It's finally Friday and I cannot tell you how glad I am that the weekend is almost here. To kick off this most glorious of work week days, I have the gift of Q&A. Jeremy Mauss, manager of the SB Nation blog Mountain West Connection (@MWCConnection), was kind enough to take the time to help get Gophers fans up to speed on the Spartans. As a thank you, make sure to stop by his team's site and give him a follow on Twitter (
The Daily Gopher: If you're a Gopher fan trying to figure out just how good SJSU has been this season you don't have a lot to go on. They blew out an inferior FCS team (North Dakota) and got throttled by a superior FBS team (highly ranked Auburn). What are the big positives or negatives for San Jose State coming out of those games? Based on what you've seen so far, what do you think the realistic expectations are for the Spartans this season?
Jeremy Mauss: It is hard to tell with the two opponents they faced so far and also that projected starting running back Jarrod Lawson is back in the lineup and at the very least will see some time. The running game should improve with that addition this week. The passing game with Blake Jurich is doing reasonably well by being accurate by completing 73 percent of his passes but has just four touchdown and two interceptions. The offense is in the lower half of the Mountain West and that is expected with the loss of quarterback David Fales and that is probably where they likely will finish. Overall, my preseason expectations are still intact with San Jose State missing out on a bowl game and probably winning at most five games.
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TDG: Let's get the inevitable David Fales question out of the way. The Spartans still seem to be a very pass focused team on offense. Do they have the weapons in new starting QB Blake Jurich and in receivers like Tyler Winston to have success against a Minnesota defense that prides itself on it's strength against the pass?
JM: Jurich has been very accurate this year at completing nearly three-quarters of his passes and only two interceptions. He is not yet there to make the big plays that Fales did during his career under center for the Spartans. Winston is the best offensive player that San Jose State has and is one of the top three or four receivers in the Mountain West. They need to get him the ball early and often to show that he is the focuse of the game plan. He is not the only weapon in the passing game, San Jose State can spread the ball around with Hansell Wilson and Tyler Ervin. Again, this is the first opponent where San Jose State is either vastly over matching its opponent or being over matched this week and this will be a good scale to know. The passing game is the focus on the offense and look for Jurich to pass early to see if there are any weaknesses they can spot in the Minnesota secondary.
TDG: A follow up of sorts...last season Minnesota sold out against the pass (going 3-1-7 quite a bit in the 2nd half) and SJSU was never able to make them pay on the ground. How would you describe/rate the Spartans' running game so far this season?
JM: San Jose State does get Jarrod Lawson back after serving a two-game suspension and that will make the running game more effective than the first two weeks. So far neither back running the ball has eclipsed the 100 yard mark over two games with either Thomas Tucker or Brandon Monroe. If Minnesota is going to use that strategy then San Jose State should attempt to run the ball first and then set up the pass if the Spartans get a solid running game going. Against Auburn, San Jose State had to pass to stay in the game so that one doesn't really count since there were limited attempts to run the ball. This is a pass-first team but at some point they need to run the ball and if Minnesota is going to dare them to run they should attack that and hope that something gets going.
TDG: Has San Jose State improved their rushing defense? Let me warn you in advance that the only acceptable answer to this question is no because in case you hadn't heard, Minnesota's passing game is anemic right now.
JM: I'll go in between because it would be hard press for the San Jose State rush defense to be worse than it was last year. It really should be better since the Spartans get back linebacker Vince Buhagiar who missed all of 2012 with an injury, and in fact most of the starting defense is back. Yet, that rush defense was extremely bad last year by giving up 215 yards per game last year and gave up 353 yards to Minnesota, and for the year they had five games where they gave up 250 or more yards on the ground including a season high of 432 against Navy.
TDG: If you were gameplanning for the Spartans, how would you defeat Minnesota?
JM: TCU did a good job of forcing turnovers, and that is a cop out because typically a team that comes out on top in the turnover margin wins the game. Going through the Gophers first three games it looks like the passing defense is where Minnesota has struggled and that does matchup well with what San Jose State wants to do on offense. San Jose State wants to pass the ball and assuming that Minnesota will have a lot of defensive backs on the field like last year, look for the passing game to possibly get creative and find the open spaces on the field and create some mismatches to get yards. San Jose State will attack in the passing game but to get the win they must get some decent production from the running game this weekend, and I am not sure that can be done.
On defense I would pressure the quarterback to force mistakes in the passing game with Mitch Leidner either getting sacked or forcing bad throws. Oh, and just maybe limit the Minnesota rushing attack to below 250 yards on the ground because that would help a lot.
TDG: Predictions for Saturday?
JM: I really would like to say San Jose State can win this game but I am not confident enough to say the can do that. I think the Spartans are improved in some areas, specifically its defense, but this will be closer than last year with Minnesota winning by about 10 points.
Thanks again to Jeremy for taking the time!