In the next three weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2014 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Our countdown continues with the Gopher's final non-conference game, the San Jose State Spartans.
Name: San Jose State Spartans
Location: San Jose, California
Conference: Mountain West
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The Gophers final non-conference opponent, the San Jose State Spartans went 6-6 last season including a 5-3 season in the Mountain West. Of course Gopher fans will remember the 43-24 victory over the Spartans at TCF Bank Stadium last September. Though bowl eligible, the Spartans stayed home in December last year. Last season the Spartans offense was the key to their season. Led by quarterback David Fales the Spartans had the 44th ranked offense in the country. However, the defense was not so hot ending up 104th in the nation.
The key losses for San Jose State start and end with one player--David Fales. Fales threw for nearly 4,200 yards and 33 touchdowns for SJSU. He led the Spartan attack, and without him this season San Jose State will need to really pick up the slack. The Spartans also lost their leading receiver from a year ago, Chandler Jones. Jones had 1,356 yards and 15 touchdowns for SJSU. On the offensive line, the Spartans lose three starters, including the entire right side of the line. Right guard Nicolas Kaspar had 45 career starts for SJSU, and will leave a glaring weakness on the right side of the line.
On defense the losses will not be too evident. However arguably the two best players on the defense last season, linebacker Keith Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere have moved on. As has punter Harrison Waid who is only notable for this incident from last fall:
Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy
Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy
San Jose State returns several contributors on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomore running back Jarrod Lawson returns after rushing for 788 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season. The second leading receiver for SJSU last season, Tyler Winston is back. He had has over 850 yards and five touchdowns last year. Tight end Billy Freeman also is a receiving threat having had 427 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. Kicker Austin Lopez returns a year after going 10-12 on field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards.
On defense the Spartans are hoping that a young team a year ago will help. They return nearly everyone on the defensive line that frankly stunk last season. With the exception of Smith, the linebacker corps returns intact as well. The key will be plugging holes in the secondary with rotational players from a year ago such as Akeem King and Sean Linton.
A trend in all of the question marks so far this season seems to be, who's going to play quarterback. That is no difference here as it is a three way competition between Fales' backup last season Blake Jurich who threw a total of 6 passes in 2013, junior Joe Gray who had the best spring game performance, or true freshman Ian Fieber.
The offensive line will be a big question mark as well. They graduated over half of their line and will need to new players to gel into a cohesive unit quickly. Otherwise it won't much matter who replaces Fales as they will be running for their lives.
Third will be how new SJSU defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can get his team to play better. Yes it is that Greg Robinson. He will need to try and shape his defensive front into one that can stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback or else see a lot more high scoring games in his future.
What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?
The Gophers did a fairly good job in limiting David Fales last season in their victory. Whomever the new quarterback will be for SJSU will not be nearly as difficult to stop. The Gophers should be able to control the game running over the Spartans. If their pass defense has not improved, this may also be the game to see Leidner try and air a few out and try and work out some kinks before the Big Ten season begins the following week. Defensively, the Gophers should be able to contain the Spartan run game, and limit big plays. They may be bitter after a tough game the week before, and the Spartans may end up being the unfortunate receiver of the taking out of some frustrations.
This is on paper a game the Gophers should have no problem with. SJSU does not appear to be any better then they were last season when Minnesota handled them fairly easily. The Gophers should be an improved squad and we should see both the running and passing games excel against a weak defense. The Gophers will hopefully get ahead early, and this will be a game to get Chris Streveler some work just in case (and I really hope not) he is needed if something would happen to Mitch in the rough and tumble Big Ten. The Gophers win this one going away 45-23.