SAN JOSE -- San Jose State coach Ron Caragher isn't downplaying the significance of Saturday night's battle with defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford.
"Coach Caragher said this could possibly be the biggest win in San Jose State history," linebacker Keith Smith said. "When you hear something like that, you're just chomping at the bit. You want to get after it."
It's pretty clear Caragher is fired up about this game, which will be his first time coaching against Stanford. He smiled widely when asked if he would use Stanford's perceived advantages and greater exposure as a motivating tool.
"Behind closed doors I'll be glad to fully go into that with my football team," Caragher said. "Publicly, I have all the respect for what David (Shaw) and that group have done."
Putting aside the emotional aspects of the game, the key for SJSU to have any shot against Stanford is to keep star quarterback David Fales upright against the Cardinal's physical front seven.
"They create push up front," Caragher said. "We just need to be firm, need to be strong to give our quarterback time so our offense can do what we do best."
Stanford's defensive line and linebackers are generally considered among the best group in the nation. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy are All-Americans, and defensive end Ben Gardner keys the line.
"They play with their hands extremely well in their front seven, and they're just relentless in their ability to get to the quarterback," SJSU offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty said. "It's not even necessarily the sacks, it's the number of hits that they really do a good job with that over time takes a toll on the quarterback."
SJSU handled Stanford's defense, which was without the suspended Skov, relatively well in last year's 20-17 loss. The Spartans allowed three sacks against the team that led the nation with 57 and didn't allow any quarterback hurries.
"The key is to win the 1-on-1 matchups," said SJSU center Nicholas Kaspar, who started at right guard in last year's game. "It's always easy to block someone if there's two people. If you win the 1-on-1 matchups, the majority of time you'll be fine."
Last season's performance gave the Spartans confidence and they've won 12 of 13 games since. Both teams enter the night with an eight-game winning streak, tied for third-best in the nation.
"Even though we didn't win, I feel we proved physically and mentally we're capable of competing with a team like that," Smith said. "I'm sure somewhere on the team there were little doubts here and there, but I'm positive this year everybody knows that we have the chance to really do something special."
Nobody will stoop to calling last year's game a moral victory though. While it may have confirmed to SJSU that it was a good team, Fales still looks at it as an opportunity lost.
"I think, especially for the veterans and seniors who know how to finish games, it was tough to lose a game by that close," Fales said. "It was right there for us at the end."
Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.