David Fales reached two team records as the Spartans get set to take on Navy on Friday evening. When he hit 155 passing yards in the game, he passed Adam Tafralis’ career mark for passing yards for a quarterback. When he threw his second touchdown in the third quarter, passed Steve Clarkson’s nearly 30-year-old passing TD record for a career.
And yet, it was all hollow, because the Spartans didn’t win, and it was an interception — his 13th of the season — that helped sink the ship.
Fales has not been the contributor he was last year despite some absolutely mind blowing performances, when he helped put himself and the Spartans on the map with an 11-2 season, a top-25 ranking in the final AP poll and a win in the Military Bowl. He was the NCAA’s most accurate passer last year, completing well over 70 percent of his passes. In the final year of the WAC, he was its best quarterback in a competition that wasn’t even close.
By no means is he having a bad season, especially by San Jose State standards. But the preseason predictions and hyperbole of Fales and his team of receivers carrying the Spartans to the promised land were off. All of the numbers are down this season: TDs are down, passing yards are down, completion percentage is also down. He had already surpassed last year’s total for interceptions before Friday’s loss to Navy.
Here are his stats side by side from last year and this year.
|*2012||San Jose State||WAC||JR||QB||327||451||72.5||4193||9.3||9.9||33||9||170.8|
|2013||San Jose State||MWC||SR||QB||275||442||62.2||3642||8.2||8.1||27||13||145.7|
|Career||San Jose State||602||893||67.4||7835||8.8||9.0||60||22||158.4|
Statistics don’t tell everything, though. Fales has looked better mechanically, and the changes instituted this year made by Rob Caragher and his staff may not have been conducive to winning games (particularly on defense, which is well beyond Fales and the offense’s control), but he’s looked better mechanically. When given time, which isn’t alway the case, his passing ability has dramatically improved. He looks like he’s also seeing the field better and going through progressions.
So, what’s happened? Here are some of the things that may have hurt him this year, emphasizing that one gets no more weight than the other:
- The competition is better: The last year of the WAC does not compare in any way to the Mountain West, which is full of familiar — and better — opponents. The Spartans effectively replaced UTSA, Texas State, Idaho and New Mexico State, all mediocre teams last year, with Minnesota, UNLV, Wyoming and Fresno State. With the exception of Wyoming, all feature better defenses and all are better teams than the four listed last year. Fales could dissect easier opponents much of last season, but this year hasn’t afforded him such an opportunity. Perhaps we as fans and journalists overestimated what he could do because of the competition.
- The pressure has been greater because the defense is bad: Last year, the Spartans’ defense was serviceable. It could get a stop, and was able to force turnovers. This year, there are good players, but the defense is a terrible unit. It comes back to poor coaching — Yes, I’m calling out defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson — and youth. The Spartans defense was going to take a step back this year, and fans knew that, but they look like the couldn’t stop a high school football team this year. That has meant the Spartans have needed their offense to respond each time they get the ball; they never get the benefit of being ahead. And that has probably affected Fales negatively this year.
- Injuries have hurt the offense: San Jose State lost Tyler Ervin for the season earlier this year, and they got lucky because freshman Jarred Lawson proved to be just as good in the backfield. Chandler Jones missed significant time, and Noel Grigsby was lost for the season in the first few games. The replacements have been largely inexperienced and young, and don’t have the rapport with the senior quarterback as the veterans do.
- The offense is taking more chances down field with mixed results: The one stat David Fales is leading the Mountain West in this year? Yards per completion. The Spartans are taking more chances down field, a high risk, high reward proposition that seems to blow up in their face often when they end up going three-and-out or losing the ball on a turnover. Coach Rob Caragher and offensive coordinator Jimmy Daugherty made a big deal of installing a pro-style offense this year, but what it feels like they meant is running the ball punctuated by telling Tyler Winston or Chandler Jones to go long in an effort to help the Spartans keep in games (especially with the defense doing the equivalent of watching from the stands this November.)
Fales stock has fallen a little this year when it comes to the NFL draft. CBS Sports projects him as a fourth or fifth round pick this year, the 155th best prospect and the 12th best quarterback. Earlier this season, the projections were much more optimistic. He can bring some of that optimism back when the senior all-star games and draft combine roll around.
The senior quarterback is going to leave San Jose State as the best at that position statistically in the school’s history, and has likely penned only the first few chapters of his football career.