WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State football for the San Jose Mercury-News about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin
Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.
San Jose State got off to a slow start this season, but injuries played a factor. Can you describe how decimated the team was due to injuries and how is the health of the team heading into the Wyoming game?
Injuries were a fairly large factor. Having starting running back Tyler Ervin out, and still out, was big and the loss of wide receiver Noel Grigsby was huge. It really took them three games to find someone who could somewhat fill Grigsby’s playmaker role, which Tyler Winston has done over the past couple of games. It took the same time to find a crew of running backs to minimize the loss of Ervin, too. The defense lost any semblance of depth with guys like linebacker Vince Buhagiar out and several other guys missing a game or two.
The Wyoming game should represent the healthiest the team has been since the season-opener. Wide receiver Jabari Carr should be back. There’s a chance Ervin is back, but that’s sounding less likely. But several guys that were slightly nicked up or on the verge of returning coming into the Colorado State game should be healthy as the team comes off the bye.
Was the slow start also a factor with a new coach, and if so, what is different with the program now with Ron Caragher as the coach?
The new coach definitely played a role. It took some time for quarterback David Fales to get settled with the new offense. Instead of the steady stream of intermediate, high-percentage passes they threw last year — with the deep shots sprinkled in — the new offense has been more of a sling-it-deep type offense. The defense switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and did so with no experienced players to play the crucial outside linebacker positions. As they’ve gotten halfway through the schedule and got more comfortable with the schemes, they’ve begun to play better. Plus, it helps that Hawaii and Colorado State are a bit of a step down from playing the likes of Stanford and a then-full strength Utah State.
Quarterback David Fales is one of many good quarterbacks in the Mountain West. In your mind, what makes him standout from the rest in the league? Also, Fales walked on at Wyoming for about a month in 2011 and has family in the state. Does this game mean more to him based on that?
Fales’ best attribute is his accuracy. His arm is fairly strong, but definitely not the strongest. But he’s very good at putting the ball in the right place, particularly when he’s got great rapport with a receiver like he used to with Grigsby. He’s begun to develop that relationship with Winston. He’s also got great presence in the pocket. He’s shown more agility and quickness this year and that was most evident against CSU, when he consistently scrambled out of trouble for yardage and to create time to make plays down the field.
As for his time at Wyoming, he’s made no secret of having some extra motivation for this game. He talked quite a bit before the season about what this game will mean to him. He was actually really hopeful this game would be played at Wyoming, but was very happy to at least see the Cowboys on the schedule.
Senior linebacker Keith Smith leads the nation in tackles. Is that a product of a weaker defense around him or what makes this guy so productive?
It’s a combination of him being a very good and active defensive play-maker, and playing with a somewhat inexperienced defense that has three freshman at the other linebacker positions. Through the first four games of the season particularly, the team struggled immensely to tackle. Players were having a very hard time bringing guys down, so that was giving Smith a lot of opportunities to join in on gang tackles and also, he was the one guy that was a sure tackler. Smith said it himself after the Utah State game that he shouldn’t be making as many tackles as he was. The past two games, he’s had “only” nine tackles each game, which is a much better sign for the team. Freshman linebacker Christian Tago has come along and helped out. Still, Smith has very good vision and can read the holes in the run game while also being solid in pass defense, which often puts him in position to make plays.
How do you see this game playing out and what is your predicted final score?
Fales seems to be settling into his old self of completing a high percentage of passes and connecting on big plays, so I see the offense putting up some pretty big numbers against a struggling Wyoming defense. I also see (Wyoming quarterback) Brett Smith doing a pretty good job carving up the Spartans defense, which has struggled against mobile quarterbacks. I see the game turning into a shootout, with San Jose State winning 41-34.
Cowboys game day
Game: Wyoming (4-3 overall, 2-1 Mountain West) at San Jose State (3-3, 2-1)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
TV: ROOT SPORTS
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KOWB (1290 AM) Laramie