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Aztecs and Bulldogs square off in the Doghouse for lead in the West Division

Aztecs bring their strong defense and emerging offense to Fresno in titanic mid season game.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Emboldened Aztec defense and slowly emerging offense look primed to take on Fresno State in key division matchup

Feeling confident after a 23-7 win against Nevada, the Aztecs find themselves in a situation they might not have considered just a few weeks ago. One win away from taking over the lead in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference. They seem to have found their defensive mojo and have their offense humming along in a death-by-a-thousand-cuts type of approach. All that is in their way is Fresno State. Currently 3-4 and 1-0 in division play, the Bulldogs have shown dominance on both sides of the ball. Their signature 17-10 win against San Jose State two weeks ago seems to have lifted the Bulldogs into “can do” mode under coach Jeff Tedford. This was punctuated with a dominating 41-9 win over New Mexico last week. The Aztecs are on a much-needed two-game win streak and seem to have discovered answers for their offensive inefficiencies. Results are beginning to be recognized as linebacker Michael Shawcroft was named defensive player of the week with 7 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble that led to a scoop and score and an early Aztec lead vs. Nevada. It seems the winner of this game will have the inside track to the division title making it quite the spooktacular Halloween weekend in Fresno.

San Diego State Aztecs (4-3) vs. Fresno State (3-4)
Location: Valley Children’s Hospital (41,031), Fresno, California

Line: Fresno State -9.5 (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Over/Under 40.5 points. The Aztecs are the underdogs against the Bulldogs, mostly predicated on the Bulldog's offense has proven to be more effective than the Aztec's offense. Using this formula, their expected score is about a 26-15 game. Again, the oddsmakers are expecting that defense will control much of the game.

Date/Time: Saturday, October 29nd at 7:30 PM PST


Radio: San Diego Sports 760

History: This is the 61st meeting between the two teams with the Aztecs holding a 30-26-4 advantage. They are 4-6 in the last ten meetings. The first game between the teams was in 1923. The Aztecs have played more games against the Bulldogs than any other team and play for the Old Oil Can Trophy. The Bulldogs came away with a 30-20 win last year in Carson. The Bulldogs managed 485 yards against the Aztec defense including 25/42 passing by Jake Haener for 306 yards. Haener is out for the game this year. The Bulldogs also featured Jordan Mims rushing for 186 yards and two TD’s. The Aztecs will need to find a way to contain Mims this year. The Aztecs were led by Lucas Johnson who threw for 220 yards, but had two interceptions. Fresno took a commanding 20-7 lead at halftime and did not look back.

Unlocking the Keys to the Game

  1. What will happen when two dominating defenses collide? The Bulldogs come into the game with a -7 turnover margin. That is a bit surprising, yet with a 3-4 record, most of those turnovers occurred in the front part of the season. But the Bulldogs have been trending much more favorably the last two games in other defensive categories. They have given up 19 points in those two games and held both San Jose and New Mexico to a combined 124 yards rushing. The Lobos managed only 138 total yards against the resurgent Bulldog defense. Meanwhile, the Aztec's defense has been exerting their authority as noted by the Wolfpack only managing 35 rushing yards. With an ineffective passing game, the game was pretty much done after the second play of the game. Issues arise for the Bulldogs with several key players out. Linebacker Ray Scott and Safety Evan Williams are both out and the other safety, Elijah Gates is a game-time decision. Anchoring the line is David Perales who has been a wrecking ball coming off of a four-sack game against San Jose State. The Bulldogs are thin in the secondary and have asked freshmen Julian Neal and Jayden Davis to step in. The Aztecs are coming into the game pretty healthy. Shawcroft made his presence felt last week with the aforementioned caused fumble as well as Justus Tavai with his first career interception. I expect the Aztecs to hold Fresno State to under 300 yards total offense with the Bulldogs passing for a bit over 200 yards. Both teams have good punters both between 43 and 44 yards average. Expect both of these kickers, Jack Browning and Carson King to be busy.
  2. Does the progression of Jaden Mayden continue to positively evolve? Mayden has proven to be a great student and as it turns out, the quarterback that the Aztecs need. He has been mistake-free, manages the flow of the offense and has shown he has the big play capability that was not previously seen. Fresno will need to make adjustments and make sure they have Mayden accounted for in their defensive schemes. They will start two freshmen in the secondary, which might provide an opportunity for Mayden to stretch the field. He will need to be keenly aware of Perales who has turned into a major disrupting force for quarterbacks. Mayden has a capable outlet with Jordan Byrd who should be readily available to catch the short swing pass.
  3. Catchall. Fresno State Bulldogs out for game: QB Jake Haener, WR Josh Kelly, safety Evan Williams, LB Ray Scott. Waiting for medical clearance is safety Elijah Gates and DB Steven Comstock. The teams are playing for the Old Oil Can, a trophy with roots in the origin of the series, but established in 2011. According to tradition, it harkens back to the days when fans of the teams would travel highway 99 over the Grapevine and needed extra oil to be carried to ensure one's vehicle reached their destination. Bowl game implications are also at risk. An Aztec win gives them five wins on the year, needing one more with four games to play. The Bulldogs need a win to reach four wins with four games remaining.

Analysis/Prediction: My preseason pick of this game was a 23-21 Aztec win. I had figured defense would control the game and that possibly the winner of the turnover battle would come out victorious. The Bulldogs had proven they could score points and that has held up for most of the year, despite the loss of several key players. The Aztecs are healthy, the Bulldogs are not and for that reason I am going to stick with my game prediction of 23-21. That falls slightly above the over on the betting line of 40.5 points. The Aztecs discovered that an early turnover that led to points helped to dictate the remainder of the game. There wasn’t too much doubt the Aztecs would win against Nevada, but it certainly took a different path. That being said, the Aztecs will look to try to duplicate that success and force an early turnover on defense and maintain ball control on the offensive side. Keeping the ball away from the Fresno offense will quickly gather momentum for the Aztecs and allow them to grind out the game much like I would ground gears learning to drive. A low scoring game should be in the cards. Look for Mayden to continue to improve, making good real-time decisions and begin to look for his wideouts on deeper routes. Expect to see Braxton Burmeister to be a frequent target. With Fresno State being hampered by injuries in the secondary, this could be a breakout passing game. Either way, expect to see the Bulldogs sacrificed on the altar of Aztec defensive dominance.