Cordeiro keeps San Jose State’s offense moving heading into Mountain West opener vs. Air Force

QB Chevan Cordeiro has thrown for 783 yards and six TDs despite the Spartans’ challenging non-conference schedule

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Overall, San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is having a better season than you might expect.

The Spartans are 1-3 entering Friday night’s Mountain West Conference opener against Air Force, but Cordeiro is putting up numbers similar to last season, when he was second-team all-conference and helped lead SJSU to a seven-win season and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Despite a brutal season-opening schedule that included two top-20 teams and another defending conference champion, the senior is on pace to pass for around 2,500 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. The Spartans have played the ninth-toughest schedule in the country so far this season, according to SportSource Analytics.

“He’s such a valuable asset to our team,” said SJSU coach Brent Brennan this week. “On offense, we go with him a little bit.”

The Hawaii product has passed for 783 yards and six touchdowns with one interception in four games. Cordeiro had his best statistical game in the team’s season-opening loss to 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and No. 5 USC, throwing three touchdowns and passing for 198 yards.

Cordeiro had not thrown an interception in 117 attempts (the longest streak in the country this season) until late in last weekend’s 21-17 loss at Toledo. Cordeiro had passed for more yards but fewer touchdowns with a lower completion percentage through SJSU’s first four games last season. He had 3,251 yards passing, 23 touchdowns, and six interceptions on the season.

And there’s reason to believe his numbers will improve during conference play.

Despite the absence of preseason all-conference receiver Justin Lockhart, who did not play in the first four games and will undergo season-ending surgery on an undisclosed injury, and other key offensive players like running back Kaire Robinson and tight end Dominick Mazotti, Cordeiro has kept the SJSU offense humming. And don’t forget that Cordeiro’s top target from last season, Elijah Cooks, is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.

Cordeiro, who transferred from Hawaii and is now in his second season with the Spartans, is climbing the ladders of all-time record lists and achieving milestones that only a small group of college quarterbacks achieve in their careers.

Earlier this season, the sixth-year quarterback broke into the Mountain West Top-10 in career passing touchdowns, and he recently passed 10,000 career passing yards. He is currently tied for seventh with 74 career touchdowns, with Brett Smith (Wyoming) coming in second at 76.

But, for Cordeiro, records and accolades are meaningless without wins, which has fueled him even more to help turn around this season.

“To be honest, I don’t really look at those milestones because that’s all really in the past,” Cordeiro explained. “I’m really focused on Air Force and winning the rest of the season.”

“I’ve never once heard (Cordeiro) talk about individual accolades,” offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven added. The ultimate goal is to win a Mountain West Championship, and whatever comes with it is fantastic, but he’s never mentioned or made accolades a part of his goals.”

It’s not going to get any easier on Friday night. Air Force (3-0, 1-0 MW) led the country in total defense, allowing the fewest total yards and yards per game.

“On Friday, we just have to show who the more disciplined team is and do our jobs,” Cordeiro said.

The game begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at CEFCU Stadium.

Putting an end to the triple option

In an era when most college football teams prefer to spread out their defense and throw, the Air Force runs the ball more than any other team in the country, employing the triple option, the same offense that the Falcons used in the 1980s.

Air Force has only 10 pass attempts (six completed) for 193 yards in three games, the fewest among the 130 FBS teams. However, their average of 320.7 rushing yards per game leads the nation (no one else averages 300).

Physicality and winning the line of scrimmage have been emphasized by SJSU players as some of the keys to stopping the Falcons’ ground attack, which has averaged nearly 60 rushing attempts per game. Air Force rushed 64 times for 344 yards and five touchdowns in a 39-21 Mountain West opener win over Utah State last weekend.

“We have to be ready to knuckle down,” SJSU linebacker Bryun Parham said. “I like to play physically. “All I’m going to do is prepare and be ready to resort to violence at any cost.”

Brennan has faced Air Force twice as Spartans head coach, but the triple option continues to pose problems for him and the Spartans.

“(The offense) changes a little bit every year,” Brennan explained. “They do an excellent job of adjusting to their personnel… They’ve had to figure out how to be effective within the new rules structure, and they’ve done so successfully. It really stands out to me.”

Increasing production in the passing game

Last weekend in Toledo, SJSU’s offense lost another key piece in the passing game when starting tight end Sam Olson left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.

Nick Nash has performed admirably as the Spartans’ No. 1 receiver, leading the team in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns. However, in addition to Nash, the Spartans will need to find other players who can consistently step up in the passing game.

Air Force leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 44.7 yards per game while not allowing a rushing touchdown in three games. If the Spartans can get Cordeiro through the air, it will open up the offense and allow SJSU to play faster.

McGiven was encouraged to see junior receivers Malikhi Miller and Charles Ross participate more in the offense against Toledo.

“We need to see (Miller and Ross) develop,” McGiven said. “We need to surround (Cordeiro) with tools and people he can trust.” Those are two capable players, and we must continue to give them opportunities.”

Miller had four receptions for 50 yards against Toledo, while Ross had three receptions for 21 yards.

— SJSU defeated Air Force 17-6 in their last meeting in 2020. The Spartans have won seven of their last eight games at home and three of their last four Friday night games.

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