San Jose State did not out-dazzle Grambling State's famed marching band Saturday. That was obvious when the musicians took the field at halftime and brought a record-setting Spartan Stadium crowd of 31,681 to its feet.
But the Spartans were electric enough -- OK, stingy was more like it -- to defeat Grambling's Division I-AA football team 29-0 in the inaugural Literacy Classic.
That the Spartans won was not surprising. After all, they had comfortably defeated the previous four I-AA teams they had played. No, the stunner was that San Jose State's defense, one of the nation's most generous under Coach Fitz Hill, overshadowed everything but the band.
``The game plan worked to perfection,'' Hill said.
The shutout was the Spartans' first since they walloped UNLV 42-0 in November 1988 and first at home since they blanked New Mexico State 14-0 in September 1984. Grambling had not been shut out since 2000.
The defense even produced a touchdown when safety Gerald Jones stepped in front of a Bruce Eugene pass and returned it 46 yards to the end zone to make it 26-0 early in the fourth quarter. It was Jones' third return for a score in 13 games with the Spartans.
Hill called Jones' nose for the ball ``instinctive.'' Jones said: ``I just try to do my job. It was some great pressure by Josh Powell, and the quarterback just tried to get rid of the ball. I just happened to catch it.''
Hill and his coaches devised a game plan for Grambling and their team's next three opponents (Florida, Stanford and Nevada) in June. The plan Saturday was not complex: allow Eugene to throw short passes but do not yield big plays. The Southwestern Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year completed 23 of 47 passes for 210 yards, well below the 343-yard average he recorded last season.
``I figured Coach Hill was going to work on pass defense,'' Grambling Coach Doug Williams said. ``They took away some of the things we wanted to do, and up front they got through the line a couple of times, put pressure on Bruce and kept him from really stepping up.''
Kendrick Starling got San Jose State off to a good start, returning the opening kickoff 71 yards to Grambling's 27. But the Spartans failed to gain a first down.
SJSU generated all the points it would need when Scott Rislov tossed a short pass to Leon Pinky and then watched the tight end turn it into a 20-yard touchdown reception. Not bad for Pinky's first catch as a Spartan.
Jeff Carr made it 10-0 with a 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Late in the first half, San Jose State drove to the Grambling 5 before a holding penalty and an intentional-grounding call cost the Spartans 24 yards. Carr eventually missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt that would have made it 13-0 at halftime.
``It was frustrating because we knew we could do some things against them that they probably weren't going to be able to stop,'' said Rislov, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 321 yards. ``And we were basically stopping ourselves. Our offense didn't really have a rhythm going there, and those turnovers hurt us even more.''
After Carr hit a 47-yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Spartans put the Tigers away when freshman running back Yonus Davis ran in from the 2, stretching the lead to 19-0 with 13:09 to play. Davis rushed for a team-high 69 yards in 16 carries.
When Hill had the chance to reflect on a game that drew the Spartans' first home sellout since 1990, he was satisfied about having a victory. But he knows plenty of work must be done before the Spartans' game next Saturday at Florida.