SAN JOSE — San Jose State’s quarterbacks and their coaches like to play trivia games such as ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader’ inside the football offices before and after breaking down game film.
Chevan Cordeiro, the Spartans’ starting quarterback, called it “classified information” when asked if he is, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader. But four games into the season, Cordeiro and the SJSU offense are taking opposing defenses to school.
Heading into Friday night’s first-place showdown against UNLV at CEFCU Stadium, the Spartans are averaging 26 points per game, third-best in the Mountain West, and their average of 367.5 yards per game is fourth in the conference.
A big reason the offense is running so smoothly for the Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Mountain West) is how efficient the passing game has been.
Cordeiro, the transfer from Hawaii, is second in the conference in passing yards per game (270) and is one of just three quarterbacks in the country to have thrown for 1,000-plus yards without an interception.
Cordeiro faces his biggest challenge yet on Friday night. The Rebels (4-1, 2-0 MW) are second in the nation with 11 interceptions.
Last weekend, in his first conference game as a Spartan, Cordeiro carved up Wyoming, propelling the Spartans to a 33-16 win and capturing Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“I was just going through my progressions, my reads and putting my eyes in the right spots,” said Cordeiro after throwing for 314 yards and one touchdown and rushing for two more scores
Cordeiro credits offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven for the seemingly seamless transition.
“I feel like coach McGiven’s offense is more advanced, where the defense can’t really pick it up as easily. It’s more ‘swaggy’,” said Cordeiro.
The “swaggy” aspect comes in the form of, “Different concepts. We like to motion a lot. Disguise our formations, double moves, trick plays. As a defensive coordinator, it’s not really obvious what kind of play we are going to run.”
Cordeiro also has done a good job of spreading the ball around, further keeping defenses guessing. Three different Spartans have led the team in receptions and receiving yards through the first four games.
Against Portland State in the season-opening win, Elijah Cooks caught a team-high six passes for 123 yards, and then led the team with eight catches for 177 yards against Wyoming.
Charles Ross caught a team-leading five passes for 89 yards against Auburn, and a week later against Western Michigan, Justin Lockhart’s 116 receiving yards led the team, but Sam Olson caught a team-best five passes.
Even the rushing game, which wasn’t much of a factor the first two games, is becoming a factor in the offense’s efficiency. After combining for 103 yards against Portland State and Auburn, the Spartans’ run attack made vast improvements, going for 270 yards against WMU and Wyoming.
“You got to pick your poison with us,” said SJSU running backs coach Alonzo Carter.
Cordeiro’s poise and command of the offense haven’t surprised SJSU head coach Brent Brennan. He’d witnessed Cordeiro in action three times when SJSU played Hawaii.
That’s why there was “zero hesitation” to reach out to Cordeiro when he entered the transfer portal following last season.
“It ripped through the building. Like, ‘Hey Chevan’s in the portal.’ It’s like errrr. Everyone’s trying to track him down,” said Brennan.
The following week, Brennan, McGiven and quarterbacks coach Lyle Moevao flew to Hawaii to meet with Cordeiro.
“We just sat around a picnic table and we talked,” said Brennan. “His mom and dad and his brothers were there and obviously Chevan, and it was a great conversation.
“It went from there.”
And now the Spartans appear to be serious contenders for the league title for the second time in three seasons.
Cordeiro’s statistics are not much different than the ones he racked up at Hawaii when he went 11-10 as a starter, including 1-2 against the Spartans. Having a defense that’s allowed 15.8 points per game, the second-fewest in the Mountain West, has taken some of the pressure off Cordeiro and the offense.
During Cordeiro’s three years as a starter, the Rainbow Warriors never finished in the top half of points allowed. In 2019 (31.9) and 2021 (31.4) they gave up the second- and third-most points in the conference.
“Of course our goal (as an offense) is to score every drive. But when we get stopped, we don’t feel down because we have faith in our defense,” Cordeiro said. “It really helps us. It gives us confidence. We are like, ‘We can score, we can play our ball, do our thing, not have to worry about scoring every drive.”
That’s a concept even a 5th grader can get behind.