With two arguably dominant wins in a row at home under its belt, the SJSU football team will hit the road to take on San Diego State, the first truly tough test for the Spartans since nearly beating Stanford in the seasons opening game.We look at it as a big deal any time we play a school within our system, head coach Mike MacItyre said about SDSU in regards to the California State University system. Our kids are pumped to play in this game.The most daunting task for SJSU this weekend is to put a halt to the Aztecs two-headed monster of a run game it continues to show success with week after week. Sophomore Adam Muema and senior Walter Kazee make up an SDSU running duo that has gained 494 yards this season. Putting each of their contributions in perspective, the two are only four rushes and 10 yards apart in season statistics, with Muema leading in both categories. Kazee, however, has four rushing touchdowns on the season, one more than Muema.MacIntyre said the run defenses strategy will be very similar to what they put out on the field to help stop Stanford and star running back Stepfan Taylor.We go to fill our gaps, line up correctly, MacIntyre said. We got to be physical and we do have a bunch of physical guys.(San Diego State) does a really good job like Stanford at times of getting you out of position so we have been working on lining up correctly. We have been working on alignments because that to me is really important.Last week in a 49-41 win over North Dakota State in San Diego, the two Aztec running backs combined for 229 yards rushing on 31 carries and three touchdowns. MacIntyre said containing them will be crucial in order for SJSU to capture its first road win in 2012.We have to wrap them up. We have to gang tackle, he said. We have to know how to fit their runs.In addition to Muema and Kazee, SDSU has a pretty impressive quarterback in senior Ryan Katz, a transfer from Oregon State playing in his first season with the Aztecs.The thing he can do really well is he has an incredible arm but he can also run, MacIntyre said. He really has a way to improvise, put the ball down and run. Im very impressed with their offensive ability.Last week, Katz added 80 yards on the ground to the 241 yards he gained through the air and showed how two-dimensional he can be. He also showed how efficient he can pass, completing 11-of-18 passes without throwing an interception while finding receivers in the end zone three times.The Aztecs two-man run game, along with an efficient quarterback who can also run, is proving to be a difficult matchup for SJSU, but MacIntyre said the defense has been working on turning SDSUs offense into a one-dimensional game.Once they get the run game going they kind of get you in a dilemma there so we have to try and get them one-dimensional the best way we can, he said. Hopefully well be able to stop the run enough that we wont have to commit as many to the run and play the pass a bit better.Junior wide receiver Noel Grigsby, who broke the schools all-time receptions record in the teams win over Colorado State, will play this Saturday after missing some time in practice after falling on his right shoulder in practice on Tuesday. Grigsby now has 165 career receptions at SJSU, five more that the records previous holder, Kevin Jurovich.Senior offensive lineman David Quessenberry also should play after missing the game against Colorado State with an ankle injury.MacIntyre said the teams depth, which showed by replacing Quessenberry on Saturday, is a key to the team staying competitive thus far this season.The better players you have, the more depth you have, the more experience you have; the more games you win, he said. Were getting to that point. Hopefully we stay relatively healthy and are able to play a lot of guys.MacIntyre said he wants more consistency out of his running backs. SJSU has been up and down all season long. It gained just 72 yards against Stanford; 216 on UC Davis then down to 139 against Colorado State.If we can (become more consistent) it will help us run the clock some and finish some games out, he said. I want us to keep growing in that area and I think we are.
Even the most passionate Cal fan might struggle to name a single player on the current basketball roster. The team's top five leading scorers from last season have all departed. Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird moved on to the NBA, Grant Mullins graduated, and both Charlie Moore and Kameron Rooks elected to transfer.
But perhaps the most significant change is on the sideline. Out is Cuonzo Martin, who agreed to a massive seven-year contract with Missouri, worth a reported $21 million. Replacing him is 44-year-old Wyking Jones, a longtime assistant coach, who spent the past two seasons as Martin's top aide in Berkeley.
Jones' promotion was met with heavy criticism from many in the media, both locally and nationally. Skeptics believe Cal settled for the cheap option, rather than the best option. But why can't both be true? There's no denying that salary played a factor in the hire - the athletic department's financial troubles have been well documented in recent years. But Jones impressed Athletic Director Mike Williams in other areas too, reportedly acing his job interview with a detailed plan for the program moving forward. And unlike the other candidates, Jones already has direct experience dealing with Cal's unique set of circumstances.
“It's not something that you can walk into and just get a really good grasp of,” Jones explained. “It's a learning curve that, if you walk into this situation for the first time, it would take you a tremendous amount of time. Knowing who to go to when you need things, who's in charge of this, who's in charge of that, just having a familiarity of how to really get things done around here.”
Jones also discovered the challenges of recruiting at a school like Cal, where not every athlete can qualify academically. While many coaches would view that as a negative, Jones chooses to embrace it.
“In my mind, that's what makes this place special,” he said. “It's the number one public institution in the world for a reason. Your recruiting pool shrinks quite a bit, but that's okay because typically what happens is if you get a kid who has a lot of discipline on and off the court, you're not going to run into troubles on the weekends when they're in the dorms. They're usually kids who have a lot of respect for the community and other students.”
From a coaching standpoint, Jones has unquestionably paid his dues in the world of college basketball. Prior to joining Cal as an assistant in 2015, he made stops at Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, where he also played from 1991-95. Now, after nearly 15 years in collegiate coaching, Wyking Jones is a head coach.
“I think initially it's very exciting to have an opportunity to coach, have your own program at a storied program like Cal, to follow in the footsteps of some great coaches,” he said, smiling. “But now the smoke has cleared and it's time to get to work.”
That work has already begun. As previously mentioned, Jones will have to replace his top five scorers from a year ago, who accounted for nearly 56 points per game. The Bears will count on increased production from senior center Kingsley Okoroh and junior guard Don Coleman. They will also rely heavily on redshirt senior forward Marcus Lee, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.
“It's an adjustment, for sure,” Jones admitted. “But you have 13 scholarships for a reason. It's just an opportunity for the guys who are still here to earn their scholarship. It's an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves and have an impact on this program.”
Under Cuonzo Martin, Cal established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Last season, the Bears ranked 18th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 63.4 points per game. Jones hopes to continue that trend while also implementing a full-court pressure defense, similar to the one he coached at Louisville, which resulted in a national championship in 2013.
“It's a process,” he acknowledged. “In year one, hopefully we can be good at it. In year two, look to improve. In year three, hope to be great at it... It's a type of defense, when you're talking about pressing, it's reading all the other guys on the court. It's never scripted. It's being able to read when is the right time to go trap, when is the right time to go switch, when is the right time to bluff and stunt at a guy to slow him down. So there's a learning curve in it.”
Jones knows there will also be a learning curve for him personally as a head coach, especially with such a young and inexperienced roster. He expects his team to be overlooked and undervalued by much of the college basketball world, but that's just fine with him.
“I think a lot of people will probably guess that we won't be very good, and that's motivation right there. That's motivation for my staff, for our managers, for the support staff. It's motivation for everybody that's a part of this program to exceed those expectations. So I think that makes for an exciting season.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.
Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.
NFL teams love it.
Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.
"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."
These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.
"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.
Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.
"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.
"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."
The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.
McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.
"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."
Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.
McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."
He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.
"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."
Not a burden.
"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.
He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.
"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.
That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.
The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.
"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.
Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:
CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."
JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.
JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.
ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.
JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.
ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.
DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."
CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.
ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.