The Texas Longhorns (0-1,0-0) will welcome the San Jose State Spartans(1-1,0-0) to Austin on Saturday as Texas looks to rebound from a season opening 51-41 defeat at the hands of Maryland. The Spartans come into the game with a loss in the season opener to South Florida (42-22) and a victory last weekend against Cal Poly (34-13). Let’s take a look at the San Jose State defense and special teams.
San Jose State will operate mainly out of a 3-4 look. Junior defensive end Robert Owens led the team in tackles for loss in 2016 with 8.5 and is off to an excellent start in 2017. Through 2 games, Owens has 2 TFL, 1 sack and a forced fumble. The nose guard position will be occupied by junior transfer Sailosi Latu, a lifelong ruby player who switched to football and had 2 successful seasons at Mt. San Antonio Community College. Latu has totaled 9 tackles and a sack so far this season. The other defensive end spot belongs to junior Bryson Bridges, who has 7 tackles to go along with 1 sack in 2017.
In 2016, San Jose State struggled to get to the quarterback, ranking 114th out of 128 FBS teams in total sacks. Those struggles have carried over into 2017 so far, with the Spartans only having 3 sacks through 2 games, with all 3 coming in the first game against South Florida. New defensive coordinator Derrick Odum will rely on his front 3 to occupy the offensive line and allow the linebackers to make plays.
The player who has benefited the most from the new defensive coaching staff at San Jose State has been outside linebacker William Ossai. The senior finished 2016 with 33 tackles and just 1 TFL, but has exploded at the start of 2017 for 15 tackles, 4 TFL and a sack. Junior transfer Jamal Scott starts at the other outside linebacker spot and has had success in his first year with the Spartans. The former Arizona State linebacker has notched 1 sack to go along with 11 tackles and 2 TFL. Frank Ginda and Ethan Aguayo start at the two inside linebacker spots and have combined for 54 tackles and 3.5 TFL through the first two games of the year.
Behind the 4 starting linebackers, the Spartans do not have much to offer in terms of depth. Sophomores Jesse Owens and Malik Hayes are the only two other linebackers who have recorded a tackle this season. South Florida was able to rush for over 300 yards against a defense that struggled after the first quarter of play. San Jose State will lean heavily on their 4 starters at linebacker and hope Ginda and Aguayo continue to be rack up tackles in the middle of the defense.
San Jose State has yet to record an interception through the first two games of the season, but a main contributor to that has been the willingness of their opponents to run the ball. The Spartans secondary has only faced 36 pass attempts through the first two games, but have a formidable defensive backfield that can defend the pass well.
Senior cornerback Andre Chachere was a first team All-Mountain West selection a season ago and had 4 interceptions. Chachere is a physical corner who will most likely be matched up with Collin Johnson on Saturday. Senior Jermaine Kelly will start opposite of Chachere. The former Washington Huskie had 5 pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 2016. Junior Dakari Monroe started 7 games in 2016 and will serve as the 3rd cornerback.
At safety, the Spartans have 4-year starter Maurice McKnight and sophomore Trevon Bierria. McKnight was honorable mention All-Mountain West in 2015 and 2016, and brings a wealth of experience with 29 career starts. Bierria started 10 games a redshirt freshman and recorded 2 interceptions to go along with 2 forced fumbles.
Opponents have completed less than 50% of their passes so far against San Jose State. Regardless of who lines up at quarterback for Texas, offensive coordinator Tim Beck will need to be creative on how to get the ball to his playmakers on the outside.
The Spartans boast one of the most accurate kickers in the country. Junior Bryce Crawford, a Texan native, was 16-18 in field goals a season ago, with a long of 44 yards. His 88.9% conversion rate on field goals ranked 12th in the country. In 2017, Crawford has only had 1 field goal attempt, a successful 34-yarder.
Senior punter Michael Carrizosa was a honorable mention All-Mountain West selection in 2016 and was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List. Carrizosa has punted 16 times already during the 2017 season, averaging 43.6 yards per punt and pinning 7 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Wide receivers Bailey Gaither and Thai Cottrell are heavily involved on special teams. Gaither returned a blocked punt inside the 10-yard line against South Florida and also handles the return duties on kickoffs, where he is averaging 21.5 yards per return. Cottrell handles punt returns and is averaging 5.7 yards per return in 2017.