It’s Viva Las Vegas for the San Diego State Aztecs (10-3) and the Houston Cougars (9-3). Normally, the matchup of Mountain West against American Athletic intrigues small fan bases, but a highly visible running back and a once-top 10 ranked team has made this game. a must watch across the country. The safe bet is that this matchup is the best Group of 5 matchups.
Last year, the Las Vegas Bowl gave the college football elites a taste of the Holy War. This year is the Bowl of Missed Opportunities. For Houston, early non-conference victories against Oklahoma and Louisville propelled them into the early favorite for a New Year’s bowl game, but a loss against Navy sabotaged their chance to play against a top Power-5 school.
For San Diego State, we all know the story. Once Heisman-hopeful Donnel Pumphrey carried the team on his back through their wins, until their loss against South Alabama took them out of the running as well.
The Aztecs will face a team that carries a chip on their shoulder, but the Aztecs are excited that they are not playing too far from home against a quality opponent. The Aztecs have something to prove on Saturday.
Here are the Aztecs’ keys to victory
WHO WINS AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE?
San Diego State faces a Houston team that features aggressive DT Ed Oliver. Only a freshman, Oliver was ranked 4th in NCAA in tackles (43) and 9th in NCAA in TFL (19.5). His contributions has put the Houston defense third in nation with 97.9 yards a game.
SDSU All-American Nico Siragusa has to lead the offensive line to make blocks and open space for the running backs. Pumphrey can clinch the all-time record for rushing with just 108 yards, but as we all saw in the MW Championship game, those yards might be harder to come by and Rashaad Penny might actually have to do more of the running. It’s going to be tough again.
BET ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cougars don’t know what their dealing with in MW Special Teams Player of the Year Rashaad Penny. The California Golden Bears made a mistake kicking to him earlier in the season and surprisingly Wyoming did the same. Even if Penny doesn’t take it to the house, his legs in open space can give the Aztecs better field positioning. Again Penny might over take Pumphrey and put the team on his back.
LET THE DEFENSE RIDE
To no one’s surprise but the national audience, the Wyoming offense was shut down by Damontae Kazee where he intercepted Josh Allen twice, including a fumbled pick-6. Losing back to back games helped focus the defense and turn their ship around. However, Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. has 3,328 yards, 22 TDs passing and 518 yards, 9 TDs rushing. The Aztecs clearly had trouble with the Wyoming QB the first time around., and it’s hard to tell if the Aztecs are ready to take on another dual-threat quarterback.
It’s going to be close. The Cougars offense might be too much for the Aztecs defense and the Aztecs might ditch the run by the 3rd quarter. However, throw in Houston’s sudden head coaching change, and let’s see how prepared the Major Applewhite-led Cougars fare in the desert. Rocky Long has prepared them for a quality opponent, and he expects not to be let down. The defense will carry the Aztecs in the second half and into a trophy ceremony on ESPN.
San Diego State 34, Houston 31