SAN JOSE -- It didn't take long for San Jose State to feel the impact of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
The Spartans won their season opener handily Thursday night, throttling North Dakota of the Football Championship Subdivision level 42-10.
Senior quarterback Blake Jurich shone in his starting debut, but even more encouraging was a refreshed and recharged defense.
The Spartans opened last season with a similar result when they shut out Sacramento State. But that was a game in which the Hornets moved the ball fairly well and San Jose State took advantage of turnovers and red zone failures. They struggled to tackle against the FCS foe, an issue that continually reared its ugly head throughout the season.
This marked almost a complete reversal. The Spartans made effective open field tackles, swarmed to the ball and allowed very little after first contact.
Coach Ron Caragher praised the work Robinson has done.
"From the moment when Greg interviewed, he talked about what he wants: the fundamentals of tackling, of breaking down, of pursuing, the angles you take in pursuit," Caragher said. "It was nice to see that implemented in spring, implemented in the fall and I think we saw it (Thursday). It was very effective."
Linebacker Christian Tago and defensive tackle Travis Raciti, the defense's top two players, both had six tackles. Safety Forrest Hightower was highly active and had 2½ tackles for loss among his five stops.
Sophomore cornerback Cleveland Wallace III recorded his first interception in a San Jose State uniform, and true freshman Maurice McKnight delivered an eye-opening performance. He had five solo tackles, plus a strip sack that was recovered by teammate Brad Kuh.
"He is a young man who is mature beyond his years," Caragher said of McKnight, who played safety and cornerback. "He's really evolved into playing a lot of positions on the field. We're excited about that."
Two scores came on play-action calls from offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty. Jurich ran in one of those for a score and hit fullback Shane Smith on a pass for another.
Freshman Brandon Monroe had a 3-yard touchdown run and should be a big part of SJSU's red zone offense with his 6-foot-1, 221-pound frame.
"He can run people over, get that extra couple of yards and he's ideal down there," Caragher said. "It was nice to see him get in the end zone."
For more San Jose State coverage, visit the SpartanCentral blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sjsu.
San Jose State (1-0) at Auburn (0-0), 4 p.m. ESPN2