MINNEAPOLIS -- San Jose State's defense showed it has some glaring issues as the Spartans were throttled by Minnesota 43-24 on Saturday.
For the second straight game, SJSU (1-2) was overpowered by a physical running game, this time allowing 353 yards to the Golden Gophers (4-0) in front of 45,647 at TCF Bank Stadium.
In the aftermath, the Spartans were left talking about a lack of physicality, poor fundamentals and an inability to read the opposing offense -- issues that could quickly derail a once-promising season.
"My big thing is that each week we get better," SJSU coach Ron Caragher said. "I'm not so sure we did this week."
SJSU next faces a tough Utah State team that lost 17-14 at USC on Saturday. The Aggies delivered a thorough beating to the Spartans last season, sacking David Fales 13 times in a 49-27 victory.
With an athletic quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, Utah State is already a matchup nightmare for a young SJSU defense on a team staring down a potential 1-3 start to the season.
Caragher acknowledged that his team was demoralized before amending himself to say they were only "down."
"Demoralized is more permanent," Caragher said. "We got knocked down with a punch. But you can stay down or you bounce back up and maybe get clear on what we need to do to improve as a football team."
Tackling seemed to be the biggest issue for SJSU in this loss, and the ability to bring down ball carriers without giving up extra yardage has been a problem in every game this year.
"It came down to fundamentals," said linebacker Keith Smith, who had a career-high 21 tackles. "Tackling is one of the biggest parts of the game. You can be in position all you want, but if you can't tackle, then what does it do for you?"
Cornerback Bené Benwikere blamed the effort on a failure to properly read Minnesota's offense.
"Not everyone was reading their keys on every play," Benwikere said. "At halftime alone, we pointed out a lot of mental mistakes where guys just weren't reading their keys. We were hoping to come out and make those corrections, and those corrections just weren't made."
SJSU has six first-year starters on defense, including three linebackers in the new 3-4 alignment that has not fared well against the physical running attacks of Stanford and Minnesota. Caragher conceded part of the issue right now is growing pains from inexperienced players.
"Our guys have got to learn, and they'll be physical coming out of these two weeks," Caragher said. "We have to be."
The defensive issues overshadowed a shining day for Fales and the offense. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to Chandlers Jones (seven catches, 197 yards).
The restructured offensive line -- Nicholas Kaspar moved back to right guard and David Peterson made his first career start at center -- had its best performance this year. Minnesota had no sacks and rarely put a hand on Fales.
The senior quarterback kept the Spartans within three points at halftime but was intercepted on the team's first drive of the third quarter, setting up a Gophers touchdown that turned the game against SJSU. Minnesota scored 23 unanswered points to start the second half.
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Utah State (2-2) at SJSU (1-2), ESPN 6 p.m.