When struggling 0-6 San Jose State visits first-place San Diego State this Saturday, the Spartans will see a well-respected, winning football program they aspire to resemble.
If the Spartans can somehow manage a win Saturday, it could also be the perfect harbinger moment for second-year head coach Brent Brennan’s program. Or at the least, a big positive step forward.
“San Diego State is great model for us because it’s another CSU with a similar footprint being in a big city like we are; facing similar challenges in terms of our fanbase. Watching what they’ve built there is really impressive.” said Brennan. “I had brief job their in 2004 and after all their facilities upgrades, it took them three to four years to really make their move. Before that, they had a similar track record as us. And I talk a lot about that with our administration and donors, so why wouldn’t we want to be like them?”
From the Aztecs’ press meeting this week, head coach Rocky Long offered his perspective: “I think changing an athletic program depends on the number of participants. If you have 100 players and 60-70 players play in a game, it takes you four or five years to turn a program around because it’s installing a different offense, a different defense, a different attitude and recruiting players. And there’s some places harder than others to turn a program around. It has to be the right guy and the right time, but sad to say, he has to be given enough time to do it and that’s not the way it’s being handled nowadays.”
Unfortunately, game odds remain stacked against the Spartans and it doesn’t help we don’t know which team personality will show up against the Aztecs. Though a case can be made the Spartans were just a few plays from a 2-4 or even a 3-3 record, the reality of 0-6 is exactly what it is — winless.
Regardless of signs of life in the first half of the Spartans’ season and the Aztecs’ running game not as stellar without injured Juwan Washington, only San Jose State and its dreamers and die-hards have hope for a win in San Diego.
How and where can a win possibly start for the Spartans in the second half of the season?
It always comes down to the biggest football cliche of them all: winning in the trenches. At best, it’s synchronized chaos to fans. Inside the chaos, it’s a heavy amount of technique and raw strength. Do the Spartans have this? Yes.
But offensively, it is the trust and dependency with each lineman to one another that is the secret sauce every college and professional team seeks. Besides size and talent, experience is the only thing that produces the chemistry and cohesion for the unit to literally work as one. Or more simply, just one lineman not in sync can adversely affect the whole unit. Do the Spartans have this? No.
“The more the offensive line plays together, they will gel and get more comfortable playing together.” said Brennan. “Against Army and going against a defense like SDSU, they present a whole other challenge schematically. It’s not something you see everyday. As different as Army was offensively, SDSU is as almost that different defensively. And we have a lot of work to do to put together a good plan to give our players a chance to execute.”
On the defensive line, the need for continuity is the same.
“In how our defense works together, I can only make plays if the guy next to me does his assignment. So, it speaks to how we work together as a unit.” said senior Spartan defensive lineman Bryson Bridges. “For example, Boogie (Roberts) doing his job holding up the center, it’s a mundane task he has to do every play, but for him doing that, it allows me to make plays.”
Though the Spartans rank 114th in total defense and with all else considered, the defense would get an optimistic B- or a pragmatic C+.
Can Brennan and the Spartans possibly get win number one on coach Long’s 100th game for the Aztecs?
As San Jose State has clearly shown the elements to compete but then fall apart, it really depends on another old adage: “Can they string together a full 60 minutes of football? Only if so, there is a chance.
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