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Mission Planning: Army Black Knights hope to crack a tough San Jose State defense

We take a look at what the Spartans will bring to the table on Saturday as Army looks to keep their momentum through the bye week and move to 4-2 on the season.

San Jose State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

A little time off is always nice. Coming off consecutive 28-21 games, one a win over Hawaii and the other a loss at Oklahoma, Army was able to go on the road to Buffalo and whip the Bulls 42-13. Then, they rested.

Well, at least comparatively. Rest at Army may seem a whole lot like work elsewhere.

The Black Knights now travel 3,000 miles west, to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for a de facto road matchup with San Jose.

The team will fly to the Bay Area for the 3:30 PM EDT kick, but the managers? Well they weren’t so lucky this week. On a typical game week, the trailer full of team and band gear will be packed up and head out by the middle of the week, perhaps even a Thursday if the game is somewhere like, say, Buffalo. But when the game is 3 time zones away? The 50 hour ride begins on a Monday.

That I haven’t mentioned anything specifically about San Jose State is a testament to where the Spartans are this season. They rank 123rd in S&P+, with their defense the pride of the team at 108th nationally. They started the season with a 44-38 loss at home to FCS UC Davis and then lost at Washington State 31-0. Since then, however things have gotten a little better for the Spartans.

They’re still 0-5. But they don’t look quite so listless. A 35-22 loss at Oregon is nothing to scoff at (it’s dang near what Stanford would have done without some crazy luck), and a 44-41 loss to Hawaii to end September was their best game of the season.

This is, however, still an 0-5 team playing away from their home at CEFCU Stadium. And Army features a top 40 offense.

Spartan Offense:

San Jose State is led by junior signal caller Josh Love. Montel Aaron split time earlier in the season under center but Love is a bit more mobile in the backfield and while his TD-INT is only 8-5 compared to Aaron’s 2-0, Love has shown the ability to get the ball downfield more often than his understudy.

The Spartans are led by a pair of large targets, one a tight end and one more of a deep threat. Josh Oliver is a huge 6’5 250 senior that has 31 catches through just 5 games and 382 yards. Of course, he doesn’t beat teams with his speed, but that’s where Bailey Gaither comes in. The junior has dealt with drop issues, catching just 16 of the 31 passes thrown his way this year, but when he does catch it—good luck stopping him. Bailey has 327 yards this season and three touchdowns, and he is one of the most explosive receivers in the Mountain West.

Add in senior Tre Hartley who has 216 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 catches and the Spartans passing attack has teeth.

The receivers are a sharp contrast to their stable of running backs. The best yards per carry for any Spartan running back is 4.1 for DeJon Packer, and he only had 41 yards on the season. The two primary backs have a total of 85 carries for just 276 yards, or 3.2 yards per carry.

Against a disciplined defense like Army, the Spartans will have to attack quick, especially as possessions tend to be at a premium.

Spartan Defense:

Now comes the strength of the 2018 San Jose Spartans football team. That they’ve allowed no fewer than 31 points in any game (a 31-0 shutout) speaks volumes about the season so far.

SJSU is just 103rd nationally in success rate, so they struggle keeping teams behind the chains. The triple option is predicated on staying in 2nd and medium and 3rd and short situations.

However, a deeper dive into the numbers may show a potential problem spot for the Army offense. The Spartans are 55th nationally in stuff rate (runs stuff at or behind the line of scrimmage) and 49th in marginal explosiveness against the run. If SJSU can get those stops on first or second down, and keep the Black Knights from the big gains of 15-20 yards they’re known for, it could be a longer afternoon than Jeff Monken and staff hoped for.

The Spartans are led by a trio of experienced linebackers. Jamal Scott, a 6’2 226 senior has 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and five run stuffs in just five games. Ethan Aguayo and Jesse Osuna combine with Scott for a total of 89 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 12 run stuffs so far this season.

There isn’t a ton of meat up front for SJSU, as their top three leading tacklers along the defensive front average a lean 263 pounds. They’ll have to make up for that lack of size with quickness. If Army gets to the edge quicker than you, and they’re as big as you are—thats a bad recipe for a team staring at their 5th consecutive losing season.

Spartan Coaching:

The Spartans are lead by former Oregon State wide receiver coach Brent Brennan. Brennan cut his teeth at Hawaii back before their June Jones days, then made stops at Washington, Arizona, and Cal Poly before spending six seasons with the Spartans as wide receiver coach then co-offensive coordinator.

In his first two seasons as head man, the Spartans are 2-16, far from the days of Jack Elway, Ron Turner, and more recently Mike MacIntyre. San Jose is a tough place to win. No coach has finished with a winning record with the Spartans since Turner in 1992. Things were so bad when MacIntyre took over that a 16-21 record got him the head job at Colorado.

Never mind the difficulties of program building in San Jose, that won’t matter this week. A win for Army will get the Black Knights one step closer to a third consecutive bowl appearance.