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Film Study: Utah State’s defense shines against San Diego State

Aztecs can’t climb out of early hole

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Utah State at San Diego State Photo by Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Utah State Aggies begin their conference slate 1-0 with a 23-17 win on the road over the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday night.

In this Mountain West Connection Film Study, we break down some of the key factors that helped Utah State pull it off.

The first thing you have to mention was how well the Aggie defense played against the Aztec rushing game. San Diego State came into the night rushing for 163 yards per game, but was held to only 91 yards on 46 carries — that’s a lowly 2 yards per carry.

Five Utah State defenders racked up five or more tackles, including David Woodward (13), DJ Williams (12), Kevin Meitzenheimer (9), Shaq Bond (8) and Justus Te’i (5). Woodward was his usual incredible self, but I’d like to highlight Bond, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound safety who was all over the place.

Bond was the one who put San Diego State in a 7-3 hole with a 48-yard pick-six in the first quarter. In the GIF below, notice how Bond plucks the ball out of the air after Aztec receiver Kobe Smith can’t haul it in. Smith is on a drag route, and maybe didn’t give full attention to the ball with Utah State D-lineman Hale Motu’apuaka sinking into coverage:

In the below GIF, Bond gets a touchdown-saving tackle on an outside-zone run from running back Chase Jasmin, who cuts up the field and had a blocker in front of him. Look at the ground Bond makes up from his field safety position:

Williams, a 5-9, 180-pound corner, had himself a day, too. He’s a guy that isn’t afraid to lay a hit. He’s pretty crafty getting around blocks, as you can see in the below GIF. Williams, the boundary corner, sniffs out the receiver screen and dips under both block attempts from the tight end and guard:

After starting the game well converting third downs in the first quarter, San Diego State’s offense struggled the rest of the contest in that department. The Aztecs finished the game by converting 8 of 19.

On the below GIF, Utah State defensive end/linebacker, Te’i, knifes into the backfield for a tackle for loss. The Aggies capitalized on this stop and went on a five-play drive capped off with a field goal to go up 13-3 in the second:

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who went 30 of 47 for 293 yards, played pretty well against a stout San Diego State defense, especially with his arm on third down. Love’s connection with Utah transfer receiver Siaosi Mariner is going to hurt a lot of the Mountain West defenses this season.

The 6-2, 195-pound Mariner had seven catches for 74 yards on Saturday, many of them coming on third down:

With San Diego State’s ground game held in check and its passing attack not producing for the first three quarters, the Aggies were ahead comfortably at halftime, leading 20-3.

Utah State tacked on another field goal in the third and continued to shut out the Aztecs, but San Diego State finally got its passing game to work in the fourth.

Aztec quarterback Ryan Agnew went 20 of 37 for 281 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, and one of this touchdowns was a lucky one, as you can see in the GIF below. This is just keeping the play alive and finding the receiver that Utah State stopped covering:

San Diego State’s receivers helped out their quarterback, too, like on this acrobatic 20-yard catch from Jesse Matthews. Again, credit Agnew for keeping the play alive:

That catch from Matthews helped set up Agnew’s second touchdown pass, this 49-yarder to Isaiah Richardson, who housed a slant on fourth-and-5 that cut the deficit to 23-17 with five minutes left in the game:

After Utah State missed a 42-yard field goal that would have made it a two-score game, San Diego State had a chance to tie or win with a touchdown, but the Aggie defense stiffened, and the Aztecs never got anything going.

Utah State’s offense scored just one touchdown on Saturday, but San Diego State’s defense is going to do that to a lot of offenses. I have no doubt the Aggies will pile up the points this season just like they did last year.

If the Aggie defense does its part, like it did against San Diego State, Utah State will challenge Boise State as the Mountain division winner.