San Jose coach Brent Brennan’s first season was undeniably tough. A 2-11 record speaks for itself, but let’s face it, there have only been three winning Spartan seasons this century — so it’s not like expectations were through the roof for a new regime anyway.
Year two ratchets up what should be expected. It says here the Spartans must at least double last year’s win total — and, realistically, more than double it. The program needs it and the university appears to be banking on it.
Since the Spartans were national leaders in some dubious statistical categories a year ago — most turnovers (42), least offensive time of possession, and the second-worst run defense — there is only one direction to go.
The keys to greater success, the first ones being some very low-hanging fruit…
#1 Limit the turnovers
It’s the most-often-heard phrase in all of football. The Spartans far outpaced all FBS teams in the nation in this eyesore of a category.
If they don’t immediately curtail this dilemma, it will put unnecessary pressure on a defense that doesn’t need it right now. It could also be a sign of other lingering problems; mainly, do they have the right personnel to compete?
#2 Stop the run
Last year, teams ran and ran and ran some more. Expect more of the same until the Spartan defense can prove otherwise.
Defensive success will start and end with their linemen and the likes of Boogie Owens, Sailosi Latu and Bryson Bridges, but don’t be surprised by some incoming freshmen like E.J. Ane and Cade Hall. Freshmen energy on both sides of the trenches have been an underlying theme coming out of camp.
#3 Decide on the QB early
The competition has to be between sophomore Montel Aaron and freshman Terrell Carter, the two most athletic of the quarterbacks.
Carter looks best at keeping the offense on the field. Aaron has the maturity, arm strength and experience and looks to have improved his short throw accuracy. So far Carter looks like the one who can make the defense hesitate for that millisecond to help open up a formidable run game and a fleet of worthy receivers.
#4 Course correction by Brennan
The show belongs to Brennan and he seems to have taken the reins even tighter this year.
While he’ll trust the youth and energy of his assistants, including first-year year offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven with the play calling, he should trust his gut immediately if something isn’t right and call it out.
It’s a moving chess game out there and in the end, all eyes are on Brennan to make it right this year.
#5 Keep up special teams play
The kicking game last year was a bright spot with Bryce Crawford and now-departed punter Michael Carrizosa. Crawford is confident he’ll continue with his solid field goal game in his senior year. The rest of his young kicking crew looks good as well.
The return game last year was OK and it should be OK this year. All I recall last year was a bittersweet 96 yard kickoff return against Hawaii with an unsportsmanlike penalty 20 yards before reaching the end zone and a Spartan kickoff returner experiencing one of the worst hits ever against BYU.
#6 Use Josh Oliver more
Get teams afraid of him, because they’re aware of him anyways.
Though his numbers may not show it over the last three years, Oliver is an NFL-level prospect. His athleticism and physicality is something to take advantage of and the Spartans should ride him out in his senior year.
If they can get the ball to him on a more regularly basis, it will be a good thing.
#7 Know your identity, keep your identity
The way the Spartans recruited in the off season. They got bigger in the trenches and bigger in the running game just as Brennan said they would.
So it seems we should expect some form of power game. If they can establish that, there’s a better chance to move out of mediocrity.
Overall, if there is a Brennan long game, so-to-speak, this would make the most sense to find the bigger, athletic three star prospects at these core positions to anchor a winning program.
#8 Keep the brotherhood
It’s been an internal mantra from Brennan on down to his assistants and down to the players and they’ve been in lockstep about the importance of this bond.
It’s something you keep through thick and thin and it will be interesting to observe through tough times.
More importantly, brotherhood is selfless and I’ll be curious to see if any more untimely, self-serving celebrations rears up again, which cost them at least one win last year.
#9 Bring it all against Pac-12 teams
Games two and three are away games against Washington State and Oregon and would be expected losses.
In short, the Washington State Cougar passing attack will go after the young Spartan secondary and the nationally-ranked Oregon Ducks will just be bigger and faster all around.
The Spartans need to show grit and fight in these games. Get some stops, play up, be aggressive and offensively, earn some points. If there’s such thing as a good loss, it will come from these games.
Noting the Fresno State Bulldogs last year; their historic ascent started with losses to the Washington Huskies and Alabama, where they played tough and showed signs of what was to come.
#10 Beat UC Davis convincingly
The first game of the season against the Aggies is at home and it should be a win — and a solid one. If they only eek out a win, it won’t be good sign.
Though the Aggies have their own NFL-prospect in wide receiver Keelan Doss and a formidable quarterback in Jake Maier, who was the Big Sky newcomer of the year, SJSU can’t take Davis for granted.