Aztecs take on Blue Raiders in Hawaii. Both teams feature identical 7-5 records. What can we expect from the game.
Welcome to the Islands. Middle Tennessee State is likely leaving behind cold rainy weather. The Aztecs are leaving behind beaches and sunshine and replacing them with, well, beaches and sunshine! Teams traveling to the islands can have an inherent disadvantage when confronted with the many sights of the tropics. Will that be the case with the Aztecs and Blue Raiders?
Let’s take a look at Middle Tennessee State.
On paper the Raiders and Aztecs have striking differences. MTSU passed for 267 yards a game while SDSU passed for 170. The Raiders average 29 points a game while the Aztecs average 21. A glaring point is on defense. MTSU has given up 413 yards a game and 28 points while SDSU has given up 335 yards and 20 points. What does this mean? In all likelihood it will be a defense first type of game. The betting line indicates that as well with a 49 point over/under. The Blue Raiders are susceptible to turnovers having thrown 17 picks and lost 16 fumbles. This will play into the Aztecs wheelhouse. MTSU looks to have a better offense, but the competition may have some bearing on that. When faced with good competition, the Raiders tended to be shut down, scoring well below their season average. For them to turn the game around, it will center around their quarterback Chase Cunningham. He is a swiss army knife type of player who can pass as well as run. His stats reflect a potent passing game with 283/420 for 2920 yards and 19 touchdowns, but also nine interceptions. He has also added a net of 143 yards rushing with six touchdowns. His main receivers have shown big-play ability . Jaylin Lane with 59 catches, 829 yards and four TD’s including a long of 89 yards. Complimenting him are Izaiah Gathings (53/490/2), DJ England-Chisholm with four TD’s with a 98 yard long and all-conference wideout Yusuf Ali with 48 catches, 361 yards and two TD’s. Ali was also the special teams player of the year as well as an all American. The running game features second team all-conference RB Frank Peasant who carried for 747 yards, nine TD’s and Darius Bracy with 257 yards and four TD’s. As one can see, the offense is spread out with many different contributors.
On defense, MTSU has several all-league players. Leading the charge is all conference and honorable mention All-American in Jordan Ferguson. He contributed 63 tackles including 16 for loss and 9 sacks. Other first-team conference players are defensive tackle Marley Cook and DB Decorian Patterson (63 tackles). Second-team safety Jakobe Thomas and honorable mention DB Tedrick Ross (74 tackles, 18 pass breakups) and Safety Tra Fleullen (leading tackler with 97) round out the defense. As noted, the four secondary players all received all-conference selections. Impressive until one sees that this secondary was responsible for giving up 291 yards passing and 27 TD’s and only ten interceptions. They are obviously very good tacklers, which is an indication that opposing teams ran well enough to get into the secondary. Rounding out the Raiders is second-team punter Kyle Ulbrich with a 46 yard average. MTSU has a signature victory against the University of Miami, winning 45-31 but also has a season-opening loss against James Madison, 44-7. Which team will show up?
San Diego State Aztecs (7-5, 5-3 conference) vs. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (7-5 conference, 4-4 conference)
Location: T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, (9,300) Honolulu, Hawaii
Line: San Diego State is favored by 6.5 points. (Provided by DrafKingsSportsbooks) over/under is 49 points. Predictions based on this look to be a 28-21 Aztec victory.
Date/Time: Saturday, December 24 at 3:00 HST, 6:00 PST
History: This is the 19th edition of the Hawaii Bowl. Both teams have appeared one time previously. In 2015, the Aztecs beat Cincinnati 42-7 and the following year the Blue Raiders lost 52-35 to Hawaii. The 2020 game was canceled due to covid and last year's game was declared a no-contest when Hawaii’s team had a coronavirus outbreak. Last year the Aztecs beat UTSA 38-24 in the Frisco Bowl while the Blue Raiders beat Toledo 31-24 in the Bahamas Bowl. There were no common opponents between the teams and this is their first historical meeting.
What to expect in this showdown between the Mountain West and Conference USA teams.
Each game has its unique sets of challenges, goals and objectives. Stop the run. Pressure the quarterback. Avoid turnovers. Control the clock. Avoid long plays. The Aztecs will have plenty of time to forget their season-ending 13-3 grounding by Air Force, While the defense played a stellar game, the offense was MIA, albeit against the conference's top defense. Quarterback Jalen Mayden had a rude greeting from the Falcons as he struggled with a 16/31/188/2 interception outing. The rushing game failed to show up as well generating only 39 yards on the ground. Controlling the ball for only 20 minutes and 8 first downs contributed to this dismal performance. The Aztecs will be anxious to leave that outing behind like a used piece of dental floss. SDSU is a better team and should step up and make this game an Aztec win. The Aztecs come into the game winners of 5 out of the last 7 games. Looking at MTSU, they did beat Colorado State, an MWC doormat, 34-19 in addition to their signature win against Miami. Further, they beat UTEP who beat Boise State who beat San Diego State. Do two degrees of separation mean anything? In thjs case no. The Aztecs are not the same team that played Boise all that long ago. The Aztecs boast 11 all-conference players and look to have the depth and talent on both sides of the ball to achieve a convincing victory. I’m predicting that the Aztecs will come away with a 24-13 victory, dominating on both sides of the ball. One area I’m excited to watch is the return game for both teams. Yusuf Ali and Jordan Byrd might provide some additional excitement.
While the Aztecs battle in Hawaii, be sure to watch the other MWC teams in play. December 17 leads off with the LA Bowl featuring Conference Champion Fresno State squaring off against Washington State from the Pac-12. The Bulldogs are a 3-point favorite. Later that night North Texas from CUSA faces off against MWC runner-up Boise State in the Frisco Bowl. The Broncos are a 9 1/2-point favorite. Next up is on December 20 with San Jose State taking on Eastern Michigan out of the MAC in the Potato Bowl. The Spartans are a 3-1/2 point favorite. Following that on the 22nd is an intriguing matchup with Air Force taking on Baylor out of the Big 12 in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bears are a 6-1/2 point favorite. The Aztecs follow on Christmas Eve. Will they be opening presents early? The next bowl matchup is on December 27 in the first Responder bowl with Utah State battling against Memphis from the AAC. Tigers head in to the matchup as 7-1/2 point favorite. The final bowl game featuring MWC teams is on December 30 in the Arizona bowl with Wyoming taking on Ohio. The Bobcats are a slight 1-1/2 point favorite. Bowl season is upon us with the games leading up to the National Championship playoffs. Let’s hope everyone finds what they want this year during the holidays.