Mountain West football round-up Week 5 West Division
Here we go with another edition of the Mountain West football round-up. We're starting this week with the West Division and Utah State's next opponent, San Jose State. These are the biggest stories about the Mountain West teams written by the writers who cover them.
The West is a little wild after Fresno State, which just got a huge win over Boise. UNLV is up and San Diego State is down. Meanwhile, San Jose State is trying to get its tackling in order before it takes on Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies.
Check out the Mountain Notes here.
San Jose State
David Fales and the San Jose State offense found their groove, but the Spartans defense has major issues brewing entering the Mountain West opener against Utah State.
Defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson was blunt with his assessment of what's troubling SJSU.
"Tackling," Thompson said. "Too many yards after contact."
In a loss to Minnesota, the Spartans several times contacted a ballcarrier only to be driven 3 to 4 yards downfield. On a couple of occasions, the extra yardage delivered a first down.
SJSU also struggled against read-option looks and didn't do a good job setting the edge on run plays, issues that could create a major headache against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. Keeton frustrated the Spartans last year with his ability to escape pressure and make plays.
The hope has been that the Spartans' new 3-4 defense, which hasn't played well the past two games, would be better suited for spread-type offenses in the Mountain West, so this week will be the first true test of that.
"The last two weeks were not like that. They were power running teams," coach Ron Caragher said of Stanford and Minnesota. "We're going to play teams that are spread out and open. We're a little more set up to do that."
SJSU is trying to prepare for the fast pace at which Utah State plays. At Monday's practice, the defense was running sprints to the sidelines in between each play to try to condition itself for the pace of the game.
Next game: vs. Utah State, 7 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Wide receiver Noel Grigsby is out indefinitely with a knee injury. It's believed to be season-ending, which would end the collegiate career of the school's all-time leading receiver. He's not eligible to receive a sixth season of play. ... Kicker Austin Lopez made his 21st consecutive field goal in the loss to Minnesota. That's now the longest active streak in the FBS. The sophomore hasn't missed a field goal in his career and is two shy of tying Notre Dame's David Ruffer's 23 consecutive field goals to begin a career, which is believed to be the record.
- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
Fresno State wideout Davante Adams extended his run of games with a touchdown reception to 11 in the victory over Boise State and is seven short of tying the NCAA record set by Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald.
The redshirt sophomore may not break that record, but over the next few weeks he definitely will have opportunities to make plays against some poor pass defenses.
Fresno State this week plays at Hawaii, which is ranked 112th in the bowl subdivision in passing efficiency defense and is tied for 100th in passing touchdowns allowed with eight.
The Bulldogs follow that up with a game at Idaho, which is ranked 118th in passing efficiency defense and is 123rd and last in passing touchdowns allowed with 13.
They return home after that for a game against UNLV, which is fifth in passing efficiency defense. But the Rebels have played three teams ranked 90th or lower in passing efficiency (Arizona is 90th, Central Michigan is 95th and Minnesota is 99th) as well as an FCS team in Western Illinois that is ranked 86th. And the Rebels have not been particularly stout, giving up 34.3 points per game to rank in a tie for 104th.
If the streak is still alive, Adams and the Bulldogs will match up against San Diego State, which is 94th in the bowl subdivision in passing efficiency defense. Then, it will be Nevada, which is 66th. Then, it will be Wyoming, which is 58th. Then it will be New Mexico, which is 111th. And the Bulldogs close out the regular season with a game at San Jose State, which is the only one of those opponents ranked in the Top 50 in passing efficiency defense, this week at No. 32.
Next game: at Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann was called for an illegal chop block late in the third quarter against Boise State, the first penalty by a Bulldogs' offensive lineman in 149 plays going back to the overtime victory over Rutgers. In 254 snaps this season, there has not been a false start and only three penalties on the line - two illegal blocks and one personal foul. ... A big topic going into the Boise State game was how the Bulldogs would compete - a year ago, they came up pretty small in their biggest games. Coach Tim DeRuyter: "I thought our guys did a great job. There was a totally different look on their faces than a year ago. Our guys went in expecting to compete and win. I thought we started the game off well, they counterpunched and tied the thing up, and there's no panic. We kept playing and they kept playing, trading punches. I thought in the third quarter we had a chance to land a knockout blow and go up three scores, but didn't get it done and you have to give them credit for making us kick a field goal. It was just one of those games where, very similar to Rutgers, no matter if we were up or down, the swings of emotion in the game didn't affect our guys. We just kept to the task at hand and always had that confidence that we were going to find a way to get it done.''
- Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
The Rainbow Warriors suffered key injuries in the first half of a 31-9 road loss to Nevada this past Saturday.
Quarterback Taylor Graham injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder during a scramble in the second quarter. He remained for the next play, a fourth-down incompletion, then did not play thereafter. The Warriors used three other quarterbacks, all of whom combined for five of UH's six turnovers.
Graham has not been ruled out for Saturday's game against Fresno State. But if he is unavailable, UH will choose from Sean Schroeder, Jeremy Higgins and Ikaika Woolsey.
Running back Joey Iosefa, who missed the first two games while recovering from a fractured foot, aggravated his left foot during a pile-up. Iosefa was not wearing a medical boot in practices Monday and Tuesday.
Linebacker Julian Gener, the team's third-leading tackler, has an elbow injury and will undergo "Tommy John surgery" on Friday. He is expected to be ready for spring training. Gener played on three special-team units. Special teams coordinator Chris Demarest said he has not finalized replacements.
Tight end Harold Moleni and defensive ends Beau Yap and Iuta Tepa must wait until Wednesday to be evaluated. The three suffered concussions against Nevada. Because of the health situation, the Warriors did not allow cameras in practice. Although practices are closed to the public, reporters are allowed to attend and television stations may video individual drills.
Next game: vs. Fresno State, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: This will be the Warriors' first home game since the Aug. 29 season opener against USC. ... The Warriors rejected a $600,000 offer to play Colorado in Boulder on Oct. 19. The Buffaloes were seeking a home game to replace the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of area floods. Colorado initially offered $400,00, then upped it to $600,000. The deal-breaker was Colorado's reluctance to pay for a charter flight. If the game were scheduled, UH would play four road games in five weeks.
- Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Junior defensive end Brock Hekking, who has been getting national attention for his Brian Bosworth-style mullet, had one of the most productive games by a defensive player in recent Wolf Pack memory in the 31-9 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Hekking, from Vacaville (Calif.) High, had eight tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups and one interception as the Wolf Pack shut out the Rainbow Warriors in the second half. He was named the MW Defensive Player of the Week, the first such honor of his career.
"It's well deserved," coach Brian Polian said at his weekly Quarterbacks Club Luncheon on Monday. "And I, frankly, thought he should have been up for the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. ... To have the kind of production he had in one ballgame - I don't have the numbers here in front of me, but it was ridiculous."
Nevada also forced six turnovers (not including holding Hawaii on two fourth-down attempts), which has the Pack ranked first in the Mountain West in turnover margin (plus-1.75) and seventh nationally.
The six turnovers were the most forced by the Wolf Pack since 1996.
The defensive effort was imperative because redshirt freshman Tyler Stewart was making his first college start in place of starter Cody Fajardo, who has missed the last two games with a sprained right knee, and backup Devin Combs, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 62-7 loss at Florida State on Sept. 14.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Stewart responded well, going 14 for 20 for 202 yards and three TD passes against no interceptions.
Polian said Monday that Fajardo continues to be day-to-day. He could for the third straight week be a game-time decision.
Next game: vs. Air Force, 6:05 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Nevada allowed 461 rushing yards in a 48-31 loss at Air Force last season, but Polian is confident first-year defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton will have a good game plan against AFA's triple option. As the linebackers coach at USC last year, DC Monte Kiffin had Hazelton draw up the defense for Georgia Tech, also a triple-option team, in the Sun Bowl. ... Polian and his coaches are still moving defensive guys around to find the best fit. The most recent change: Outside linebacker Jonathan McNeal took some snaps at middle linebacker and outside linebacker Reggie Coates moved to defensive end. ... Two offensive linemen who have missed the last two games, Connor Talbott (ankle) and Zach Brickell (pneumonia), are questionable. ... Running back Don Jackson, the first-team RB coming out of training camp, was back at practice Sunday after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. ... True freshman CB Tere Calloway is back at practice after missing three games with a knee injury.
- Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
San Diego State
The Aztecs are 0-3, but at least things appear to be moving in the right direction.
San Diego State finally managed to establish a run game in Saturday's defeat to Oregon State, and that was due in large part to the return of running back Adam Muema.
Muema missed parts of the first two games with a low ankle sprain, but he played a full 60 minutes against Oregon State and scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown while also totaling a career-high 28 carries.
"I think we were better running the ball," Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. "Having Adam back helped, and the offensive line blocked better than they have till this point."
The Aztecs still have a ways to go to truly get the run game on track, though.
Long said Muema looked a little rusty.
"He hit some holes well, and some holes he missed," Long said. "But he missed so much full-speed work. He should be a whole lot better this week."
After a rough start to the season in the passing game, the Aztecs are also finally settling down in that regard.
In his first career start, walk-on QB Quinn Kaehler completed 61 percent of his passes for 251 yards. He threw two costly interceptions at the end - one of which resulted in a pick-six that lost the game for SDSU - but did enough to keep the starting job this week against New Mexico State.
Next game: at New Mexico State, 6 p.m. MT (ESPN3)
Notable: SDSU got Muema back but lost backup RB Chase Price for 2-3 weeks to a separated shoulder. OLB Derek Largent re-injured his sprained knee against the Beavers and is currently day-to-day.
- Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego
UNLV has lost 23 consecutive road games, but the Rebels probably have their most confidence in coach Bobby Hauck's four seasons.
They are coming off consecutive victories for the first time under Hauck, and oddsmakers have made the Rebels 2-point favorites at New Mexico.
Hauck and his players have downplayed the road skid, which is second in school history to the 26 consecutive games lost between 1994 and 1998. Twenty-one of the games in the current streak have been with Hauck at the helm.
But Hauck acknowledged the confidence should be up for a team that is coming off a 31-21 victory over Central Michigan and a 38-7 win over Western Illinois.
"Winning is a good tonic for everything," Hauck said. "Losing's hard to deal with, especially in our game. A baseball team plays 80 games. You lose, and you go play tomorrow. Football, it's a grinding sensation when you don't win, and it's very uplifting when you do. It's an emotional game. It's supposed to be played that way. So when you lose, it takes some mental toughness to come back. It's certainly a lot easier to go to work for these guys (players) on Monday when they're coming off a win."
This is a big game for UNLV, which probably will be an underdog in the remainder of its away games. So if the Rebels are to break the skid, it most likely needs to happen this weekend.
Next game: at New Mexico, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT Sports)
Notable: UNLV has not won three games in a row since September 2003 when it beat Wisconsin, Hawaii and Nevada. ... The Rebels' last road victory occurred at New Mexico, a 34-17 win on Oct. 24, 2009.
- Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal