Who: Fresno State (6-2, 3-1 MW)@No.21 SDSU (7-0, 3-0 MW)
Where: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA
When: Saturday, October 30, 2021, 7:30PM
How to Watch: Game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network
After getting the hard-fought victory against Nevada last week, first place in the Mountain West’s West Division is on the line in Carson this weekend as the Dogs travel to face undefeated and No.21 San Diego State. A game pitting two vastly different offensive philosophies against each other for the Old Oil Can trophy, and the inside track for the Mountain West Championship Game. Let’s take a look at what will be the deciding factors in this game.
Even after Rocky Long left San Diego and Brady Hoke returned, the glacial but bruising offense has been the cornerstone of the Aztecs offensively to a 7-0 start. SDSU has played stifling defense, a controlling offense predicated on the ground game, and a stellar special teams player in Matt Araiza. Saturday night though will be their toughest test of the season, as they have not faced a team that airs the ball out as much as the Bulldogs. The best offense they’ve faced so far this season has been Utah, but their high rating has been a consequence of their QB switch. Now they face the QB with the 3rd most passing yards in the country and a team passing for the 9th most in the nation.
Running the ball has been San Diego’s calling card, and they have a trio of dangerous runners moving behind an experienced offensive line. Greg Bell has been the premier back for the Aztecs, generating 603yds so far this season, with both Chance Bell and Greg Byrd showing their strengths with 3 rushing TDs each. If Fresno State wants to win this pivotal game, they will need to contain the running game like they did against Wyoming two weeks ago. The Aztecs have tried two different QBs so far, with Lucas Johnson expected to start against Fresno State. Neither QB has been particularly effective, with Johnson going 11-13 last week for only 72 yards. His highest output of the season was against Towson, but that only yielded 149yds through the air on 16 completions. Due to this, expect to see Fresno State crowd the line of scrimmage and force the Aztecs to try to pass the ball on them.
Defensively, San Diego’s 3-3-5 defense should be well known to the Bulldogs, especially since they have to play against it with New Mexico as well. The defense has been very effective so far, surrendering only 279yds/gm. The most they’ve given up so far was 350yds to San Jose State, although that was a 2OT game, so those numbers may be a bit skewed. Either way, they will be an incredibly stingy test for a high-powered Bulldog offense. It will be similar to playing Wyoming’s unit, which forced Fresno State to go to the ground almost exclusively to great effect. Containing Cameron Thomas and Jonah Tavai will be important for the revitalized O-Line if they want any running lanes for Jordan Mims, Ronnie Rivers, or Jalen Cropper. They may try to work the edges more than they did against Nevada as a way to generate yards while keeping the D-Line from getting too much pressure in the middle.
If there is something that can help Fresno State in this game, it is their passing attack, and the ability to have backs catch the ball out of the backfield, adding more weapons for Jake Haener if the downfield game is not open. Also look for more opportunities for tight ends used as blockers before slipping down the seam.
Predictions and Preview:
This may be one of the most evenly matched games of the season, given how strong SDSU’s defense has been, and how prolific Fresno’s offense has been. On the other side, the Bulldog defense is quite improved, and the Aztec offense has been pedestrian at best. They will need to watch out for all-world punter Matt Araiza and his ability to pin offenses back, with 80+yd punts the last two weeks.
Everyone seems to see that this game is about as close of a margin as can be. Las Vegas has the line currently as Fresno State as 1 point favorites. ESPN’s FPI has SDSU favored as a 53% favorite, while Bill Connelly’s numbers have the Aztecs winning by 1.
No matter who wins this game, it has all the makings of an old school rock fight game. I don’t think we’ll see anything near like the 2012 matchup between these two that was a 52-40 Bulldog win. Where I see the biggest difference being is what happens to SDSU’s offense if Fresno State can get a lead? The Aztecs have not shown an ability to strike quickly and come back fast, so if the Dogs can start quickly (big if there), they may be able to keep san Diego at arm’s length. I think Fresno gets the oil can back, and go over the spread by a bit, but it will not be a blowout. My prediction for this game is going to be-