SAN JOSE — Jaylan Lawson helped San Jose State set the tone on Saturday against Cal Poly – and the Spartans hope for the rest of the season – from the opening kickoff.
The senior linebacker laid a huge hit to Cal Poly returner Xavier Oliphant, popping the football loose. Jalen Bainer recovered the ball on the Mustangs’ 17-yard line. Kyle Halvorsen kicked a field goal a few plays later, sparking the Spartans to a huge first half and a 59-3 victory before 14,224 at CEFCU Stadium.
San Jose State’s Quayli Conley (7) is congratulated by teammates Tyler Ostrom (71) and Malikhi Miller (12) after rushing for a touchdown against Cal Poly, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, at CEFCU Stadium in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Coming off lopsided losses to No. 6 USC and No. 16 Oregon State to open the season, the Spartans (2-1) knew they could not afford to fall to 0-3, especially with another difficult matchup – at defending Mid-American Conference champions Toledo – next week.
“Starting off 0-2, we needed this win,” said SJSU quarterback Chevan Corderio. “It was an eye-opener for us, and really changed our mindset heading into this week.”
San Jose State forced two more turnovers and outgained the Mustangs 310-92 in the first half, streaking to a 38-3 at halftime lead and never looked back. Even a 45-minute lighting delay early in the second quarter couldn’t slow the Spartans’ roll.
“Physicality is always the key,” said SJSU head coach Brent Brennan. “I was encouraged by how that showed up early for us and that’s something that has to show up for us because the next three games are all going to be physical.”
San Jose State’s Jalen Bainer (15) scores a touchdown on a 74-yard punt return against Cal Poly in the 3rd quarter, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, at CEFCU Stadium n San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose State’s defense shut out the Mustangs and former University of Washington quarterback Sam Huard in the second half, punctuating SJSU’s largest margin of victory since the Spartans beat the University of Mexico 103-0 at home in an international game in 1949.
A bounce-back defensive performance
SJSU allowed 98 points and did not force a turnover in the back-to-back losses to USC and Oregon State. But the Spartans flipped a switch against Cal Poly, allowing just 169 yards, forcing three and sacking Huard twice.
Huard, a five-star recruit out of high school, threw for more than 300 yards in his Mustangs debut a week earlier against the University of San Diego, but he and the Cal Poly offense was grounded by the Spartans. Huard passed for 66 yards on 17 attempts and was intercepted by Chase Williams.
“We just studied him and their offense all week and we just had a great game. We dominated them,” said Bainer, a SJSU cornerback.
A much better rushing game
SJSU’s rushing game, non-existent against Oregon State, was the catalyst against the FCS Mustangs.
Kairee Robinson was back after missing the Oregon State game and rushed 16 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Quali Conley added 60 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Cordeiro was also a factor in the run game, scoring the Spartans’ first rushing touchdown of the season on a 15-yard designed quarterback run that put the Spartans up 31-0 in the second quarter.
“I think (Quali and I) will be a big help to the offense for sure,” Robinson said. “We bring a lot of energy and versatility to the game, so I never I’m definitely excited for the rest of the year.”
Cordeiro added, “When the run game is working, it opens up the pass. Linebackers start coming in, safeties start coming in with their eyes. It’s always good when the running backs are scoring touchdowns.”
More help in the passing game
With pre-season All-Mountain West wide receiver Justin Lockhart still sidelined, Corderio has had to find other targets he could trust. He seems to have found a good connection with former quarterback-turned-wide receiver Nick Nash who leads the team in receptions, but had trouble connecting with anyone else the first two weeks of the season.
Against Cal Poly, Cordeiro had more success finding his second and third reads with Nash limited to just a single catch for -3 yards.
Charles Ross had a bounceback game, catching two passes for 39 yards and a diving touchdown in the second quarter. Junior wide receiver Malikhi Miller had three catches for 39 yards.
San Jose State’s Charles Ross (4) catches a touchdown pass in front of Cal Poly’s Delano Franklin (1) in the 2nd quarter, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, at CEFCU Stadium in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
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The tight end duo of Sam Olson and Dominick Mazotti continued to be a factor even when they only caught two passes combined. Olson only caught a 27-yard touchdown pass along the sideline that gave SJSU a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Mazotti caught Cordeiro’s longest pass of the day on a 38-yard pass down the right sideline.
“I feel like we just have a lot of guys that are ready to play,” Cordeiro said. “We got a lot of guys that are hungry and they want to just step on the field, do their thing and show what they got.”
The Spartans travel to Ohio to take on the University of Toledo on Saturday.
The Rockets are the reigning Mid-American Conference champions and beat Texas Southern 71-3 on Saturday after opening the season with a 30-28 loss at Illinois.