What we learned about San Jose State’s season-opening loss to No. 6 USC

7-8 minutes 8/27/2023
LOS ANGELES — Chevan Cordeiro will have a new No. 1 receiver this season with Elijah Cooks gone to the NFL. But in a twist Saturday night in San Jose State’s season-opening loss at No. 6 USC, his primary target was a guy who was challenging him for the Spartans’ quarterback job a year ago.
Cordeiro and Nick Nash connected six times for 89 yards and three touchdowns in the Spartans’ 56-28 loss at the L.A. Coliseum.
“This performance gave me a lot of confidence in myself and for (Cordeiro) to give me the ball,” said Nash, whose big night included a diving catch in the back corner of the end zone while being held on the play.
Nash is a full-time receiver after being in the QB mix since arriving in 2019, and his role may be expanding.
The Spartans were without their projected top receiver, Justin Lockhart, against the Trojans. The preseason All-Mountain West pick traveled with the team but watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes. Team officials declined to say why Lockhart did not play, but the junior did not participate in practices leading up to the USC game either.
Lockhart’s status is uncertain for the Spartans’ next Pac-12 test, Sunday in their home opener against Oregon State.
Against USC, Nash served as Cordeiro’s safety blanket on a night he struggled to find a rhythm throwing the ball to other receivers and tight ends who were dropping passes. It didn’t matter if Nash was double covered or if he had to fit the ball in a tight window, Cordeiro put his trust in the former QB to make a play.
“(Nick and I) have been building that connection since spring ball,” Cordeiro said. “Him being a quarterback really shows. He’s smart, he knows the coverages and he knows where he has to be to make me comfortable.”
SJSU head coach Brent Brennan said, “Nick Nash is a special kid and just to watch his transition, his development and his maturity, he’s always been a psychotic competitor. That hasn’t changed since he was playing quarterback for us as a true freshman.”
Off and running
SJSU struggled to get an effective running game going last season, rushing for more than 85 yards in just five games. The Spartans were held under 50 yards four times.
But the Spartans hit the ground running against USC, collecting 198 of their 396 yards of total offense on 27 rushing attempts (an average of 7.3 yards per carry). That’s an encouraging sign heading into a game against a stingy Oregon State defense that ranked 15th in the nation against the run last season, allowing 108.2 yards per game.
Cordeiro rushed for 52 yards to go with his 198 passing yards, and Kairee Robinson, last season’s leading rusher, added 28 on nine carries. But it was newcomer Quali Conley who was the biggest contributor, rushing for 108 yards on just six carries in his debut with the Spartans.
Conley, a junior, transferred to SJSU after rushing for 1,095 yards and eight touchdowns at Utah Tech last season.
How USC won it
The Spartans went into halftime with some juice as they were only down 21-14. SJSU had a chance to take over on downs early in the third quarter when the Spartans forced a fourth-and-3 on their own 43, but USC quarterback Caleb Williams completed a 23-yard pass to Mario Williams for a first down. USC went on to score on that possession to push its lead to 28-14.
From that point on, the touchdowns kept coming for the Trojans and the Spartans had no answer. The nail in the coffin came with 1:34 left in the third quarter when true freshman Zachariah Branch returned a 96-yard kickoff to the house to put the Trojans up 42-21.
“Honestly, there’s disappointment in our hearts right now because we had an opportunity for that thing to be a fight, like a close one,” Brennan said. “And I credit them. They made the plays. The kickoff coverage, we hit a flat kick in the middle of the field to the freshman, and he’s something else. Good lord, he was fantastic. We all saw him in high school, and you don’t get five stars by accident.”
Questions on defense
The losses of Junior Fehoko, Cade Hall and Kyle Harmon were evident in Saturday’s loss. Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy after last season, will make many defenses look silly this season, it wasn’t hard to tell that SJSU just didn’t have many playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
The SJSU defense had a difficult time keeping Williams contained as he completed 18 of 25 passes for 278 yards and 4 touchdowns. Williams played eight series, and the Trojans scored touchdowns on six of those.
Defensive lineman Tre Smith recorded SJSU’s lone sack and the Spartans had just three tackles for a loss.
“I think it falls back to the fact that we just need to make more plays, myself included,” Smith said. “We all just got to gel together as a cohesive unit and start making plays.”
Up next
The Spartans will play their home opener on Sept. 3 against No. 18 Oregon State — a rare Sunday college game.
SJSU will have to play another highly-touted quarterback in DJ Uiagalelei who was slated to be the heir apparent at Clemson to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson before transferring to Oregon State this year.
Brennan said playing Uiagalelei will be very different from playing Caleb Williams.
“I don’t think DJ and Caleb are alike outside of the fact that they’re both heavily recruited kids,” Brennan said. “I think DJ is a much different problem. He’s a much bigger man, a little bit more of a pure thrower.”
Oregon State is coming off a 10-3 season in which they defeated Florida in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl 30-3.

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