Idaho State Vandals vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Date/Time: Saturday, September 10 5:00 PST
Weather outlook: San Diego 74-80 degrees chance of light rain.
Television: Mountain West Network
Radio: 760 AM
Odds/lines subject to change. T&C’s apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Head to Head: The Aztecs are 1-0 against the Bengals, winning 38-21 in 2004.
Three Things To Look For:
First, let’s briefly review last week's loss against Arizona. Ugh, it was ugly! This was a total team loss and steps are being taken by the coaching staff this week to address the deficiencies. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister should be ok to practice this week according to Coach Hoke. He added that he was extremely disappointed in the defense, which had been a traditional Aztec trademark in recent years. Play-calling and performance aside, much was discussed about Snapdragon Stadium. Parking, shade, acoustics and other issues will be addressed in time. The game against Idaho State should be more amenable to fans as it starts at 5:00 and the weather forecasts cooler temps and a chance of rain.
Second, lets take a look at FCS opponent Idaho State. They come into the game 0-1, having been the victim of the UNLV offensive onslaught the previous week, losing 52-21. Not even close, the Bengals were down 45-7 against the Rebels at halftime. This is on top of a resoundingly ridiculous 1-10 season last year. The Bengals bring their badly, beleaguered, bunch to Snapdragon Stadium, which on paper, looks to merely be a glorified scrimmage. I doubt that the Bengals can mirror the Wildcats and field much competition against the Aztecs. This game should be an opportunity for the Aztecs to work on their offensive line run game and pass protection, for their passing game to utilize their talented receivers and for their defense to solidly solidify their tackling and on-field dominance. I would prognosticate that if the Aztecs had beaten Arizona, they could be caught looking past Idaho State for the Utah game, but they do not have that luxury. Much is to be worked on. The Aztecs need to show up, play their brand of football and get some additional players on the field for some much-needed game experience. The Bengals will be coming off their Rebel rousing beatdown and have problems of their own to work out. Unfortunately the talent level is not near what the Bengals will experience playing in the Big Sky Conference. While they might be competitive against the Montana teams, Eastern Washington, and Portland State, this will be a paycheck game for the Bengals in the loss column.
Third, keys to the game. I like to read statistics and visualize matchups. If I am going strictly by statistics on paper, this should be a close game. Both teams were woefully inadequate in their openers. But of course, more exists the deeper into the reams of stats we go.
SDSU rushing vs. Idaho State defense. The Rebels ran for 149 net yards in their win, not very impressive, but did achieve a 4.5 yard average. Besides, who needs to run when you pass for 405 yards. I see the Aztecs wanting to reverse those numbers and try to dominate on the ground. The importance of rushing repetition cannot be ignored as that will be of most importance for the Aztecs in their future games. Idaho State did account for 40 yards in losses so there could be some pressure and gap filling, but I would venture to say those losses occurred as sacks.
Idaho State passing game vs. SDSU secondary. The Bengals managed 191 passing yards (241 total yards) against a notoriously porous Rebel defense. If even a shadow of the Aztecs show up, expect to see the Bengals quarterbacks to scramble often. They used two gunslingers against the Rebels, Hunter Hays (7-13, 61 yds, 1 TD) and Tyler VanderWaal (Wyoming transfer, 7-13-1, 130 yds, 1 TD). The Bengals did throw the ball around to a bevy of receivers including Xavier Guillory (4-73 yds. 1 TD), TE Cyrus Wallace (4-24 yds) and Jalen Johnson (3-69, 1 TD). Finding these receivers often is a key component for the Bengals to maintain drives and momentum. Last week the Bengals and Rebels were nearly identical time of possession. I expect that the Aztecs are going to want to control the clock with their ground game
Finally, will the Aztecs suffer memory loss and take care of business? Much is still to be worked out for this game and the build-up to next week's showdown against Utah. I also wonder if the fanbase will show up to support the Aztecs, now that the glamour of a new stadium premier is in the rear view mirror. Good consistent crowd support is of the utmost importance, given that the Aztecs Pac-12 audition last week raises questions of their on field viability.
Players to Watch. A few notes on the Aztecs. How will Burmeister rebound? Can Chance Bell gain traction? Will Jesse Matthews get more touches? Will Michael Shawcroft continue his consistent performance from his linebacker position? We touched on a few of the Bengals players, but there are a few that merit some mention. Running back Raiden Hunter, a sophomore from San Diego (13-29), and quarterback Hunter Hays (7-22, 1 TD) will be in the Aztec crosshairs. Can they gain some level of consistency in their running game? The answer is probably not. In that case, freshman punter Ian Hershey will be called on to bail out the Bengal offense. He punted 7 times against UNLV and averaged a 46.7 punt. There may be the opportunity to flip the field, as Hershey has shown he’s got a leg as sweet as a chocolate bar and as accurate as a kiss. (Ok, I couldn’t resist the confectionary connection).
Prediction: Idaho State will probably continue their woeful ways, even under new head coach Charlie Ragle. Coach Ragle brings previous experience from both Cal and Arizona, but this may be his most challenging opportunity yet. I expect that the Bengals will try to establish some form of their brand of football for their conference games. The Aztecs will be trying to correct their inadequacies on both sides of the ball and the Bengals might be the perfect prescription for what ails the Aztecs. I am still looking at the Aztecs dominating but will alter my earlier preseason prediction to a more respectable 45-10 final. The Aztecs will be able to get a victory in the win column at Snapdragon Stadium. Let’s hope the fans will take advantage of a vastly improved Aztec game while enjoying more traditional fall evening weather in San Diego.