Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — For the first time since playing an independent schedule, BYU is about to face a post-October, regular-season game against an opponent with a winning record.
The Cougars, who crushed Idaho, 52-13, in their home finale last Saturday night, visit dangerous San Jose State Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
The Spartans (8-2) have won four straight contests, including a 47-7 pounding of New Mexico State last weekend — marking their most lopsided win in 12 years.
San Jose State's two losses came at the hands of nationally ranked Stanford in the season-opener, and Utah State.
The Spartans boast one of the nation's top passers in David Fales, who has completed 72 percent of his passes and has thrown for 3,126 yards and 25 touchdowns. His favorite target is wide receiver Noel Grigsby, who has 58 receptions for 914 yards and seven TDs.
SJSU ranks No. 9 nationally in passing offense (325.8), and No. 31 in scoring offense (35.1).
It is expected to be a stiff test for BYU's defensive secondary, which gave up 332 passing yards against Oregon State in October.
Against Idaho, the Cougars experienced a shakeup in the secondary. Starting safety Joe Sampson, a senior, was suspended from the team and withdrew from school, coach Bronco Mendenhall announced last Thursday.
Meanwhile, starting cornerback Jordan Johnson did not play against the Vandals. Mendenhall explained after the game that Johnson was held out for disciplinary reasons. Johnson was required to perform community service and meet other criteria last week in order to return to good standing with the program. Johnson will be allowed to play against San Jose State, Mendenhall said.
Sophomore Craig Bills started in place of Sampson, while senior Robbie Buckner started in place of Johnson.
Along with Sampson, backup linebacker Zac Stout was also suspended and withdrew from school. Surveillance video released over the weekend allegedly shows Sampson and Stout involved in a fight at Rancherito's, a Provo restaurant, on Nov. 1. The Provo Police Department is investigating the incident. No charges have been filed.
The suspensions cast a pall over Senior Night for Mendenhall.
"I've been really saddened by it. I care a lot for every one of my players," the coach said. "When they make a poor choice or two, it hurts a lot, especially when I build strong relationships with them. I care as much or more about them now than I did before. I'm still committed to help them, it's just hard not to have them with us on a daily basis so I can help them."
Mendenhall said Stout can apply to return to school one year from January "if he meets all the criteria not only that I put on him but also the university. He can be reconsidered at that point."
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson said the suspensions were not a distraction for the team because "we didn't know about it until you guys did. Man, we had no choice but to just play. It's tough. You hate to see your brothers go. Whatever circumstances and choices that led up to their suspension is really unfortunate. But we stand by them and support them in whatever happens."
After Saturday's victory, BYU (6-4) became bowl-eligible and officially accepted a bowl invitation. The Cougars will play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 20. Their opponent will probably be either San Diego State (8-3) or Fresno State (8-3).
Cougars and Spartans on the air
BYU (6-4) at San Jose State (8-2)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
- Wright Words: BYU QB Taysom Hill talks about...
- Perseverance pays off for Taele, a big...
- BYU football notebook: Running back position...
- BYU football: This Nephi played a role in...
- Tempers flare in Jazz's physical overtime win...
- Red and blue recruits: Utes reap recruiting...
- Morning links: ESPN takes deep dive into Utah...
- Dick Harmon: Want drama? Storylines galore?...
- College football: Utes climb to No. 5... 60
- Morning links: 'Big 12' cartoon... 52
- Morning links: Utes in the playoff?;... 45
- ESPN's College GameDay is coming to... 34
- Utah Utes football: The California... 27
- After win, BYU looking to improve, get... 26
- Utes back in the college football... 25
- BYU coaches continue helping players... 22