February 24, 2024
“I don’t think it's probably ever been done to face the top quarterbacks in their class three weeks in a row to start the season. But it’s a great challenge," said SJSU defensive coordinator Derrick Odum.

SAN JOSE — Derrick Odum is preparing the San Jose State defense to play its third five-star quarterback in a row, something the SJSU defensive coordinator hasn’t done in 25 years as a coach.

SJSU (0-2) has faced a gauntlet of quarterbacks to start the season. The Spartans faced USC’s Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, in their season opener and Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei on Sunday.

Next up is Cal Poly’s Sam Huard, a transfer from the University of Washington who was the third-best quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class. The two quarterbacks ranked higher than him: University of Texas QB Quinn Ewers and Williams.

“I don’t think it’s probably ever been done to face the top quarterbacks in their class three weeks in a row to start the season,” Odum said. “But it’s a great challenge and the guys look forward to that. That’s what you want as a player to play against the best guys.”

The FCS Mustangs arrive at Spartan Stadium for Saturday’s 1 p.m. game coming off a 27-10 win over the University of San Diego. Huard passed for 368 yards and a touchdown in his Cal Poly debut.

Huard is the son of Damon Huard and nephew of Brock Huard, who both played at Washington and in the NFL.

Williams, Uiagalelei and Huard are all transfer quarterbacks and represent the current landscape of the transfer portal.

Williams transferred from the University of Oklahoma to follow head coach Lincoln Riley to USC. Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State after leading Clemson to a 10-3 record last season. Huard moved to San Luis Obispo after two seasons in Seatle after getting moved down the Huskies’ depth chart by Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr.

“It’s hard at that quarterback position because only one guy gets to play,” said SJSU head coach Brent Brennan about the current state of the transfer quarterback. “Now with the onset of the transfer portal and NIL, quarterbacks can be bought and paid for.”

“I think that’s just going to be the norm in college football. I think that’s what you have to expect.”

SJSU’s defense struggled in its first two games against the two highly touted quarterbacks, yielding a combined 517 yards and seven touchdowns through the air.

Leaders on the SJSU defense believe there are common threads between the highly-touted quarterbacks they faced even though each quarterback has a different play style.

“Five star (Quarterbacks) they all play the same really,” said SJSU cornerback DJ Harvey.  “(Huard) loves to throw the ball. They love to get their receivers space. So tighter coverage is going to be the focus this week.”

Getting Pressure on the quarterback

In 2022, SJSU averaged 3.5 sacks per game. After two games this season, the Spartans a total of 2.5 sacks.

No play encapsulated the lack of pressure on the quarterback more than Uiagalelei’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Noga on Sunday. The Spartans only rushed three, but Uiagalelei had nearly six seconds in the pocket standing still before throwing a laser in the back of the end zone to Noga.

“I could have made a sandwich back there,” Uiagalelei said about the play after the game.

SJSU is still looking for its breakout star on the front seven after losing All-Conference defensive tackles Junior Fehoko and Cade Hall to the NFL draft and graduation.

“We want to get to the quarterback as much as we can,” Odum said. “(The front seven) is working extremely hard. It’s a point of emphasis and they’re eager to just get out and have another game so they can get going a little bit.”

Return of the tight ends

One of the bright spots in the loss to Oregon State was the emergence of tight ends Sam Olson and Dominick Mazotti.

Olson caught six passes for 60 yards and scored one of SJSU’s two touchdowns when he recovered quarterback Chevan Cordeiro’s fumble in the end zone. Mazotti didn’t play against USC, but caught two passes for 16 yards and played a key role as a blocker in run packages for against OSU

The offense can use more production from the tight end spot as the team is without running back Kairee Robinson and wide receiver Justin Lockhart for the foreseeable future. Lockhart did not practice again this week.

“It was great to have Dom back,” Brennan said. We missed him last week, and he’s a big part of our offense.”

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Brennan added, “I thought Sam did some really good stuff and that’s exciting because we’ve been kind of waiting for Sam to return to form. He’s had a couple of freaky injuries the last two seasons. And so we’ve missed him so much. And if you think back to 2020, when he was a true freshman, he was a very impactful player for us, so we’re excited to see Sam get going.”

—  A good sign for the Spartans was that Harvey was on the practice field this week and said he is ready to go Saturday. Harvey had to be helped off the field due to a lower leg injury that he suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.

— Cordeiro is 241 passing yards away from reaching the 10,000 career passing yards milestone. He will become the 141st Division I quarterback to throw for at least 10,000 yards in a career.

—  Sunday’s game against Oregon State was the first sellout game at Spartan Stadium since 2003. The official attendance was 20,337, the most attended game since 2013.

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