SAN JOSE -- All San Jose State football players have Friday's game against Utah State circled on the calendar, but the offensive linemen have it bolded, highlighted and underlined twice.

The Spartans' pass protection was nearly non-existent in last year's meeting. The Aggies sacked quarterback David Fales 13 times -- a school record for both teams.

"Last year, the offensive line, the running backs, the protection wasn't what we wanted it to be," left guard Ryan Jones said. "This year we're studying harder, we're working harder, and we've got to eliminate the minus rushing yards."

The sacks cost SJSU more than 100 yards, and the Spartans finished with just 4 yards on the ground. The constant pressure stifled any momentum SJSU tried to gain after falling behind early. The Spartans scored three straight times late in the first half to make it close, but were run over in the second half and lost 49-27.

Jones indicated that SJSU didn't do a good job of disguising its pass protection schemes.

"They had our tendencies down," Jones said. "This year, we've worked on not showing what we're doing. We're more concealed with how we're changing protection."

Stopping Utah State's blitz-happy pass rush won't be enough to win, though. The Aggies have one of the country's best dual-threat quarterbacks in Chuckie Keeton. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior reminds some of a smaller version of the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick.


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"Keeton is just an outstanding football player," Spartans coach Ron Caragher said. "Not just throwing the ball but he makes plays with his legs. You get him outside the pocket, he can hurt you. And he's got some weapons around him."

Keeton frustrated the Spartans last season with his escapability. It was the only game last year that SJSU, which ranked sixth in the country in sacks, did not bring down the opposing quarterback.

"We know he's a scrambler. We know he's going to run," cornerback Bené Benwikere said. "We just have to contain him, which is easier said than done. It's going to take a whole group effort."

The Spartans should expect a very confident Aggies team that has beaten SJSU four consecutive times.

"It's good to have some success against them as well as we did last year," Keeton said. "That's great motivation to keep that streak going."

The Spartans aren't hiding that this game has a little extra meaning. In addition to it being their debut in the Mountain West Conference, they remember how last year's loss cost them the Western Athletic Conference title.

"Every week's a big game," Fales said. "But definitely from last year -- a lot of the guys played in that game know what they did -- we definitely look forward to playing them again."

Overall, there seems to be mutual respect between the programs. Once left behind in the WAC by the teams that jumped ship to the Mountain West earlier, there's a kinship that's developed between the conference's newcomers.

"It's just great what they're doing, as well as what we're doing, because we're from the same conference," Keeton said. "We're trying to carry over the statement that the WAC wasn't a pushover conference."

Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.

FRIDAY'S GAME
Utah State (2-2, 1-0 MWC)
at SJSU (1-2, 0-0) , ESPN 6 p.m.