The San Diego State Aztecs (2-3, 1-1 Mountain West) will look to bounce back from their first conference loss of the season at Fresno State when they take on the New Mexico Lobos (2-3, 0-1 MW) tomorrow in Albuquerque.
SDSU true freshman quarterback Nick Bawden made his debut last Friday, and as expected, struggled a bit out of the gate. Bawden threw for just 84 yards while tossing two picks and one touchdown.
With senior Quinn Kaehler’s shoulder injury still serious enough to keep him out another week, head coach Rocky Long and the Aztecs will have to put their faith in the gun-slinging freshman yet again.
New Mexico features one of the more exciting offenses in college football: the triple option. The offense averages over 400 yards of per game, and on the ground it averages averages a little over 320 yards per game--good for fifth-best in the country.
The Lobos use a dual quarterback system, consisting of junior Cole Gautsche and redshirt-freshman Lamar Jordan. But neither quarterback actually throws the ball much at all. They have a combined 45 pass attempts on the season.
There’s no questioning that this game will be decided on the ground, considering that is where both these teams thrive.
Let’s take a look at three keys to SDSU winning its second conference game of the season against the Lobos.
Open Up the Playbook
It seems to get more redundant every week, but the play-calling from offensive coordinator Bob Toledo has been under fire all season.
To be fair, Toledo had just one week to prepare a true freshman for a Division-I rivalry game, but clearly the game-plan for did not pan out as he had wished.
The first play of the game, Bawden uncorked a long ball--which landed 20 yards in front of the receiver--showing that SDSU had their freshman and is wasn’t afraid to use him. However, after that play it seemed like the playbook shrunk to about three plays: a screen pass to sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey, a handoff up the middle to Pumphrey and one passing play.
The Lobos give up more than 500 yards of offense per game, so it may be time to open up the playbook and let Bawden showcase his abilities.
Run Bawden, run!
It took until the second half, but SDSU fans got a little taste of Bawden's athleticism last Friday night. He compiled 48 yards on the ground, almost all coming in the second half, and averaged 4.5 yards per rush.
In Bawden’s best drive of the game, in which he threw his first touchdown, he managed to make several plays with his feet that helped pick up key first downs. It looked as if the more comfortable Bawden felt throughout the game, the more comfortable he was taking off and running.
This being only his second game, it’s understandable to think that Bawden will look to force plays with his big arm. However, when you have a team like New Mexico who runs the ball often and successfully, SDSU needs to avoid quick three-and-outs that will force their defense onto the field for long stretches of time without much rest.
If Bawden can use his feet to extend drives, the offense should function very well in this game.
Need to tackle
The SDSU defense has had its troubles this year with missed tackles, but if there was ever a game to fix those problems, it would be this week.
It’s no secret what New Mexico likes to do on offense; they run the ball almost every play out of the triple option. They have a handful of playmakers that will make you miss and break tackles easily.
SDSU has been getting a solid pass rush (six sacks against UNLV), but it will need to focus on tackling more than blitzing this week.
Arguably the weakest area of this defense is its young secondary unit that has had trouble tackling and in pass coverage. Without the consistent threat of a New Mexico pass, the secondary should be able to focus on open field tackling.
The spotlight is on this week for sophomores Malik Smith, Na’im McGee, Damontae Kazee, and redshirt freshman Trey Lomax. If they don't fix their tackling issues that have plagued them all season, the Lobos could run all over them.
Prediction: SDSU 24 - UNM 20