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Aztecs vs. Utah Game Preview

The Aztecs head to Utah in search of validation and direction against a Utes team set on redeeming last season's loss.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Southern Utah at Utah Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The San Diego State Aztecs head to Utah for a showdown with the Utes featuring a battle of offense vs. defense, ‘unfinished business’.

The Aztecs are coming off of a sound 38-7 win over Idaho State while Utah is content with a 73-7 trouncing of Southern Utah. Both teams were expected to win in convincing fashion. Now comes the true test of grit and determination. The Aztecs offense accounted for 484 total yards and an amazing 376 yards rushing. This was Aztec ground game domination. Utah, meanwhile put up 599 total yards of offense with a more balanced approach, 247 yards rushing and 352 passing including 31 first downs. What is eyebrow-raising is the Utah defense yielded only 85 total yards of offense and only 4 first downs. The Aztecs can expect to see a passing attack involving many receivers, a rushing game featuring productive backs and a defense that looks sound.

San Diego State vs. #14 Utah Utes
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah

Line: Utah (-21 1/2) (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Note the original line was 16 1/2.

Date/Time: Saturday, September 17th at 7:00 PM PST


History: The Aztecs and Utes have met 31 previous times with Utah having a 17-13-1 edge. Last year's triple OT game won by San Diego State 33-31 was the last time the teams had met since a 38-34 Utah win in 2010. Prior to that, both teams regularly played each other as part of the WAC and then the Mountain West Conferences.

3 Keys to the Game

  1. How will the Aztec defense handle a balanced Utah offense? The Utah offense revolves around junior signal-caller Cameron Rising. He came into last years game vs. the Aztecs in the 4th quarter and nearly led Utah to the victory. Last week he was 17/23 for 254 yards in a half of play. His backup Bryson Barnes added 98 more yards on 6/6 throwing. There was a diverse group of talented receivers making contributions, including TE Dalton Kincaid 7 receptions for 107 yards and 2 TD’s, Money Parks, 3 catches for 71 yards and a large supporting cast who accounted for the balance of the passing yardage. The running game was steady Eddie with Chris Curry (6/60, 1 TD), Jaylon Glover (9/53, 2 TD’s), and Tavion Thomas (11/48, 2 TD’s) setting the pace. Of some concern was a lost fumble by Thomas. Coach Kyle Whittingham, said there is no thought of changing the running back duties due to his fumble. What can the Aztecs do to mitigate this production? First, is to stick to the strengths. Defense controlling the line of scrimmage to make initial hits and allowing fewer yards after contact. Utah has large tight ends who block well and release into the secondary against many overmatched defenders. The Aztecs will have to find a way to locate their man, check him on the line, and do not allow him a clean release. Utah mainly threw short to middle distance routes against Southern Utah. Utilizing the secondary to keep their man in front to avoid easy separation will help to keep Rising checking through his progressions. Finally, the Aztecs will need to incorporate some blitzing schemes to keep the Utes off balance while keeping Rising in the pocket so that he does not scramble. This is a tough assignment, as he may be the most talented quarterback they will face this year.
  2. Which Braxton Burmeister will show up? Burmeister did an excellent job of managing the game for the Aztecs during their win against Idaho State. His passing, 15/26, 108 yards with 1 score and no interceptions plus 8 rushes for 75 yards and a nifty 47 yard dash for a score were all the Aztecs needed. He can expect to see more pressure, requiring him to make quicker decisions in both the passing and running game. If he takes off too quick, he is likely to face linebackers limiting his yardage. They should anticipate seeing more of a game that they saw against Arizona, where he was constantly pressured and when he ran, took some hard hits. He will need to get into a rhythm early and stick to the game plan. Let the playmakers do their thing. Don’t force the ball into tight pockets and avoid big sacks. This will be a symbiotic relationship with his offensive line who owe him the opportunity to survive in the pocket.
  3. Which Aztec team will show up? Will they be up for Utah knowing that they have a target on their back? Can they step up and compete with a top team in a conference they would like to be a part of? As Coach Whittingham said, the Utes have ‘unfinished business’. He further says, “We’ve got a San Diego State team coming in here that put one on us last year and just flat out beat us. We’ve got to be prepared and ready.” Expectations are high for Utah, which will likely compete with USC for the Pac-12 title. They have elite talent, and in all likelihood, should have beaten Florida. The Aztecs expectations aren’t as lofty, but they have their own mission. They started and finished slow against Arizona. They started slow but finished well against Idaho State. They need to settle in and play a full four quarters. Not only do they need to play well, but will always have critics who say they aren’t quite ready for the big-time Power Conference. Everyones a critic, but the Aztecs can validate their mission to continue and improve their program. A good track record of quality wins, a new stadium, a renewed fan base. A win over a top opponent would be monumental step towards ultimate validation.

Analysis/Prediction: Ok, here’s where this writer is to prognosticate and deliver a well-thought-out and accurate prediction. I’m going to do one better and be the ultimate fence sitter. I’m not just going to sit here, I’m going to move in and make two predictions. Depending upon which Aztec team shows up, I feel I should back up my keys to the game with two measured end-of-game scenarios. First, the Aztecs are still finding their way. Jaylon Armstead is getting touches and may wind up being the number one back. But there are still issues with protection, consistency, and a few dropped passes. In this case, Utah will win 32-20. On the other side of the coin, the Aztecs have had a stellar week of practice, and are prepared to dial in a game worthy of Aztec lore. Burmeister plays flawlessly, delivering passes when needed, and guiding the offense with accurate decisions and steady offensive production. The defense is able to contain the high-powered Utes, forcing multiple turnovers. Devaughn Celestine will shine. Even the special teams get into the act with a big play. In this scenario, it’s going to be close, but the Aztecs will eek out a 28-25 victory. There’s the crystal ball. It promises to be an entertaining game.