San Jose, Calif.
Of all the games within the game between BYU and San Jose State late Saturday night here, the most compelling was the Cougars’ pass defense against the Spartans’ throw game. That’s where a lot of things, if not everything, was going to be decided.
And a lot of it, not all of it, was.
It took 75 seconds to see that BYU was going to have a problem with San Jose quarterback David Fales. That’s when, on the game’s fourth play, he drilled a 51-yard touchdown pass. The following possession, Fales moved his offense 75 yards, every one of them coming from him, for another score. Next thing, Fales threw an 18-yard TD pass and the Spartans were smoking the Cougars, 20-7.
BYU’s defense came around in the second half, realizing that its best way to stop a truly gifted passer, which it hadn’t faced much this season, was to make him feel heat.
Down the stretch, that D stiffened, waiting for the Cougar offense to somehow, some way find some life. But drive after deep drive ended unsuccessfully for BYU, one on a Riley Nelson fumble, another on an interception, another on downs. Nelson finally connected with David Foote for a TD with 2:36 remaining, cutting the lead to six. An onside kick recovery gave BYU one last chance, but that drive died on another Nelson fumble.
Final numbers: SJSU 20, BYU 14.
And there were conclusions to draw. Those, in a minute.
The game had a sweet build-up: San Jose State averaged a spit more than 325 passing yards and BYU held opponents to a spit less than 173 yards per game. Only one team this season had put 300 pass yards on the Cougars — Oregon State went for 332 — and that resulted in a BYU loss. On the other hand, BYU had allowed only three teams to throw for that many yards in its last 42 games.
Fales had 237 yards by halftime.
The junior finished with 305.
Specific to this year, other than the Beavers, no other BYU opponent had gotten more than 230 yards through the air, and the Cougars had held five opposing quarterbacks to less than 150 yards. But the debacle against OSU, at LaVell Edwards Stadium no less, had haunted a BYU defense that has ranked among the top 10 in the country all season and found its place as the best defense in the school’s history.
You think, as a group, it wanted to allow San Jose Freakin’ State to carpet bomb or dink-and-dunk it into submission in this particular matchup?
But that’s what happened, at least early on.
And it cost the Cougars.
Fales, who had led his offense to an average of 100 more passing yards a game than BYU’s QBs had gotten, and to an average of 445 yards of total offense, which was nearly 50 yards better per game than the Cougars gained, was, at times, masterful.
In that second half, BYU’s defense went after Fales enough to bother him — and slow him down.
For its part, BYU, which used to be Quarterback U., tried to re-exert itself as a proud pass attack. Trouble is, Nelson was the same QB here that he’s been for much of the season, a time during which he’s been nails against dog opponents and lousy against quality ones.
Exactly where San Jose State fell on that scale was a bit of a mystery. Yeah, the Spartans were 8-2, their two losses coming against Stanford and Utah State — the Aggies crushed them on this very same field — and their eight wins coming against teams that would have been likely candidates to wind up on — and some of them actually did — BYU’s pathetic November schedule the past two years.
UC Davis. Colorado State. Navy. University of Texas-San Antonio. Texas State. Idaho. New Mexico State. Southwest Baptist School of Humble Prayer.
OK, that last one is a lie. Can’t pray a lie.
Here’s two truths, then: 1) Turns out, San Jose, led by Fales, is pretty good, after all; and 2) the most impressive victory for the Spartans this season, before Saturday night, came against the team that probably will play BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego State. San Jose State beat the Aztecs by four.
The Spartans beat the Cougars by six.
Could be a marginally interesting bowl game.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.