When it comes to the NFL draft, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr may win the war but on Friday, San Jose State's David Fales won the battle, as his Spartans shocked the previously undefeated Bulldogs, ruining their chances at a BCS bowl berth.
Fales matched the more highly regarded Carr pass for pass in this contest, throwing for a career-high 549 yards and six touchdowns to lead his Spartans to a 62-52 victory over the No. 16 ranked Bulldogs.
The two quarterbacks combined for 12 touchdowns in the first half - the same number as incompletions thrown over the first 30 minutes of action before each team turned more to their running game in the second half.
Possessing greater height, arm strength and overall athleticism, Carr entered the game as the more hyped prospect but it was Fales who performed more impressively down the stretch, completing 37 of 45 passes on the day.
While Fales may not possess Carr's exciting upside, his vision, touch and ball placement rank among the best in the country. A beautiful deep ball down the middle to wideout Kyle Nunn for a 75-yard touchdown late in the first quarter showcased Fales' strengths perfectly.
The senior quarterback recognized the one on one coverage and lofted the ball with perfect trajectory, dropping the pass softly over the shoulder into the out-stretched hands of his receiver. Nunn was tightly covered but because the pass hit him in full stride, he was able to race away for the score.
A quarter later, Fales' accuracy proved just as impressive on touchdown strike to freshman Tyler Winston down the left sideline. This time, the Spartans' quarterback recognized that the Bulldogs were in a traditional two-deep zone coverage. Fales drilled a pass between Fresno's trailing corner and closing safety, proving that he possesses the confidence and velocity to fit throws through tight windows.
Carr completed 38 of 50 passes for 519 yards and six touchdowns. Carr, however, did most of his damage in the first half and underthrew a pass in the fourth quarter that was intercepted as the Bulldogs attempted a comeback.
While neither defense is exactly loaded with future NFL All-Pros, Friday's showdown of Mountain West Conference quarterbacks wasn't a case of spread offenses beating overmatched defenses with scheme or speed. In this case, it was pure surgery from two of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country.
Carr, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior quarterback and the first player at his position to accept an invitation to the 2014 Senior Bowl, was dazzling throughout much of this contest. Demonstrating a combination of arm strength, accuracy and underrated athleticism, Carr showed the form to warrant his ascent to No. 12 overall on my Big Board.
Perhaps the most underrated element of Carr's game is his athleticism. Taking the snap from shotgun on virtually every snap, Carr didn't have to avoid pressure often. When he did, however, Carr showed good vision, lateral agility and speed to elude. He kept his eyes downfield and completed passes when receivers were able to break open late but also showed the decisiveness to scramble when easy yards were available. One six-yard scramble for a first down midway through the second quarter was particularly impressive. While the play, which came on 2nd and 5, may not look like much on the stat-sheet, Carr first drifted back, then to his left where he tight-roped the sideline, before breaking back to his right to out-race SJSU defenders up the middle before sliding down safely for the "easy" gain.
The strong-armed senior has always had the zip to wow scouts, demonstrating a Jay Cutler-like fastball. Seemingly every time the Bulldogs needed a big play, Carr was able to hit redshirt sophomore wideout Davante Adams with a deep out or stop-fade. The passes, thrown before his receiver had made his break, were on time and on target, making the tough throws scouts often use as a barometer for quarterbacks look easy.
Further, Carr has made strides this season with touch passes. Some of his most impressive throws on the day, in fact, were fades to either direction for touchdowns in the corners of the end zone.
Because it was the only interception thrown in the game, Carr's mistake will unfortunately be magnified. It wasn't a poor decision but was underthrown. SJSU linebacker Keith Smith read the play and timed his leap well, latching on to the ball in front of Adams, the intended receiver. The timing of the turnover was key, however, as the Bulldogs were down 59-44 with 10:47 remaining in the game. It was Carr's first interception in 306 passing attempts.