Dec 31, 2020; Tucson, AZ, USA; San Jose State Spartans tight end Derrick Deese Jr. (87) is upended against the Ball State Cardinals in the first half of the Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State captures first bowl win in history vs. No. 22 San Jose State

No. 22 San Jose State was in a bind before Thursday’s Arizona Bowl started with eight coaches and players not available for undisclosed reasons, which contributed to the Spartans’ 34-13 loss to Ball State in Tucson.

Behind Drew Plitt’s 217 yards on 12-of-19 passing, the Cardinals (7-1) achieved their first bowl victory in program history and are now 1-8-1.

A few minutes before kickoff, San Jose State (7-1) announced offensive and defensive coordinators — Kevin McGiven and Derrick Odum, respectively — and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Cade Hall, a defensive end, were unavailable for the game.

Also not in Arizona Stadium were receiver Bailey Gaither, running back/kickoff returner Shamar Garrett, safety Tre Jenkins and offensive linemen Kyle Hoppe and Tyler Stevens.

Hall led San Jose State this season with 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss and was named a first-team All-America this week by the Sporting News.

The Spartans also lost tight end Derrick Deese, who had a team-high five touchdown receptions entering the game, after he hurt his neck early in the first quarter while making a reception.

Ball State stunned San Jose State with a 27-0 lead in the first quarter, and it maintained that advantage at halftime.

Antonio Phillips started the scoring returning an interception 53 yards to the end zone with 12:47 left in the first quarter.

Nick Starkel, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, threw the pick. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 268 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He sat out a possession in the second quarter because of a knee injury.

Will Jones and Tye Evans each scored on 3-yard runs in Ball State’s first two offensive possessions and then Plitt rushed in from a yard on a quarterback sneak to put the Cardinals ahead 27-0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.

His score occurred six plays after Ball State’s Nic Jones blocked a punt, giving the Cardinals the ball at the San Jose State 35.

Plitt’s 48-yard touchdown pass to Yo’Heinz Tyler with 9:42 left in the third quarter increased the lead to 34-0.

Charlie Bostic followed with a 99-yard kickoff return to put San Jose State on the board. A 2-point conversion pass failed.

Starkel’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jermai Braddock with 1 second left in the third quarter completed the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; San Jose, California, USA;  San Jose State Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel (17) passes the football during the first quarter against the UNLV Rebels at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 22 San Jose State, Ball State embrace trip to Arizona Bowl

San Jose State coach Brent Brennan and Ball State coach Mike Neu have never coached against each other because they have primarily operated in two different regions of the country throughout their coaching careers.

They have achieved similar success, however, with programs that will take part in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve at Tucson.

“I’ve been following him since he took over there,” Brennan said of Neu, who was hired by Ball State, his alma mater, in 2016. “And there’s a really similar path to ours. I think this is a really fascinating matchup, if you look to where he was in 2017 and ’18. There’s some real similarities there. What they’ve been able to do this year has been awesome.”

The 22nd-ranked Spartans (7-0) were 3-22 in Brennan’s first two seasons in 2017 and 2018. After going 5-7 last season, his team is unbeaten and Mountain West champions for the first time in program history.

Brennan is becoming a noted coaching candidate, specifically at Arizona, where he was a graduate assistant in 2000. He is also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year award.

Neu did not have more than four wins his first three seasons, but last year, the Cardinals went 5-7 and they are 6-1 this season with a Mid-American Conference title for the first time since 1996.

“(Playing in the Arizona Bowl) is a tremendous opportunity for our program,” Neu said. “A lot of hard work has to be done between now and then facing a great opponent in San Jose State. We’re really looking forward to it. A lot a lot of good preparation lies ahead here for the next several days before we get a chance to leave.”

Neu said that preparation includes becoming hydrated to better handle Tucson’s warmer weather than Muncie, Ind., this time of year. The last time Boise State has traveled this far west was in 1993 to play in the Las Vegas Bowl — when Neu was the starting quarterback.

“The first thing when we found out (when the bowl matchup was announced) we saw that it was 76 degrees in Tucson,” Neu said from Muncie, where the high was 44 with precipitation. “The first thing we have to communicate with our young men is hydration. That starts now.”

San Jose State features quarterback Nick Starkel, who completed 32 of 52 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountain West title win over Boise State. He broke former Fresno State star Derek Carr’s championship record of 404 yards passing set in 2013 in win against Utah State.

“Nick has put up a huge year,” said Neu, who was a quarterback coach with the New Orleans Saints before his hire at Ball State. “We’ll have a lot of tape here to study and put a great game plan together and go take on that challenge.”

Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt has also had a productive season passing for 1,937 yards while completing 152 out of 232 pass attempts in only seven games. He has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

–Field Level Media