OVERVIEW: San Jose State enters this contest ranked 24th in the most-recent Associated Press poll, making them the third nationally ranked team BG has faced this season. The Spartans enter the game with a 10-2 overall record after winning their last seven games in a row. SJSU finished with a 6-1 record in the Western Athletic Conference, losing only to undefeated league champ Utah State. ... The team's coach, Mike MacIntyre, left the program soon after it received its bowl bid to take the head coaching position at Colorado. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer was named interim coach for the bowl game. Ron Caragher, who replaced Jim Harbaugh as coach at the University of San Diego, was named to replace MacIntyre as SJSU's head coach next season.
OFFENSE: The Spartans rank 26th among FBS schools in scoring offense with their average of 35.25 points per game. San Jose State stands 30th in total offense nationally with an average of 451.67 yards per game, and much of that comes from a passing offense that ranks 11th among FBS programs at 327.50 yards per game. Quarterback Nick Fales is the trigger man for the offense, and the All-WAC second team pick delivered, completing 294-of-408 passes (72.1 percent) for 3,798 yards and 31 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. His favorite target has been junior wide receiver Noel Grigsby, who caught 73 passes for 1,173 yards and nine touchdowns to earn first team All-WAC honors. Sophomore wide receiver Jabari Carr was second on the team with 55 catches, finishing with 589 yards and four scores, while junior wide receiver Chandler Jones had 48 receptions for 618 yards and 10 TDs to earn second team All-WAC notice. Senior tight end Ryan Otten was a first team All-WAC performer after catching 44 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. Senior tailback De'Leon Eskridge was a second team All-MAC choice after carrying the ball 194 times for 992 yards and 10 of the Spartans' 16 rushing touchdowns; no other San Jose State player has more than 218 yards rushing. The offensive line is a veteran unit with one senior and four juniors. Two of the Spartan linemen were All-WAC picks as senior left tackle David Quessenberry and junior right guard Nicholas Kaspar were voted to the first team. While San Jose State has given up 25 sacks this season, a whopping 13 of them came in the loss to Utah State, and only two came in the six games that followed.
DEFENSE: The Spartans rank 25th among FBS schools in scoring defense, allowing 21.42 points per game. In terms of total defense, San Jose State ranks 28th in total defense, giving up 351.42 yards per game. SJSU is especially stingy against the run, standing 19th nationally after allowing just 123.67 yards per game -- but that number is affected by the Spartans' 40 sacks this season. The leader of the defense is senior DE Travis Johnson, the WAC defensive player of the year and a first team All-WAC player who ranks among the national leaders with 19 tackles for loss and 12 sacks this season. Johnson also has 60 tackles, two passes broken up and two forced fumbles. Another player to watch on the defensive line is sophomore defensive tackle Travis Raciti, a first team All-WAC pick who has 47 tackles, including 12 for loss and 7.5 sacks, this year. SJSU suffered a setback when junior defensive tackle Anthony Larceval did not make the trip; he was a second team All-WAC choice who has 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks among his 43 tackles. Senior defensive end David Tuitupou was a second team All-WAC selection who has nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks among his 30 tackles this season. At linebacker, San Jose State has a pair of first team All-WAC picks in Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar. Smith is a junior who led the Spartans with 87 tackles and also broke up six passes while forcing four fumbles, while Buhagiar is a junior who was second on the team with 82 tackles. The third projected starter at linebacker, Hector Roach, did not make the trip. The leader of defensive backfield for SJSU is junior cornerback Bene Benwikere, a first-team All-WAC honoree who finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and had seven interceptions as well as four other passes broken up. Senior safety Cullen Newsome ranked third on the team with 81 tackles, while senior safety James Orth was sixth with 56 stops. The cornerback opposite Benwikere is senior Ronnie Yell, who had 38 tackles and six passes broken up by no interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Freshman Austin Lopez does the placekicking for the Spartans. He has made 51-of-54 extra points this season and has connected on 15-of-15 field goals, with a long of 45. Curiously, eight of his field-goal attempts are from less than 30 yards out, but his most-recent attempt was a 45-yard boot he made against Louisiana Tech. Lopez was voted All-WAC second team. … Junior Harrison Waid handles the kickoffs for San Jose State and averages 60.7 yards per kick, with 23 of his 82 kicks resulting in a touchback. The Spartans do a good job on kickoff coverage, allowing team to average just 19.8 yards per return. … Waid also does the punting for SJSU and has averaged 42.4 yards per punt with no blocks. Of his 51 punts, 11 have gone at least 50 yards, and he has just five fair catches and 16 punts that have landed inside the 20. … Sophomore Tyler Ervin has handled the majority of the kickoff returns and averages 28.0 yards per return, including two that he has returned for touchdowns. Ervin has been limited to just eight games this season, though. As a team San Jose State ranks sixth nationally in kickoff returns at 26.26 yards per return. … Senior Ronnie Yell has returned 15 punts for the Spartans and averaged 2.8 yards per return with a long of 10 yards. SJSU ranks 113th nationally in that category.
BG KEYS TO VICTORY: 1. Making the pass fail. The Spartans are a pass-happy offense that has surpassed 500 yards passing four times this season. BG probably won't stop SJSU's passing game completely, but it must slow the Spartans down. 2. Make the run game work again. If the Falcons are able to run the ball effectively, San Jose State's sack-happy line will have to slow down and chase BG runners. Also, a successful run game for the Falcons will keep the Spartans' offense off the field. 3. Special teams must be special. The Spartans do a lot of things well on special teams. Limiting SJSU's big plays on kickoff returns, having some success returning kickoffs, and controlling field position through the punt game all are musts for BG to be successful.