Sunday Morning Quarterback: San Jose State’s win over UNLV upsets Jerry Rice

San Jose State won the game. And a certain 49ers great is not happy with UNLV’s head coach:

The Spartans needed this one with the schedule ramping up toward the end: a 34-24 grinder of a game that saw San Jose State do things it hasn’t known for doing this year: Run the ball and stop teams from scoring.

It was an important win because there are no slouches left over the final four games, and San Jose State probably needs to be at least 7-5 or at least have a strong conference record to earn a bowl bid out of the Mountain West. Guaranteeing they are at least in the top six in the conference in a two-step process right now, with Saturday’s win over UNLV being the first. Step 2 comes next week against San Diego State, or against Nevada after that.

It was a crushing loss for UNLV: They are denied bowl eligibility with three games to go, two of which against likely better teams, and a third against a 2-7 team with an offense that can exploit the Rebels really sad run defense. They needed this one, and couldn’t do enough to get it.

A few thoughts from Saturday’s game

Bobby Hauck wanted the running game, and boy, did he ever get it: Hell, he said it in his post-game press conference to the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “We went into the game thinking we wanted them to lean on the run … But even at halftime we discussed changing up some of the things we were doing defensively to be a little saltier against the run, and we really did not want the quarterback to beat us.”

Associated Press

Associated Press

Be careful what you wish for next time, I guess?

San Jose State’s three freshmen running backs combined for 312 yards on the ground, with Jarred Lawson leading the way 187 yards and a TD on 28 carries (he also had more than 100 before halftime.) Tim Crawley (5 carries, 27 yards before leaving with an injury) and Thomas Tucker (8 carries, 97 yards, 1 TD) also got in on the action against a Rebels defense didn’t break character by getting overmatched by standard run blocking schemes. UNLV got back into the game in the third quarter when they adjusted to the Spartans running scheme, which no matter how you slice it, is still young and kind of basic.

Another byproduct of having a running game? An unheard of 50 percent on third down (10 for 20 in the game), something the Spartans haven’t done in forever. It also gave them the ability to confidently kill the clock, something the Spartans just haven’t been able to do when they’ve had a lead late. Key to this was their nine-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that lasted more than 5 minutes, put them up by two scores and killed UNLV’s momentum.

We saw a little bit of this last week against Wyoming, when a 12-play, more-than-5-minute drive left the Cowboys with a 7-point deficit and only eight seconds to do anything about it.

… but, man, was David Fales off today: The senior quarterback was coming off of a career game against Wyoming, but was off target all game. He missed some practice earlier this week with an illness, and given that San Jose State has no one tested behind him, he had to play.  He was passable in the first half despite an interception, particularly because the running game was rolling and couldn’t be stopped. But he was 4 for 11 with an interception after halftime at a time when the Rebels were gunning for the run.

He finished 15 for 30 with 150 passing yards and a TD and two interceptions against a team that is 51st in the bowl subdivision against the pass entering the game.

San Jose State’s defense won this game: UNLV’s bread and butter all season has been its running game. Tim Cornett has put up gaudy numbers all year, and the Rebels’ quarterback, Caleb Herring, is also capable of taking off and gaining some yardage. The Spartans shut it all down: Cornett never got going and forced Herring to beat them one way or another, which he only partially did (he threw two picks, and had a third called off because David Ogburn Jr. landed out of bounds.)

In the end, Cornett had his lowest rushing total since 2011 and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence touched the ball once.

Part of this was predictable play calling on UNLV’s part: San Jose State’s defense rarely seemed surprised by the Rebels playcalling until Herring started taking off on his own, which was when the Spartans had a three TD lead after halftime. San Jose State’s offense was off of its normal game, and started to sputter in the second half. The defense bent a few times but didn’t break, a refreshing change from previous weeks.

This wasn’t a banner win for San Jose State. It lacked the sheen that the Wyoming win provided. But it was a satisfying one because two parts of the team that haven’t totally taken over games, the defense and the running game, did on Saturday. And they did it in a big way.

This was a fight for the last few scraps on the schedule: Both teams have a tougher schedule going forward, with UNLV feasting on teams that are now a combined 11-32, while the four teams San Jose State has beaten are now 12-22, which include decent teams in Colorado State and Wyoming. The Rebels schedule doesn’t get any easier, with Utah State next week, a run-happy Air Force team and San Diego State to close the season. For a UNLV team that hasn’t had any ability to stop the run so far, none of those are easy matchups. And they need to find a win in there.

San Jose State has San Diego State, Nevada, Navy and Fresno State left. Somewhere in there, the Spartans have to find a win and probably two wins. In particular, San Jose State can set up a long shot at the West division title in the final game against the Bulldogs at home if they beat the other two conference opponents. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible.

Further reading on this game:

— Mark Anderson’s first-draft game story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal is here. That paper also has game day grades (spoiler alert: they generally aren’t good),  some unflattering things to say about the crowd from Ron Kantowski,  a roundup of fan comments from Twitter, and top performers for both teams.

— Tyler Bern of the Las Vegas Sun talks about the missed catch that ended up being Caleb Herring’s first interception.

— Jimmy Durkin writes a gamer for the San Jose Mercury-News, which the paper will bury somewhere between a housewares ad and figure skating coverage while Cal’s eighth loss plays giant on the front of its section.

Around the conference

Boise State 42, Colorado State 30: Colorado State started hot but couldn’t slow down a Broncos team that is just better. Boise State still has to beat Wyoming — which isn’t going to be a small task — but has the inside track on the Mountain division championship. For more, see the Fort Collins Coloradoan and the Idaho Statesman. A correction from an earlier post: Garrett Hedrick started at QB, not Joe Southwick; my bad.

Fresno State 41, Nevada 23: Bulldogs QB Derek Carr broke Kevin Sweeney’s school record for passing yardage late in the fourth quarter of a blowout over the Wolf Pack. For more, see the Fresno Bee and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

San Diego State 35, New Mexico 30: In a battle of two teams that run the ball a lot, the Aztecs and Adam Muema and Quinton Kaehler came out on top. For more, see the Albuquerque Journal and UT-San Diego.

Air Force 42, Army 28: In nonconference action, the Falcons finally found a signature moment when Anthony LaCoste almost singlehandedly stomped the Black Khights. For more, see the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Utah State 47, Hawaii 10: As if things can’t get worse for Norm Chow and the Rainbow Warriors, they got stuck at LAX on Friday and didn’t reach Logan, Utah until 2 a.m., then got smacked for the eighth time this season by a Chuckie Keaton-less Aggies squad. For more, visit the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and the Salt Lake Tribune.

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