The Spartans have played a handful of notable games over the past four or five years, but always because of the opponent.

Either they were taking on top-ranked Alabama in the season opener or facing BCS-bound Boise State in November or trying to contain Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick or dueling with undefeated Hawaii under the lights.

This week, the stakes are high because of SJSU's success.

The Spartans' four-game winning streak, coupled with their legitimate designs on the WAC championship, makes Saturday's showdown with Utah State the most significant game SJSU has played in years.

A victory would place the conference title within reach -- not to mention a bowl berth and the most successful season SJSU has had in eons.

A victory would make nine wins (or more) a very real possibility.

Result: Bye

Grade: N/A

Comment: As noted in this space last week, the bye came at a good time for the Spartans.

Forget about losing momentum. Anytime you get an extra week to prepare and get healthy for a big game, it's good.

  • Coach Mike MacIntyre devoted a sizable portion of the extra workouts to correcting ongoing problems. Chief among them: poor short-yardage production.

    After a thorough film review, MacIntyre and his staff discovered a handful of reasons for the breakdowns on third-and-short -- from the running backs hitting the wrong holes to the linemen not holding their blocks long enough to issues with schemes and alignments.


    Advertisement

    The end result is poor red zone efficiency: The Spartans have scored touchdowns on just 55 percent of their opportunities.

  • Another point of emphasis during the bye week: Open-field tackling, which will be vital against Utah State (more on that below).

  • It's an overstatement to say that as Ryan Otten goes, so goes the offense -- but not by much.

    When the senior tight end is involved in the downfield passing game, often through the use of play-action, SJSU usually scores touchdowns.

    Otten is having his best season (20 catches in five games, 14.2 ypc) because he has a quarterback (David Fales) who delivers the ball accurately and on time ... and because the oft-injured Otten has stayed healthy.

    "We can utilize him in the game plan because we know he's going to be out there," MacIntyre said.

  • SJSU's scoring differential by quarter:

    First: -4

    Second: +4

    Third: +38

    Fourth: +27

    Speaks for itself.

    Next up: vs. Utah State

    The matchup: Difficult.

    The Aggies, who lost 6-3 at Brigham Young on Friday, are the second-best team SJSU has faced (behind Stanford) and it's not even close.

    In style and personnel, the Aggies are comparable to San Diego State -- and the Aztecs smacked SJSU's defense around to the tune of 34 points and 484 yards.

    Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is accurate short, middle and deep, and his mobility will be a challenge for SJSU's dynamite pass rush. (The Spartans must keep containment.)

    Tailback Kerwynn Williams is a productive runner (95 yards vs. Utah) and receiver (78 yards vs Wisconsin) who can make big plays anywhere on the field.

  • One could also argue that Utah State has the psychological advantage this week, having beaten the Spartans three years in a row.

    The streak that includes 38-34 and 34-33 wins the past two seasons.

    "Nobody on our team has ever beaten them," MacIntyre said. "I don't have to say much when that's the case."

    But an even-keeled approach will be paramount for SJSU. When emotions run too high, mistakes usually follow.

  • Bottom line: The Spartans were able to overcome a moderate number of penalties, turnovers, red zone glitches, missed tackles and busted assignments against Navy, Colorado State and SDSU.

    But against Utah State, every mistake will be magnified -- and potentially costly.