Arizona Wildcats at San Diego State Aztecs
Location: San Diego (Snapdragon Stadium, 35,000 capacity)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3 at 12:30 PT.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&C’s apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Head to Head: The Aztecs are 6-10 against the Wildcats all time but own a 38-14 victory in 2021.
Three Things To Look For:
First, let’s take a look at Arizona. This is a much improved Wildcats team. This years recruiting class was the best in schools history, with key additions in the skills positions and recruits from high school powers. HC Jedd Fisch has assembled a strong group of coaches who bring many years of experience in the NFL. In fact, by all appearances, he seems to be running the program mirroring many NFL teams. That is his background and strength and he appeals to the player who wants to work hard for an opportunity to a professional path. That said, while this may be the ultimate plan, those objectives take time. The Wildcat faithful have been patient the last few years with terrible teams and coaching changes. My inside source tells me the fans understand this is a continuation of the rebuilding, but are also very committed to Coach Fischs’ team philosophy. This year the Wildcats will still be growing. Their offense is balanced, gaining nearly identical yards rushing and passing—the same on defense. Only one hundred yards separate the rush and passing defenses. Their schedule is tough, facing three difficult non-conference teams in SDSU, Mississippi St., and North Dakota State. Arizona won’t forget the 38-14 loss endured last year at home to the Aztecs. It’s one thing to want revenge, it’s another to be able to actually exact it. I really want to hit my driver 300 yards, but in all reality, it isn’t going to happen.
Second, as with any first game, there will be some hiccups to contend with. The most important will be to do no harm. Limit turnovers, avoid mental penalties, and eliminate injuries. There will be many players on both sides who are both transfers and incoming freshmen. How is the chemistry? Who steps up? Who can seize the momentum and carry it through the game? Is there motivation by Arizona to avenge last year's loss? How does San Diego State adapt to a new home field? These intangibles don’t show up in the stats sheets but become apparent when observing the game.
Third, keys to the game. Several areas will present interesting matchups:
SDSU passing vs. Arizona secondary. Can the Aztecs move the ball through the air with some level of consistency? Will their offense develop into a balanced attack? The Burmeister to Matthews connection might click early and often. Burmeister brings accuracy and quickness afoot. It will be interesting to see how he handles his run, pass decisions. He will certainly be exciting to watch when he takes off. The Aztecs will have to contend with a much-improved secondary for the Wildcats. Aztec receiver TJ Sullivan was injured during practice and looks to be out for the season. Who else will step up in the passing attack? Arizona employs a 4-2-5 defense with emphasis on more blitzing and zones
SDSU punting game. How will Jack Browning handle being the main man with the departure of Matt Araiza? I expect a few punts to happen, and it remains to be seen how the field flips will materialize.
Finally, the time of possession. I feel this will be a key metric that leads to the eventual winner. Controlling and pounding the rock will show field superiority. The Aztecs lack quick-strike capability, so their points must be derived through long, sustained, time-chewing drives. Arizona will need to be able to move the ball against a daunting defense, and a lot of three-and-outs will result in few yards and little time of possession.
Players to Watch. In this section, we will look at a few of the Wildcat's key players, starting with transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura. Playing at Washington State last year, he accounted for 2,798 yards passing, 23 TD’s, 9 interceptions, and a 63% completion rate. Those are good numbers. Shows great presence to avoid unnecessary turnovers. He will be nicely complemented by a bevy of receivers that have shown talent and experience. UTEP junior transfer Jacob Cowing has all the weapons to be a Wildcat superstar. 69 receptions for 1,354 yards and 7 TDs show a dynamic presence. Combine that with a 19.6-yard-per-catch average and he will most certainly spread the field. To add further talent, the Wildcats will deploy freshman Tetairoa McMillan, who many consider another superstar, as an additional receiver position. The running game for the Wildcats will need to establish itself, but it will see its introduction with JR Michael Wiley. The Wildcats were anemic in the run game last year, but with vastly improved talent and line play, expect to see a more sustained offense. The Wildcats list Jonah Savaiinaea, Josh Baker, Payton Fears, Josh Donovan and Jordan Morgan as their O-line.
The ‘Wildcats' defense really looks to be the area that screams to be taken seriously. Coach Fisch loaded up with key transfers on both the line and linebacker to provide experience, depth, and ability to be coached. The line includes transfers Tiaolli Savea (UCLA), and Jeremy Mercier (Utah). The stalwarts include end Jalen Harris and Kyon Barrs both saw considerable action last year. In devastating news, starting lineman JB. Brown appears to be out with a season ending shoulder injury. At the linebacking corp, transfers Hunter Echols (USC), Jeremy Roberts (Bowling Green), Anthony Solomon (Michigan) and DJ Warnell (UCLA) all appear to be in the mix. Expect to see this to be a run-by-committee situation. At corner look to Chris Roland-Wallace with 48 tackles and safety Christian Young, with 68 tackles, to take the lead in the backfield. The Wildcats will rely on this new mix of players to “Bear Down” and hope to contain the Aztecs.
Aztecs RB Cam Davis has moved to second on the depth chart. Zavier Leonard, who earlier was listed as a participant in last seasons off campus gang rape, is no longer on the Aztecs roster.
Prediction: Arizona has vastly improved from where they were in 2021, but so has San Diego State. I expect to see a well-played game, with positives to be taken away on both sides. The Wildcats are looking for a new direction while the Aztecs are looking for another special season, and with their new stadium opening, they will be excited to be a rude and discourteous host. My prediction is a 31-21 Aztec win with mutual respect from both teams.