SAN JOSE -- San Jose State's offense has been prolific during its current four-game winning streak. The Spartans are averaging 43 points in those four games, which they have won by an average of 27 points.
But none of the defenses they've faced in that stretch compare to BYU (6-4), which visits Spartan Stadium for the first time since 1968 when SJSU (8-2) hosts the Cougars on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The game airs nationally on ESPN2.
"They're very tough. They're physical," Spartans coach Mike MacIntyre said of BYU. "We've got to hold on to the ball because they tackle well, swarm to the ball well. They're big men. So when they hit you, they hit you."
BYU comes to town with the nation's fourth-ranked defense, allowing 264.5 yards per game. The Cougars are fourth in the country against the run, 10th against the pass and seventh in points allowed at 14.2 per game. They lead the nation in red zone defense, allowing a score only 54 percent of the time.
The unit is led by linebackers Kyle Van Noy, a stat-sheet filler who leads the team with 7.5 sacks, and top tackler Brandon Ogletree.
"They're really smart," SJSU quarterback David Fales said of BYU. "They stick to their alignments. They just do their job. They all do their jobs together."
The Spartans' only two losses this season came against teams that also feature highly rated defenses. Stanford and Utah State are both in the top five in the country in rushing defense and among the
SJSU racked up 467 yards passing against Utah State, but allowed 13 sacks that led to a net total of 4 yards rushing. The Spartans held their own against Stanford, outgaining the Cardinal in the season-opening defeat.
BYU compares more similarly to Stanford, with a big front seven that can plug up holes.
"They're big and strong and play some zone coverage like Stanford does," MacIntyre said.
Pass protection will be a key. The Spartans' success against Stanford can be credited to allowing only three sacks against the team that leads the nation in that category. But a breakdown in protection was a big reason the Utah State game got out of hand.
"We just had a bad night and they had a good night," offensive line coach Gary Bernardi said of the Utah State game. "It's something you just live and learn and move on from."
The Spartans haven't allowed a sack in the four games since. But those games have all been against teams near the bottom of the country in sacks. This will be a different challenge.
"When you look at their defense, they're right below Alabama and LSU," Bernardi said. "They do a lot of things good, so obviously it's a challenge. I think the kids are prepared well. I've got a lot of confidence in them."
While the passing game has been the go-to weapon, MacIntyre said it will be important to run the ball.