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Falcons Close Out Regular Season At San Diego State

A win would result in a 9-3 regular season record for the second year in a row

The Falcons will end the regular season trying to exorcise a second demon that has plagued them over several years. Earlier this season, they managed wins against both Army and Navy for the first time since 2016, winning the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The task this weekend will be to garner the first win over San Diego State since 2009.

Each of the last four games have been decided by only one score, and on paper, this game does not appear to be an exception to that rule.

San Diego State struggled early in the year, but after managing only 117 yards and losing to Boise State, head coach Brady Hoke turned in desperation to safety Jalen Mayden as his starting quarterback and the results have been remarkable. The Aztecs are 5-1 since that game and the only loss has come to Jake Haener-led Fresno State. Mayden has completed 65% of his passes for 1533 yards and 10 TDs. He has been especially impressive his last two games, beating San Jose State 43-27 and New Mexico 34-10.

One thing the Aztec offense has lacked this year that they usually have is a star running back. They’ve employed four different running backs in the main role: Chance Bell, Jordan Byrd, USC transfer Kenon Christon, and Jaylon Armstead. None of them has half as many yards as the Falcon’s second leading rusher, John Lee Eldridge.

The Aztec defense has again been reliable, although a notch down from last year. Notably, the rushing defense, which averaged only 80 yards allowed per game last year, is allowing 115 yards per game this year. That’s still good enough to be 2nd in the Mountain West though (behind the Falcon’s 109 ypg). Jonah Tavai and Keyshawn Banks are disruptive on the defensive line, and Michael Shawcroft and Cooper McDonald lead the linebacker crew.

Analysis and Prediction

The Aztecs seem to always have the most athletic players in the conference. Looking back on last years game against the Falcons, I can clearly remember two athletic plays that helped lead to the Falcon’s defeat.

The first play was on the Falcon’s first drive of the game. On third down, Haaziq Daniels dropped back and fired a pass downfield. DB Dallas Branch was at least 10 yards away from the receiver and leaped as high as he could with his right arm outstretched and managed to make a one-handed interception that he had no business making. The interception gave the ball to the Aztec at the Falcon’s 9 yard line. The Falcon defense did their job and kept the Aztecs from converting a touchdown. They settled for the field goal to put them up 3-0.

Later in the game, the Falcons had a fourth and one at midfield. They are among the best at converting fourth downs, and naturally they went for the conversion. In one of the quickest moves I’ve seen by a defensive lineman, Aztec DE Keyshawn Banks shot in between the center and the guard and tackled Daniels before he had taken two step after the snap. The Aztecs then went on a 12 play 42 yard drive for a touchdown.

The only way the Falcons can beat a team like this is to execute at a high level and make a few disruptive defensive plays to counteract the big plays that the Aztecs will make. Last year, they didn’t execute properly when Micah Davis dropped a wide open pass behind the defense. They also lost the turnover battle 2-1, and lost by one score.

The keys will be to keep the turnover battle at least even, and make as many big plays as the Aztecs. With the usual level of execution, they should then be able to beat SDSU.

However, the Aztec’s advantage in athleticism makes them the favorites in my eyes. I’ll say the Aztecs win 24-21.

Currently at Draft Kings, the line has the Falcon’s as 1.5 point favorites and the over/under is at 43.5, so I’d take San Diego State plus 1.5 and take the over.

The game will take place Saturday at 6 PM Pacific time and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.