Spartan football will play the biggest game of its season on Saturday against Brigham-Young University. A win could set up a potential and even more monumental final-week showdown between SJSU and Louisiana Tech for a share of the conference title seven days later.BYU (6-4), however, will also be the toughest opponent SJSU (8-2, 4-1 WAC) has faced in 2012. To fit the occasion, the scene has been set for this Saturday and next ESPN2 has picked up both contests and head coach Mike MacIntyre said the teams goal is still to win the Western Athletic Conference.The first step toward a WAC championship for the Spartans is defeating the Cougars on national television Saturday.Its a big game. Its exciting to have two important, meaningful two weeks in November, MacIntyre said. Our kids understand that weve kind of gone to another level and we need to stay there.You always like to play against the best and Saturday well get to play against truly one of the very best defenses in America.Should Louisiana Tech defeat Utah State this weekend, the Spartans would have a chance to claim a three-way conference title with both schools by beating Louisiana Tech the following week. It would be SJSUs first football WAC title in school history.But before the Spartans can have a chance to call themselves the best in their conference, they need to get through, like MacIntyre said, one of the best defenses in collegiate football. The Cougars rank seventh in the country by allowing just 14.2 points per game.Quarterback David Fales, who ranks first in the nation in completion percentage and fourth in passer rating, said he is not really worried about scoring on the stout BYU defense.Were just going to take it a play at a time and execute what we got, he said. Weve been putting a game plan together for them so it should be good.MacIntyre said the success of his offense will come down to execution.If we execute then well be able to move the ball, he said. Yes, theyre good. We probably wont move the ball as well as we have against other teams because theye good; theyre big; theyre strong; theyre fast.The BYU defense has allowed the team to play tough against every one of its opponents this season. The 42 points it allowed to then-No. 10 Oregon State is the most allowed all season. The other two top-25 opponents BYU has faced have been competitive match-ups because of the effort from the Cougars defense.On Sept. 20, BYU lost to Boise State, the 24th-best team in the nation at the time, by a final score of 7-6. Three weeks ago, BYU took Notre Dame, the second-best team in the country, down to the final minutes before losing 17-14. The Cougars led the Fighting Irish 14-7 late in the second quarter.They should have beat Notre Dame, MacIntyre said. Notre Dame was really lucky to beat them. To me, BYU outplayed them.MacIntyre said he will run a balanced offense of both run and pass plays to throw off BYUs ability to sack the quarterback. The passing game, however, will surely take over for SJSU as the team ranks 108th in the nation in yards per game on the ground and lost back-up running back David Freeman to suspension. They have great outside linebackers that rush the passer so if we pass on every down they can just tee off and that wont be good for us, he said. BYU knows that, we know that and well need to have balance.Offensively, the Cougars are led by quarterback Riley Nelson, who has completed 60 percent of his passes this season for 1,676 yards and 12 touchdowns. MacIntyre said Nelsons ability to get it to the Cougars tall and lanky wide receivers is what makes him successful.He is a playmaker and a competitor, MacIntyre said about Nelson. He can run. He can throw and he has done very well.With that said, though, MacIntyre added that he has had the luxury of being able to say every Saturday that he has the best quarterback on the field in Fales.David is our steady guy, he said. When hes out there, hes hard to stop.Thus, Saturday begins a two-week quest to share the WAC title with Utah State and Louisiana Tech. Lose and the Spartans are out of WAC championship bid.
BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.
USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.
Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.
It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.
Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.
CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.
A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.
CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.
Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.
"He does everything at a high level.”
At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.
“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”
Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.
“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”
Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.
“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.
And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.
“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”
No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”
Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.
“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”
One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.
“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”
Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.
“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”