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Why can’t the Spartans get over the hump in football?

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on October 30, 2009 at 7:36 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 30 at 8:16 AM


Friday, October 30, 2009.
If it can’t happen with Dick Tomey in the South Bay, you wonder if it ever will. The respected veteran coach, whom co-workers call “a very young 71,” is in his fifth season at San Jose State, and this one has to be the most frustrating of all. Tomey, who has 182 victories in 28 seasons as a head coach, led the Spartans to a bowl game in his second year at SJSU, winning the New Mexico Bowl in 2006. But San Jose State hasn’t had a winning season since. The Spartans have a recruiting disadvantage in the Bay Area, completely overshadowed by Cal and Stanford. Because of its long-time struggles and its relative anonymity, San Jose State can’t get exactly who it wants. Conversely, that’s a luxury Boise State has enjoyed for a long time—finding the pieces that fit the Broncos’ system and fine-tuning them.
The same holds true with fan interest—SJSU is buried by a very crowded sports market that includes the Bears and the Cardinal, as well as the 49ers, Raiders, Giants, A’s, Warriors and Sharks. This program needs money. They could get a nice chunk of change if Boise State were to make the BCS cut again. The consensus among Spartan fans: they’d rather have a monumental upset tomorrow over the No. 7 team in the BCS standings than the windfall they’d get from a Bronco trip to a BCS bowl game.
Who is quietly becoming the Defensive Player of the Year for Boise State? Strong safety Jeron Johnson. Okay, maybe quiet isn’t the right word after Johnson had two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the Broncos’ 54-9 win at Hawaii last week. But Johnson now leads the team this season with four picks, 32 tackles, and nine pass deflections. For Jeron Johnson, it’s no longer just about being one of the biggest hitters in the WAC. It’s about solid defensive production.
Little known fact—Boise State has not lost a game in October in eight years. The Broncos have won 35 straight games in October, dating back to that infamous 45-14 loss at Rice in 2001, their first season in the WAC. Have they avenged that defeat or what? BSU is now 62-4 all-time in WAC play and has never lost a WAC game at home. So, let’s see here. Saturday against San Jose State, the Broncos are gunning for their 36th straight October win, their 29th consecutive WAC home victory, and their 53rd straight regular season home win.
The weather isn’t going to be as cool as originally thought tomorrow, so San Jose State won’t be a fish out of water. The Boise State game marks the Spartans’ first road game outside the state of California this season after trips to USC, Stanford and Fresno State. Those three were all bus trips. Now they fly far, far away. I’ll never forget a lead line in a San Jose Mercury News game story after the Spartans lost to the Broncos 56-6 on a raw, rainy day on the blue turf in 2001. “The Spartans wilted like delicate little flowers,” the article said. That won’t be the case tomorrow. Hopefully a partly sunny day in the upper 50’s will help bring Bronco Stadium close to capacity after the Miami (Ohio) and UC Davis games fell about 1500 fans short. But hey—the World Series isn’t selling out at Yankee Stadium either.
You wouldn’t think a team coming off a 54-point game would be worrying about anything beyond those errant snaps. But Boise State still has that red zone thing going—the Broncos did indeed miss some more opportunities last week. Yes, they got points on all seven trips into the red zone at Aloha Stadium. But four of the scores came on field goals. For the season, BSU is scoring in the red zone 85 percent of the time and getting touchdowns on only 56 percent of their visits. There’s only one FBS team with 100 percent red-zone scoring, and it’s San Jose State. The Spartans are 13-for-13, with 11 touchdowns. But there’s where the asterisk comes in. San Jose State has been in the red zone only 13 times, while the Broncos have gone there 39 times.
When Idaho takes the field tomorrow in the Kibbie Dome, Louisiana Tech will see an offense it didn’t see from the Vandals last year in a 46-14 win in Ruston. This offense can throw, and it goes beyond the marked improvement of quarterback Nate Enderle. His receivers have ramped up, too, particularly senior Max Komar. A year ago, Komar was a semi-forgotten possession receiver, with 26 catches for 298 yards and zero touchdowns. This year, he has gone vertical and has more than doubled his yardage, making 43 grabs for 674 yards and four scores. 
Elsewhere in the WAC, there are three possible routs on the schedule. First and foremost, New Mexico State has a paycheck date at Ohio State. The spread is huge but not shocking—44 points. Terrell Pryor is going to look like a superstar again. Fresno State is at home against Utah State and is a 17-point favorite. The Bulldogs remember that they needed a bazooka 58-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Aggies last year in Logan. And the Hawaii-Nevada game is off the board. Not because it’s too much of a mismatch, but because of the uncertainty over whether quarterback Bryant Moniz is really going to bounce back from his concussion against Boise State and play. 
It’s almost painful to do this, but let’s check in on Idaho State. The Bengals are 0-8 and only have three games left. And the next two weeks ISU faces two of the Big Sky’s upper echelon—at Montana State tomorrow and home versus Montana next week. Like last year, the Bengals’ only glimmer of hope at avoiding a winless season comes in the finale November 14 at home against Portland State. In 2008, they were 0-11 before salvaging an overtime win over Sacramento State in the final game of the season. ISU is 211th out of 245 Division I schools (FBS and FCS) in the Sagarin Ratings. The Bengals have allowed at least 30 points in every game and have scored 20 only once.
I talked the other day about the Idaho Steelheads’ “reunion” with Scott Burt and Lance Galbraith in Alaska this weekend. The Steelheads just missed seeing yet another former teammate up there. John Lammers was a mainstay with the Steelies two seasons ago, scoring 43 points in 36 games And he was a major factor in the 2007 Kelly Cup Playoffs, racking up 19 points in 22 postseason games to lead Idaho to the ECHL championship. Lammers was on a roll with the Aces to start this season and was named ECHL Player of the Week Tuesday—and that same day he was called up to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.   Lammers played for the AHL’s Houston Aeros last season.
This Day In Sports…October 30, 1982:
New Idaho coach Dennis Erickson brings the Vandals into Bronco Stadium to try to break a five-game losing streak to Boise State. Not only does Idaho snap the skid, it begins “The Streak”—as the Vandals would win the next 12 games against BSU. On this night, junior quarterback Ken Hobart, thriving in Erickson’s new offense, would lead Idaho to a 24-17 win.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)