SAN JOSE, Calif. — Playing competitive and intriguing opponents in November has been difficult for BYU during the early stages of football independence, but that won’t be a problem this week. While San Jose State perhaps doesn’t have the brand-name recognition of some squads, the Spartans are a very competitive team that will likely give the Cougars all they can handle when those teams meet tonight at 8:30 MST inside Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans are 8-2 on the year with a quality win over San Diego State and a tough 20-17 loss to Stanford. The team believes it can play with almost anyone these days and has built up the BYU game as one of the biggest in program history.
"They are a very good football team and they beat us last year at their place," said San Jose coach Mike MacIntyre. "We are excited about it being on ESPN2, and it's a big, big football game. I would say with BYU coming to town and everything, it is one of the biggest games in, I would say, modern history of San Jose State football."
The challenge of trying to beat a good opponent is something the Cougars welcome one week after beating an awful Idaho team. It's the sort of late-season matchup that should provide a good barometer for where the team is really at.
BYU, particularly the offense, feels it's peaking due to some good continuity along the offensive front leading to a more balanced attack.
"We struggled with our identity early, but I think we've done well to establish that recently," said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "We've had some consistency now at running back and at quarterback and with the offensive line and it's produced better play."
The offense may receive a boost with the possible return of Braden Hansen. The veteran senior has practiced this week and could resume his role as the team's starting center .
If Hansen can't go Blair Tushaus will resume his starting role at center. The embattled sophomore center started the year at the position, but was yanked prior to the Hawaii game in favor of Hansen. When Hansen went down against Notre Dame, Tushaus regained his starting spot.
"I think Blair (Tushaus) questioned himself and questioned the committment we had to him as a player. ... He's had to grow up real quick," Doman said. "He's shown some real growth and has continued to improve."
San Jose State, which gives up just 20 points and 325.4 yards per game, should provide a decent test for Doman's offense. Its defensive strength is its ability to put pressure on the quarterback as evidenced by its 34 sacks on the year.
"This is going to be a great test for all of us," said BYU quarterback Riley Nelson. "I'm going to have to get rid of the ball quick. The guys upfront are going to have to be sharp with their assignments. And it should be a real challenge and competitive game — we're excited for it."
Cougars and Spartans on the air
BYU (6-4) at San Jose State (8-2)
Saturday, 8:30pm MST
Venue: Spartan stadium, San Jose, Calif.
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM