Win game. Check. Find offense. Check. Defensive control of the game. Well… Two out of three I guess. Success is measured by baby steps. The Aztecs have learned to walk and now are ready to run.
The Aztecs (3-4), (1-2 MWC) are 13 1⁄2 point favorites heading into their matchup against the Nevada Wolfpack (0-6, 0-2MWC). Timing is everything and if the Aztecs have their say, playing Nevada is at the most opportune time. Nevada has struggled through the season, with a few near misses versus Kansas and Texas State and an embarrassingly excruciating loss against Idaho. Granted they also played USC, but they were merely punching bags, allowing the Trojans to have their way scoring 66 points on the Wolfpack. How coach Ken Wilson gets the team ready to play this week will be seen come Saturday. Meanwhile, back at the Dragon, Coach Hoke continues to guide the Aztecs through a more favorable portion of their schedule. Quarterback Jalen Mayden should expect to see similar results this week against Nevada as he experienced against Hawaii. He was responsible for 37 of the Aztecs 67 total plays. His athletic ability will give Nevada headaches as he has shown calm under pressure and improved accuracy. The Aztecs were happy to see Cam Davis have a good game rushing with 53 yards as well as Mekhi Shaw breaking out with 126 yards receiving on 6 catches. Additionally, running back Lucky Sutton scored twice and is showing he has the durability to be a consistent back.
Nevada still struggling with the departure of Coach Norvell to Colorado State. Coach Wilson has had to completely restock the cupboards. It remains to be seen if his system will bear fruit over time.
Nevada heads to San Diego on the heels of a 45-27 loss against in-state rival UNLV. The Rebels held a commanding 38-14 lead at the end of the third quarter. As the score shows, neither team put up much fight defensively. The teams combined for 992 total yards of offense. Of key note is that the Wolfpack turned the ball over three times, leading to two Rebel touchdowns. Nevada showed vulnerability against UNLV mobile quarterback Jayden Maiava. They possibly might be confused and struggle against the Aztecs quarterback Jalen Mayden, both in name and talent. Maiva was an efficient 19-24 passing for 259 yards and ran for another 32. The Wolfpack secondary was extremely vulnerable to the big play giving up a 66 yard rushing touchdown to Donavyn Lester and scoring strikes to Ricky White for 59 and 82 yards. The Aztecs have shown improvement in the passing game with Mekhi Shaw, Brionne Penny, Baylin Brooks and Mark Redman. When the Wolfpack have the ball, all roads lead through quarterback Brendon Lewis. He has thrown for 907 yards with 2 TD’s, but 6 interceptions. He is also the team rushing leader with 311 yards. Next up is running back Sean Dollars with 241 yards on the ground. Receivers Jamaal Bell, (26/247/1), Spencer Curyis (18/214/1) and Dalevon Campbell (12/205/1) lead the way for the Wolfpack. They are bolstered by consistent kicker Brandon Talton who has been with the Wolfpacks since 2019. On defense, the Wolfpack rely on corner Emany Johnson and linebacker Tongiaki Mateialona to carry the tackling load. Nevada has averaged two sacks a game and only three interceptions. They are a -4 on turnover margin for the year.
San Diego State (3-4, 1-2 MWC) vs. Nevada Wolfpack (0-6, 0-2 MWC)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium in beautiful Mission Valley. (Capacity 35,000, a short drive to beaches, zoo and anyplace else.)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 21 @ 6:00 PM PST
Betting Line: The Aztecs start as a 13 1⁄2 point favorite. The over/under is 49 1⁄2 points according to Draft Kings. The score has a projection of 32-18 in favor of San Diego State. ESPN analytics predicts a 77.2% chance of an Aztec victory. Bettors are evenly split between the two teams factoring in the odds
TV: Fox Sports 2
RADIO: San Diego Sports 760
History: This is the 16th meeting between the Aztecs and Wolfpack. The Aztecs own a 9-6 overall record including last years 23-7 win in Reno. They are 6-2 in home contests and have played Nevada every year since 2012, compiling a 7-4 record. The first games in the series were in 1945 and 1946, both won by the Wolfpack 44-6 and 26-0.
Keys to the Game
- Special teams (Jack Browning) continue to provide points and flip the field. Jack Browning turned in another stellar performance against Hawaii, on the way to being named the special teams Player of the Week for the Mountain West Conference. Browning punted four times for a 56.0 average including two that went for 60-plus yards. Three landed inside the 20-yard line, severely limiting Hawaii’s ability to start with decent field position. He also made two field goals and all five of his PAT attempts. In addition to punting and place kicking, he also handles kickoffs, with six touchbacks. Both Browning and Wolfpack kicker Brandon Talton are premier kickers in the Mountain West. This area has been and should continue to be a strength for the Aztecs, allowing them to flip the field and not allow their opposition good field position on either punts or kickoffs.
- The defense needs to create stops and allow offense to create rhythm. The Aztecs seem to be able to control most aspects of the game. They have got the better offense, defense and special teams. Obviously momentum and breaks can swing a game in a myriad of directions. The Aztecs limited Hawaii to three plays over 50 yards (yes, that sounds like alot, but Hawaii lives by the big play). The Wolfpack, while having decent receivers, do not have the big play capability that Hawaii possesses. Of more concern is keeping the Wolfpack receivers in front of the sticks, aiming for a 50% completion percentage and hopefully getting 3 or 4 picks. The Aztecs can pressure Brandon Lewis and if they can keep him about 150 yards, and the running game less than 100, this can easily become an Aztec-dominated game. With three fumble recoveries and one interception against Hawaii, the Aztecs were flipping possessions, but they nearly bent one too many times against Hawaii. The Wolfpack are not as good as Hawaii in nearly all areas of the game. They had five punts last week and expectations are that number might even increase. Their possession breakdown on offense were 13 drives, five punts, four TD’s, three turnovers and one loss on downs. If the Aztecs hold Nevada to two scores there are 1-2 more punts. This was also against a very porous UNLV defense. The Aztecs are vastly superior and should continue a strong defensive performance on Saturday.
- Who will be the new player to step up? New players are entering the fray for San Diego State. Lucky Sutton, Braylin Brooks, the emergence of cornerback Deshawn McCuin, the return of Cam Davis and Mekhi Shaw and the introduction of returners Eric Butler and Sheldon Canley II. Freshman safety Marcus Ratcliffe led the Aztecs in tackles with 6 against Hawaii. The Aztecs are desperately trying to achieve bowl eligibility sooner rather than later. This player development will help with the depth and give the Aztecs a much-needed boost heading into their final five games of the season and any potential bowl berth.
Analysis/Prediction: For the second week in a row, the Aztecs look to be the superior team. They did run into a good Hawaii team, but finally prevailed. Nevada is several steps below Hawaii and if they win, it would be due to a complete Aztec meltdown. The Aztecs should achieve about 450 yards of offense and hold Nevada to less than 300. Again turnovers might play a big key, limiting Nevada to scoring opportunities. Jack Browning will be called on to flip the field as he has done so many times this season and to provide points with his foot. The game could be a springboard as they build upon their single-game winning streak. If all goes well, they could have a five-game winning streak heading into the season finale against Fresno State. My pre-season score was the Aztecs prevailing 42-14 and I don’t see any reason to vary from that earlier prognostication. It would beat both the team and the over/under-point spread. I strongly feel 49 1⁄2 points should easily be beaten. Expect more Mayden throwing short, cross routes and pulling the ball on RPO’s. It would be nice to see a big breakaway run from the line of scrimmage. This could be the game as Nevada is prone to the big plays. Around the MWC this weekend, Air Force is on the road against Navy and looks to run their record to 7-0 and improve upon their #22 ranking. Colorado State travels to UNLV and with the Rebels, an 8-point favorite, look to make a strong big for the number two team in the conference. Utah State travels to San Jose State in what looks like the most meaningful game of the week. The Spartans are four-point favorites but have not beaten the Aggies in ten tries. Can the Spartan offense continue off of last week's win? Finally, in probably the most irrelevant game, Hawaii travels to New Mexico with both teams looking for their first conference game. Wyoming, Fresno State, and Boise State all have the week off to prepare for their final push. Air Force is making a case for a New Year's 6 Bowl, having qualified for a bowl game and being the highest-ranked team among the Group of 5. Fresno has also qualified for bowl eligibility. UNLV and Wyoming need one more game. The exciting end-of-season run will be who else will be in a bowl. Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State all have three wins. San Jose State has only two but has a favorable schedule. Watch for our weekly bowl projections on MWCConnection to see who’s next one up. Meantime, welcome home Aztecs, enjoy your meal of Wolfpack steak.