SAN JOSE -- San Jose State linebacker Keith Smith plans to keep his trash talking clean this week when he faces San Diego State running back Adam Muema, a former high school teammate.
"I feel like I know him a lot," Smith said. "I know certain things that can get in his head. But at the end of the day, we're still family. In high school, we were best friends. We've got that brother bond, but you know it's going to be a battle."
Smith and Muema went to Charter Oak High-Covina in Southern California. During their senior season in 2009, Smith had 132 tackles and was the Miramonte League defensive player of the year. Muema rushed for 1,936 yards and 23 touchdowns and was the offensive player of the year.
Both have continued their success in college. Smith, a senior, is a three-time all-conference player who leads the nation in tackles per game. Muema, a fourth-year junior, rushed for 1,458 yards last year and is averaging 141 yards per game in Mountain West play this season entering Saturday's 7:30 p.m. meeting at Spartan Stadium.
Muema had a monster outing last year against San Jose State, rushing for 202 yards. He had an 83-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But Smith got the last laugh when the Spartans rallied for a 38-34 victory.
"He had a great game against us, and I continue to tell him, 'I'm coming after you,' " Smith said. "I know he's going to bring his 'A' game, too, because that's the kind of person he is."
Kaehler took over for Adam Dingwell during a loss to Ohio State and has been the starter ever since. He nearly led an upset the following week against former high school rival Sean Mannion (Foothill-Pleasanton) and Oregon State. Since then, the Aztecs' only loss was in overtime to No. 17 Fresno State.
With those close calls to the Beavers and Bulldogs, San Diego State is a just a few plays away from being in the midst of a great season. But it is also shockingly close to experiencing a disastrous one.
The Aztecs' season started with a blowout loss to Eastern Illinois, a Football Championship Subdivision team, and they struggled against several other subpar teams. They needed fourth-quarter rallies to beat New Mexico State (1-8) and Air Force (2-7). They allowed 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to Nevada (3-6) before winning in overtime and are fresh off a tight game against New Mexico (2-6).
But the Spartans (5-3, 4-1) aren't overlooking San Diego State, which has improved with Kaehler at quarterback and as Muema overcame an early-season ankle injury.
"It kind of makes me think of ourselves," SJSU quarterback David Fales said. "You had a gut check in those first few games and see what you want to do. I'm sure they had a lot of senior leadership and veterans and say, 'This isn't us, let's turn it around.' It's hard to judge a team off those early games."
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San Diego State (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) at San Jose State (5-3, 4-1), 7:30 p.m. CBSSN