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Aztecs and Spartans in big showdown this Saturday

Defense looms large in upcoming contest with San Jose State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Nevada at San Jose State Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bowl eligibility within reach for Aztecs in a highly anticipated showdown with San Jose State

With the Aztecs needing one more win to become bowl-eligible, rumors have begun again about an invitation from the Pac 10/12. This one coming from an inside source to a radio host. The others come from industry insiders, bloggers, columnists, pundits and any other number of so-called experts. This writer has chosen not to opine on this as whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Instead, let’s focus on the game, ok? The players and coaches will be one game at a time and their sole focus is on San Jose State. On paper it looks to be as tough a task as any other conference game. Both teams come in with hard-fought victories against their previous opponents. Both teams have been challenged to beat clearly overmatched teams. Several of the past games have been decided in the fourth quarter. This looks to be another close game, probably decided late in the contest, but it will be because these teams are extremely evenly matched. Both have struggled with developing consistency on offense, San Jose with the run and San Diego with the pass. Instead, the two teams bring in respectable defensive units in who they would rather put their full faith and trust. The Spartans are led on offense by quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, a Hawaii transfer, who leads the conference in passing and yardage. His go to man is Elijah Cooks, a 6’4” transfer from Nevada. The transfer portal has been good for the Spartans. Cordeiro also has several other receivers to turn to including Justin Lockhart, Charles Ross, and tight end Dominick Mazotti (a former high school student of mine at Amador Valley). The rushing game features two former De La Salle High School backs, Kairee Robinson and Shamar Garrett, but they have struggled to find consistency behind a still forming offensive line. For the Aztecs, find a way to control Cordeiro and you may find a way to throttle down the Spartans.

San Jose State Spartans (6-2, 4-1 Conf., 2-1 division) vs San Diego State Aztecs (5-4, 3-2 Conf., 3-1 Division)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium, (35,000), San Diego, California

Line: San Jose State -2.5 (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Over/Under 40 points. The Aztecs started as 2 point favorites and that has fallen to where the Spartans are currently favored. Oddsmakers are projecting a tight, scoring affair, with the winner expected to win about 21-20. Both teams are coming off victories last week. San Jose won a hard fought game against Colorado State before winning 28-16, while the Aztecs held off UNLV 14-10.

Date/Time: Saturday, November 12 at 7:30 PM PST

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: San Diego Sports 760

History: This is the 46th meeting between the two teams with the Aztecs holding a 23-20-2 advantage. They are 8-2 in the last ten meetings including a 19-13 double overtime win last year in San Jose. The Spartan's last victory was in 2020, winning 28-17 in Carson. The teams first met in 1935 with the Spartans coming out on top 24-9. The Aztecs have averaged 22 points per game in all their contests against San Jose.

Unlocking the Keys to the Game

Which Defense will be able to control the game and get the takeaways?

The Aztecs were absolutely lights out against UNLV, keeping athletic quarterback Doug Brumfield in check for most of the game. The only bright spot was a 70-yard catch and run by Nick Williams midway through the third period. That was all the Aztecs would allow as they throttled the Rebels for the remainder of the game. Leading the Aztecs is LB Michael Shawcroft with a team-leading 63 tackles. Teaming with the Tavai brothers on the line and the McDonald brothers at linebacker, Shawcroft has helped lead this Aztec defense. Patrick McMorris has contributed as well, but he has become less important with the dominance of the line and backer play. Dallas Branch, fresh off his defensive player of the week award, helps shore up the defensive secondary. When the Spartans line up on defense, they will showcase two of the premier defensive linemen in the league, with Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall. Fehoko is a force to be reckoned with as he has 15 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Hall, a pre-season co-defensive player of the year (along with McMorris) has 10 TFL and 6.5 sacks. Last week, they contributed to a team effort nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Supporting their efforts is leading tackler, linebacker Kyle Harmon with 64 tackles. This defensive unit is #2 in the conference in points allowed with 16.4, trailing only Air Force. The Aztecs meanwhile are 4th with 21.3 points allowed. Spartan head Coach Brent Brennan, in his sixth season at the helm, has relied heavily upon the success of defensive coordinator Derrick Odom, also in his sixth year. Together, they have developed a consistently dominant defensive unit, that has been towards the top of the conference in many categories. Adding pass support in the secondary are Tre Jenkins and Nehemiah Shelton. The Spartans have been strong in stopping obvious running scenarios, but were susceptible to several big play passes against Colorado State. Aztec quarterback Jalen Mayden has not made it a habit of throwing deep, but if he has time to hit the mid range pass routes, the Aztecs could find themselves able to move the ball against an otherwise stingy Spartan defense.

Will either offense be able to move the ball?

The Aztecs have made it job one to solve their woeful offense. Early season adjustments to the coaching staff and moving Jalen Mayden from safety to quarterback was about as best as they could do and it has been adequate. What has been lacking is a key running game, featuring a back who can be counted on week in week out. Jaylon Armstead seems to be recovered and is back playing with consistency. He may be the power back to either Chance Bell or Jordan Byrd. At any rate, a running game needs to be established to help mitigate an opponent's defense. The Aztec passing game, while ok now, certainly doesn’t provide much shock and awe to many opponents. Jesse Matthews continues to get quality touches and his playmaking ability led directly to last week's Aztec victory. The Aztecs have more depth at running back than the Spartans, but San Jose has the quality receivers that could be the difference maker. Many coaches use the run to set up the pass, but it’s possible this game will use the pass to set up the run. If defenders are dropping and opening up lanes anticipating passes, this could open up the running game for either team. Some delays and draws could give the backs just that opening needed for some quality yardage. I don’t expect to see many big plays unless there is a missed tackle or a surprise, never before used play from the depths of the offensive playbook. One final stat: the Spartans have their only losses while on the road this year. Home field advantage Snapdragon.


My preseason pick of this game was a 20-17. The betting line is a San Jose State win, perhaps around 21-19. Regardless, one should not expect too much offense to play itself out. The focus will be on controlling the box and the lines. Manage turnovers and field position. I expect both punters to be busy and being mistake-free will be key. If both teams do as they have done all year and dominate their respective trenches, this could open up a potent passing game. San Jose has shown to be more adept, holding an average yard per game of 278 to 145. The Spartans showed they were vulnerable against Colorado State who threw for 333 yards. It didn’t hurt that they have the league's leading receiver in Cory Horton but it did show how to exploit the Spartan's secondary. The Aztecs will need to again, establish some type of running game. With their assortment of backs to choose from, it is incumbent upon one of them to step up and take the lead. They are better suited for the run, as the Spartans cannot find any sustained momentum. Last years game was 6-6 at the end of regulation. I don’t see quite the same low score, but I do see San Jose State holding on to the ball and victory formation to close out a tough 21-20 victory and giving them a lock on second place in the division. Two of my buddies, Dan and Bart, reminded me that this is the game I’ve been talking about since preseason. That’s right. Game day is here and while my Spartan banner flies proudly, my unbiased keyboard clacks away giving relevant and timely commentary. Go State! Whichever one.