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Mountain West Conference Championship: No. 19 San Diego State hosts Utah State Aggies

The cinderella story and the conference powerhouse battle for the MW title

#19 San Diego State Aztecs (11-1, 7-1) vs Utah State Aggies (9-3, 6-2)

WHEN: Saturday, December 4th. Kick off is set for 12:00pm PT

WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA

HOW TO WATCH: FOX Sports

HEAD TO HEAD: SDSU has an overall record of 13-2 vs Utah State and has won their most recent matchup, 38-7 at Utah State during the shortened season of 2020. Despite the winning history for the Aztecs in this matchup, the Aggies beat the Aztecs in 2019 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, 23-17.

Now it’s championship week and this meeting will be arguably the most important in both programs’ history, considering this one is for all the marbles. This will be the second time Utah State is playing in the championship game, as their first time was the inaugural game in 2013 which they lost to Fresno State.

The Aztecs have played in this game twice and won both times in back-to-back years (2015, 2016).

San Diego State will look to go 3 for 3 in Mountain West Championship games and keep their historic season alive with a chance to play in either the Las Vegas Bowl or one of New Years’ Six bowls, if they are ranked higher than the champions of the AAC, CUSA, MAC and Sun Belt.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR SDSU

SDSU started the season 7-0 before falling to Fresno State in Week 9. Since then, they have won four in a row and got some momentum coming into the championship game. It will take momentum and confidence to take down the cinderella story of Utah State who has cemented themselves as a top team in the conference.

It will take a lot of firepower from the Aztec offense if SDSU is going to claim the Mountain West title. With Utah State allowing 163.8 yards per game on the ground (8th worst in the conference) SDSU will be able to do what they do best which is smash mouth football, running the ball at any given moment.

Greg Bell will be an obvious weapon on offense for SDSU and will be a key to victory if he can show out. Bell finished the year with just under 1,000 yards rushing at 949 yards on 209 carries, which is ranked 4th in the Mountain West. For reference on how much SDSU runs the ball, QB Lucas Johnson has the most passing yards on the team with 1,091 yards on 114 completions.

Getting Greg Bell and the rest of the running back core started early will be essential for a win. The Aztecs are 52-2 in their last 54 games when rushing for over 200 yards and are 4-0 this year when doing so. The passing game is available for the Aztecs as they aren’t the worst team in the conference, so utilizing both game plans will allow for success in this one.

An important player to watch as well for SDSU is punter and placekicker Matt Araiza, who has won multiple Special Teams Player of the week awards, broken records with both punting and field goals and is a Ray Guy Award finalist. Watch out for him, and possibly a game-winning field goal.

The biggest story for this Aztec team, besides their first 11 wins in program history and tying the best start to their year at 7-0, as well as reaching number 19 on the AP and Coaches Poll, is the defense.

The Aztec defense allowed just 78 yards per game on the ground in the regular season, the best in the conference and 2nd in the nation, allowing just 361 yards total on the ground for the year. That’s impressive, and not to mention they lead the conference in interceptions with 15 and have the third most sacks (36) behind Nevada and Colorado State.

The Aggies have the 5th ranked running back in the conference with Calvin Tyler Jr., but he may have a tough time against this run defense. If the Aztecs can neutralize him and other offensive weapons, they will run their way to a Mountain West Conference Title.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR UTAH STATE

Utah State quietly proved themselves to be a threat in the Mountain West, winning the Mountain Division and punching their ticket to the Mountain West Championship game. Throughout the season, the Aggies got it done on offense averaging 32.2 points per game, which is ranked 3rd in the conference.

Unlike SDSU, Utah State is ranked in the top 5 of both rushing and passing categories in the Mountain West. That can be credited to QB Logan Bonner, who finished the regular season with 3,242 passing yards and 32 touchdowns.

Bonner’s primary weapon, Deven Thompkins, finished with 1,543 yards and 9 touchdowns in the regular season, leading the team. Thompkins has been the leading receiver in all but two games this year for the Aggies and has an average of 17 yards per catch. This connection will be a key to victory if executed.

SDSU, despite leading the conference in interceptions, is ranked 9th in the passing defense category allowing 235.7 yards per game. Exploiting the secondary will be key for QB Logan Bonner and Utah State as it will give their defense breaks. Time of possession should be taken seriously as well as limiting turnovers.

Averaging 457.9 yards per game allowed Utah State to win games and find ways to score. The Aggies have scored 35 or more points in their last 5 games; keeping that trend will allow them to keep up with the Aztecs who average just 27.8 points per game.

Bottom line, the defense needs to be ready and attack the run game. It is what SDSU does best and something Utah State often struggled with. Stopping the run will force Aztec QB’s (Jordon Brookshire and Lucas Johnson) to throw, which may cause mistakes. Capitalizing on those mistakes will be essential in getting a win for the Aggies

Utah State should stick to what they know and do their thing on offense. The passing game will be on point and will keep them in this game against the power house San Diego State Aztecs. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Aggies are poised to get their first Mountain West Conference Title in program history.

PREDICTION

The Aztecs have been here twice before and claimed victory both times (2015, 2016) With this 2021 team being better than both those years, it can almost be a given, but Utah State should not be overlooked. They can sneak up on you and put points on the board; the Aztecs may not be able to keep up if the Aggie offense finds rhythm.

Although the Aggies may have a stronger overall offense, the Aztec defense has a good chance at being too much for them. Aggie QB Logan Bonner has thrown 10 interceptions on the year, and if the ball lands in the Aztec defense hands, which it has all year, you can kiss the game goodbye.

On top of being a 6 point favorite, SDSU has a 74.4% chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. This may be a bit over-calculated, considering Utah State has one of the best offenses in the conference. This game will be decided by which teams’ most important asset comes alive; Utah State’s offense or SDSU’s defense. Get the popcorn ready.

SCORE:

SDSU 31, Utah State 28