The San Diego State Aztecs are heading north to the "potato" state this weekend to take on the Boise State Broncos in a matchup riddled with storylines on and off the field.
This is a must win for both teams, San Diego State needs to keep up with Nevada and Boise State needs to win to stay in first place of the Mountain Division by owning the tiebreaker over Colorado State. A Broncos' victory would also have some special meaning as they have lost to the Aztecs in their previous two match ups. SDSU is also coincidentally the last team to beat the Broncos on their signature blue turf. On the flip side, a victory for SDSU would make them bowl eligible for the fifth straight year, the longest streak in school history.
More importantly, however, is the on field storylines between the high-octane, offensive-minded Broncos and the stingy, scrappy defense of the Aztecs. Nationally, SDSU ranks 18th and 28th in scoring and total defense, respectively, whereas, BSU ranks 16th and eighth in scoring and total offense.
BSU offense vs. SDSU defense
San Diego State runs the 3-3-5 defense, one of the most intricate and unorthodox defensive schemes in the nation. It can be daunting for players unknowledgeable of the system. However, Broncos quarterback Grant Hedrick and star running back Jay Ajayi are familiar with this scheme after receiving a crash course last season in their overtime loss in Qualcomm Stadium.
Heading into this matchup the Broncos are on a four-game winning streak and are firing on all cylinders offensively. Hedrick has connected on 74 percent of his passes for 1,313 yards and 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Not to be outdone by his signal caller, Ajayi has amassed nine touchdowns and over 589 yards, or 147.25 yards per game, on 114 attempts on the ground.
Even though the Broncos can boast the most balanced and potent offense in the Mountain West, the Aztecs can match them punch for punch, priding themselves on the top defense in the conference. SDSU has only given up an average of 144 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game. Behind the stellar play of the starting front six, especially that of linebacker Calvin Munson, defensive lineman Alex Barrett and linebacker Cody Galea, who have accounted for 32 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
The Aztecs' secondary is not afraid to use its athleticism to its advantage and is very opportunistic, especially in man-to-man situations. They have accounted for five interceptions and 24 pass breakups on the season. But they play a high-risk, high-reward style, sometimes playing the ball instead of the man. This will play greatly into the favor of wide receivers Thomas Sperback and Shane Williams-Rhodes as they will look for separation and give Hedrick easy passing lanes.
SDSU offense vs. BSU defense
With 1,216 rushing yards -- seventh in the nation -- at a clip of 6.6 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns on the ground, Donnel Pumphrey is definitely the star of SDSU's offense and will be a key to stop. Chase Price, 436 rushing yards and four touchdowns, will also play a factor in the run game and bring that power running between the tackles.
This run game will be one of the best one-two punches the Broncos will face this season -- not counting Air Force or New Mexico, both of which are triple-option teams. Look for Boise State to stack the box early in the downs to try to prevent Pumphrey and Price from finding a groove in the run game and force them into long third-down situations.
Aztecs' head coach Rocky Long is not afraid to go to his quarterback Quinn Kaehler even though he has received little from his senior starter. On the season Kaehler is firing a 58.3 percent completion rate and averaging only 164.8 yards per game. Add on seven touchdowns compared to his eight interceptions and the aerial attack of the Aztecs is not that impressive. However, to Kaehler's credit, he has battled a shoulder injury to his throwing shoulder and was without his go-to receiver Ezell Ruffin for six weeks. With Ruffin back in the lineup and Eric Judge emerging as a reliable receiver, the Broncos cannot completely ignore the pass.
The Aztecs are heading to Boise with a 1-4 record on the road this season, mustering only 17 points per game, while the Broncos are a perfect 4-0 on their unique turf, where they score about 41 points on average. There will be no upset here as BSU will be ready to for its Southern California conference opponent this time around. The game will be close in the first half, but will eventually be broken open in the fourth quarter. The Broncos will have trouble with Long's 3-3-5 scheme, but will come out in the second half and start to pull away from the Aztecs.
Prediction: Broncos win 30-20