Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, November 4, 1999

R A I N B O W _ F O O T B A L L

Spartans are smartin’

The San Jose State football
team is last in the WAC in defense

1999 season special

By Paul Arnett


San Jose State shouldn't be any more than a bump in the road for Hawaii.

The Spartans haven't had a winning season since 1992 and haven't played in a bowl game since 1990.

They're one of two teams already eliminated from this year's race and their record in the Western Athletic Conference is a mediocre 10-18.

But unfortunately for the Rainbows, three of those league victories have come at the expense of Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii hasn't beat San Jose State since 1988 and hasn't won at Spartan Stadium in 41 years.

"Those are a lot of things working against us, but we're going to change all that this weekend," a confident Dan Robinson said. "We had them 14-0 last year and then for some reason we went to the option and it cost us the game. I don't think that's going to happen this time around."


It would seem unlikely that Jones will break out the option this weekend, but if you look at the Spartans' weakness on defense, it's against the run.

In the last three games, San Jose State is yielding 357.3 yards a game on the ground. Granted, option teams Rice and Texas Christian rolled up 831 rushing yards between them, but if San Jose State has a strength on defense, it's against the pass.

"They have a pretty good secondary that will play a lot of man defense against us," UH coach June Jones said. "They also line up in an unusual four-man front. They like to walk up a fifth guy, usually a linebacker, right before the snap.

"We'll try to do what we always do, but because their offense is similar to ours, I don't think their defense will find our passing schemes that unusual."

Still, San Jose State is last in the league in defense, yielding 444.5 yards and 34.6 points a game. Part of the reason for these large numbers is the schedule. The Spartans have played Louisiana State, Colorado and Stanford in addition to WAC foes TCU and Rice.

Injuries have riddled the defense. Talented defensive end Samson Sherrod missed the last game after needing surgery to repair a broken index finger. Top tackle Steve Kapphahn is out with a sprained knee.

"They kind of reminds me of us in that they play well at times and struggle other times," Jones said. "We've got to try to pass protect better and see if we can get some guys open in their secondary."

Middle linebacker Josh Perry is the leading tackler with 77. San Jose State has three players with three sacks apiece, so the Spartans can pressure you.

"If we do what we're supposed to do, then I think we can move the ball against their defense," said Robinson, who is first in the WAC in total offense, averaging 299 yards a game. "We haven't been executing as well as we can, but I think we match up against them."


How Hawaii's defense matches up with San Jose State's offense may be the real key to the game.

As hard as the Rainbows have played on that side of the football, statistically they are struggling against the rush, giving up 181.6 yards a game. Hawaii is ranked sixth in the WAC and 92nd nationally.

That doesn't bode well for Hawaii when considering top San Jose State running back Deonce Whitaker has bounced back from a bad ankle sprain.

Earlier in the season, he was the only player in Division I ranked in the top six of four different individual statistical categories (rushing, scoring, all-purpose yards and kickoff returns).

After spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of the win over Tulsa, Whitaker did not play in San Jose State's victory over Stanford and carried the ball only a few times in the losses to TCU and Rice.

"What really makes him tough is he's so small, he can hide behind the offensive lineman," UH middle linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "He's real quick and tough to tackle once he's in the open field."

Whitaker leads the league in scoring, averaging 10.6 points a game and is third in rushing with 717 yards on 114 carries. He is the catalyst of an offense that generated 507 yards against Colorado.

Throw in capable quarterback Chris Kasteler -- who has thrown for 1,750 yards and eight touchdowns -- and a stable of receivers led by Steve Pulley, Casey LeBlanc and Waking Bailey, and it's easy to see why UH defensive coordinator Greg McMackin is taking this offense seriously.

"In a lot of ways, they're more explosive than say a TCU or a Rice because they can beat you on the ground and through the air," McMackin said. "This is a totally different team with a healthy Deonce Whitaker.

"He not only can run, but he catches the ball coming out of the backfield on flares and screens. They like to do a lot of what we like to do on offense and they have what we call a purple look - that's three wideouts and one tight end - that can be very tough to defend."

The top receiver for San Jose State is Pulley. He has 43 receptions for 658 yards and four touchdowns, and is a key reason the Spartans are second to the Rainbows in the WAC in total offense, averaging 379.6 yards a game.

"We've got to try to keep them off the field and give the ball more to our offense," McMackin said. "This is a good offensive group that could pose us problems if we don't come ready to play."


Bullet When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday
Bullet Where: Spartan Stadium
Bullet TV: Live on KFVE
Bullet RealAudio: Live Internet broadcast
Bullet Radio: Live on KCCN-AM
Bullet Records: Hawaii is 5-3 (3-2 WAC). San Jose State is 3-5 (1-3 WAC).
Bullet Spread: San Jose State by 2

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