orlando has a talented rotation in his first full season with the Trojans, including defensive backs Chris Steele and Isaiah Pola-Mao, edge rusher Drake Jackson and the defensive line duo of Nick Figueroa and Tuli Tuipulotu.

The USC defense faces an immediate test from San Jose State (1-0). Veteran quarterback Nick Starkel led the Spartans to their first Mountain West championship a season ago, and opened the new season last Saturday with 394 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-14 blowout of Southern Utah.

“Our offense is built not around specific players, but around schemes,” Starkel told the San Jose Mercury News. “So being able to have 10 different guys that can catch the ball and more that you are trying to get the ball to is huge for this team.”

“(Offensive coordinator) Kevin McGiven is one of the best play callers in the country. He’s an incredible teacher, and I think Nick would agree with that,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said in his postgame press conference.

San Jose State held opponents to 19.9 points per game in 2020 thanks in part to an aggressive pass rush, and the Spartans return standout defensive ends Cade Hall and Viliami Fehoko. The duo combined for 16 sacks a season ago.

USC counters with an offensive line built around veteran All-Pac-12 honorees Jalen McKenzie and Andrew Vorhees. Saturday marks the 26th career start for Vorhees.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2020; Tucson, AZ, USA; San Jose State Spartans tight end Derrick Deese Jr. (87) is upended against the Ball State Cardinals in the first half of the Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State captures first bowl win in history vs. No. 22 San Jose State

No. 22 San Jose State was in a bind before Thursday’s Arizona Bowl started with eight coaches and players not available for undisclosed reasons, which contributed to the Spartans’ 34-13 loss to Ball State in Tucson.

Behind Drew Plitt’s 217 yards on 12-of-19 passing, the Cardinals (7-1) achieved their first bowl victory in program history and are now 1-8-1.

A few minutes before kickoff, San Jose State (7-1) announced offensive and defensive coordinators — Kevin McGiven and Derrick Odum, respectively — and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cade Hall, a defensive end, were unavailable for the game.

Also not in Arizona Stadium were receiver Bailey Gaither, running back/kickoff returner Shamar Garrett, safety Tre Jenkins and offensive linemen Kyle Hoppe and Tyler Stevens.

Hall led San Jose State this season with 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss and was named a first-team All-America this week by the Sporting News.

The Spartans also lost tight end Derrick Deese, who had a team-high five touchdown receptions entering the game, after he hurt his neck early in the first quarter while making a reception.

Ball State stunned San Jose State with a 27-0 lead in the first quarter, and it maintained that advantage at halftime.

Antonio Phillips started the scoring returning an interception 53 yards to the end zone with 12:47 left in the first quarter.

Nick Starkel, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, threw the pick. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 268 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He sat out a possession in the second quarter because of a knee injury.

Will Jones and Tye Evans each scored on 3-yard runs in Ball State’s first two offensive possessions and then Plitt rushed in from a yard on a quarterback sneak to put the Cardinals ahead 27-0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.

His score occurred six plays after Ball State’s Nic Jones blocked a punt, giving the Cardinals the ball at the San Jose State 35.

Plitt’s 48-yard touchdown pass to Yo’Heinz Tyler with 9:42 left in the third quarter increased the lead to 34-0.

Charlie Bostic followed with a 99-yard kickoff return to put San Jose State on the board. A 2-point conversion pass failed.

Starkel’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jermai Braddock with 1 second left in the third quarter completed the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; San Jose, California, USA;  San Jose State Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel (17) passes the football during the first quarter against the UNLV Rebels at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 San Jose State finally bests Boise State to win MWC title

Nick Starkel threw three touchdown passes and set a conference title game record with 453 passing yards to lead No. 24 San Jose State to a 34-20 victory over Boise State on Saturday in the Mountain West championship game at Las Vegas.

Tre Walker caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans (7-0), who prevailed in the program’s first-ever championship game appearance. Isaiah Hamilton and Derrick Deese Jr. also caught touchdown passes from Starkel, who completed 32 of 52 passes and surpassed the conference title-game record of 404 yards set by former Fresno State star Derek Carr in 2013.

Matt Mercurio kicked four goals as San Jose State opened a season with seven straight wins for the first time since the school’s 1939 squad went unbeaten in 13 contests. The victory also marks San Jose State’s first win over the Broncos (5-2) in 15 all-time meetings.

Boise State’s Avery Williams returned a punt 69 yards for a score to match the FBS career return touchdowns record of nine that was held by Washington’s Dante Pettis.

Hank Bachmeier rushed for a touchdown and completed 20 of 41 passes for 221 yards for the Broncos.

San Jose State’s domination included a 498-233 edge in total offense. The Spartans held the Broncos to 12 rushing yards and received two sacks from Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cade Hall.

Boise State trailed 19-6 late in the third quarter when Williams fielded a punt near the right sideline, maneuvered to his left and then jetted up field. He cruised down the sideline with only punter Elijah Fischer to beat and he dove toward the end zone with the ball scraping the pylon for a touchdown that brought the Broncos within 19-13 with 2:48 remaining in the period.

San Jose State answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive in which Starkel threw a 30-yard scoring pass to Hamilton and a two-point conversion toss to Sam Olson to make it 27-13 with 14:17 left in the game.

Bachmeier scored on a 2-yard run on fourth-and-goal to pull Boise State within 27-20 with 10:51 left. The Spartans boosted their lead back to 14 when Starkel threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Deese with 3:48 remaining en route to finishing off perhaps the biggest win in school history.

Mercurio kicked all four of his field goals in the second quarter to help the Spartans take a 19-6 lead.

San Jose State struck first when Walker caught a short pass from Starkel and eluded Boise State safety JL Skinner and raced down the left sideline for a 55-yard touchdown with 8:36 left in the opening stanza.

Jonah Dalmas booted a 51-yard field goal with 3:31 left in the quarter. Mercurio connected from 24, 36, 26 and 32 yards to give the Spartans a 19-3 advantage before Dalmas kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; A general view of Sam Boyd Stadium during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl between the San Diego State Aztecs and the Houston Cougars. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State-Nevada moved to Las Vegas

Because of a local ban prohibiting sports of any kind in their county, San Jose State will move its football game against Nevada on Friday to Las Vegas.

San Jose State is located in Santa Clara County, which implemented the ban last week. The restrictions also forced the San Francisco 49ers to relocate practices and at least two home games to the Phoenix area.

The Spartans (5-0) were scheduled to play host to Hawaii on Saturday, but that game was moved to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. San Jose State stayed undefeated with a 35-24 victory.

Friday’s San Jose State-Nevada game will be played at Sam Boyd Stadium, the former home of the UNLV football program. New Mexico is also using the same facility for games after it was forced from home because of their own COVID-19 restrictions.

–Field Level Media