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2020 Opponent Snapshot: San Jose State Spartans

Will this buy game for the Nittany Lions even happen?

NCAA Football: Boise State at San Jose State D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Quick 2019 Recap:

After going a combined 3-21 in the first two years under head coach Brent Brennan, the West Coast Spartans took a significant leap forward in year three, which included a major road upset at Arkansas in September. San Jose State entered November with a 4-4 record and only two wins away from bowl eligibility. SJSU gave Boise State all they could handle at home, jumping out to a 14-0 lead early and leading by a field goal going into the fourth quarter before ultimately succumbing, 52-42. This was followed up with a pair of painstakingly close losses at Hawaii (42-40) and UNLV (38-35) to knock them out of bowl contention. SJSU would however, end their season on a high note with a 17-16 thriller of a win over Fresno State.

Offensive Player To Watch: WR Tre Walker

The West Coast Spartans return their top three pass catchers from a year ago, including Walker, who led the receiving corps in total yards and catches with 1,161 yards on 79 catches and a pair of touchdowns in 2019. Walker is a 5’11” 180-pound speedster who has been effective in turning short passes into big gains and also possesses the ability to adjust in beating defenders on 50/50 deep balls.

Bailey Gaither (52 catches, 819 yards, and 6 TD’s) and Isaiah Hamilton (43/718/4) round out what could be the Mountain West conference’s deepest returning receiving corps in 2020. If SJSU can find an adequate enough replacement at quarterback for Josh Love, who was named the 2019 Mountain West Offensive Player Of The Year, then opposing defenses will need to be on the lookout. Given the Penn State secondary’s rich history of allowing themselves to get dissected by competent passing attacks, this unit could become a nuisance and allow SJSU to move the ball between the 20’s in a discomforting way.

Defensive Player To Watch: LB Kyle Harmon

Harmon leads the team amongst returning starters in tackles with 89 total in 2019, including six for a loss (including a pair of sacks). Harmon also forced three fumbles and recovered two fumbles, so it’s safe to say, this guy has a nose for the ball. The defense as a whole may be a work in progress, as several key players have departed, but Harmon is a steady hand who should be expected to rise up as one of the leaders of not only the linebacking unit, but the defense as a whole.

Major Changes For 2020: As mentioned earlier, the West Coast Spartans will have a very difficult task of replacing their QB Josh Love. Ironically enough, Nick Starkel, an Arkansas grad transfer who threw five picks against SJSU last year, is likely to win the starting job. They will also need to figure out who is going to carry the load in the run game and will have to replace a few starters on the offensive line. Defensively, they hope to take a step forward in the trenches and rely on some veterans at linebacker and safety.

The most important changes are going to come off the field. Namely, with the California State University system announcing that they will not be having in-person classes in the Fall 2020 semester, putting the status of this game in doubt. However, it was announced by SJSU that they do indeed, plan on having Fall sports.

Penn State Wins If: The team actually gets off the bus, changes into their uniforms in the locker room, and they run out onto the field. It’s possible SJSU could give them some fits in the early going if they find a quarterback, given their experienced receiving corps, but the talent level on both sides of the ball is so superior that it won’t matter in the end.

San Jose State Wins If: PSU continually shoots themselves in the foot with dumb turnovers to set up short fields. The West Coast Spartans’ passing attack led by a competent enough QB, is able to capitalize. Even then however, it may not quite be enough.