SAN JOSE -- A lot of factors have led to San Jose State's 4-1 start, but few have the impact of one of the most improved pass rushes in the nation.
The Spartans have already surpassed last season's sack total and are averaging three more sacks per game than a year ago. Only Tulsa, which leads the nation in sacks, has shown better improvement.
Greater depth is a key. SJSU can throw in waves of quality defenders.
"I think that helps you be able to rush the passer if you're a little bit fresher," said coach Mike MacIntyre, whose Spartans are on bye this week.
SJSU is tied for second in the nation in total sacks (22) and sacks per game (4.4) and tied for fifth with 8.6 tackles for loss per game. The Spartans had only 16 sacks last year.
Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat, a 15-year NFL veteran, and defensive coordinator Kent Baer have made the most of their additional talent.
"Coach Jeffcoat has done a great job with the defensive line," MacIntyre said. "And then Coach Baer, the different schemes we've thrown at people, we're not sitting in the same thing."
Senior defensive end Travis Johnson has continued his torrid pace of last season. He has 71/2 sacks and remains the nation's active career leader with 261/2. He's on pace to break SJSU's career sack record of 30 and single-season record of 17.
But unlike last year, when Johnson was the only Spartan with more than one sack, he's had some help.
Defensive tackle Travis Raciti has 31/2 sacks. Fellow tackle Anthony Larceval and linebacker Vince Buhagiar have three each, and defensive end David Tuitipou has 21/2.
Seven players have at least one sack, and 10 have at least one tackle for loss. On the defensive line, there's a shift in focus with players other than Johnson delivering.
"There was no respect for the three other guys," Raciti said. "But as time goes along, as we keep proving teams wrong, they're starting to respect all four of us as a unit."
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli was on hand for the Spartans' win over the Midshipmen and flew back to the Bay Area on SJSU's charter flight.
The San Francisco-based bowl has a direct tie-in to invite Navy if the Mids reach six wins. But if Navy can't fill the spot, the bowl has backup agreements with the Western Athletic Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Despite SJSU's low home attendance numbers, the local team would figure to be an attractive choice for the Dec. 29 game at AT&T Park against a Pac-12 team.
"We would always love to have a strong presence," MacIntyre said. "The ones that are there have been really loud. I think we'll have a good crowd (next) weekend. That's out of our control. Our control is to win football games, and I do believe the more football games you win, the more people will come."
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