Following its most forgettable game in recent years, San Diego State finds itself in gut-check time. Can the Aztecs refocus their efforts on beating Utah State before the witching hour strikes twelve?
The Aztecs (3-5), (1-3 MWC) are 2 1⁄2 point underdogs at home against the Aggies (3-5), (1-3 MWC). They’re probably lucky it’s not more. The Aztecs have fallen so far that this game was considered a strong Aztec win at the beginning of the season. Much went wrong with the Nevada loss the Aztecs look to be underdogs the rest of the season. Needing three wins to be bowl-eligible looks to be an insurmountable proposition for a team that really has not found its mark all season. Coach Brady Hoke and staff, especially offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley, are under an increasingly magnification microscope for their leadership, play-calling, and results. Lack of execution, lack of imagination and extreme inconsistency in plays are leading the Aztecs to national-level lows. They are #114 in passing offense at 170.5 yards a game and rank #112 in total offense with 317.5 yards per game. Quarterback Jalen Mayden has continued to struggle to put up big numbers, but he is the player that opponents key on. He should be given the “not surprising who will carry the ball” award. The Aztecs will have to have production from Kenan Christon, Jaylon Armstead, Cam Davis and Lucky Sutton if they can swing the balance of the pendulum of momentum in their favor. Mayden will also need to find his tight end Mark Redman, after Nevada shut him out two weeks ago. Mayden will have to have more than six completions to help move the ball and sustain drives. There seem to be more things that need to be done and the list is growing. Until this can be done, expect another busy outing from punter Jack Browning. Just hope that he stays healthy otherwise the Aztecs will be in an even bigger mess.
Utah State is coming off of a bye week after suffering two losses.
The Aggies head to San Diego also after a bye-week. Will they be able to regroup to keep their bowl hopes alive? Three weeks ago they lost a close, 37-32 game against Fresno State and followed that up with a 42-21 thudding loss against a surging San Jose State team. The Aggies look to have a favorable schedule in three of their last four games, against the Aztecs, Nevada and New Mexico. They do face Boise State, but if they take care of business they should wind up 6-6 and bowl-eligible. The Aggies have created their own controversy switching from Cooper Legas to McCae Hillstead. Legas, a senior, has accounted for over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Freshman Hillstead has added 890 more yards making the Aggies a formidable team through the air. On the receiving end of these tosses are arguably two of the better receivers in the league. Jalen Royals has caught 43 balls for 707 yards and 10 TD’s. Terrell Vaughn, a 5’7” speedster from California has added 639 more yards and 89 scores. They are first and third in the MWC in receiving touchdowns. Both of them contributed 145 yards and three scores against Fresno State, but were held to 90 yards and one score against San Jose State. The Aggies have big play capability both in the air and on the ground. They are led by junior Davon Booth with 489 yards and Rahsul Faison with 370 more. On the defensive side of the ball, the Aggies are anchored by LB MJ Tafisi with a team-leading 87 tackles. Pass rush specialist Paul Fitzgerald has four sacks while safety Ike Larsen has three interceptions. Of particular interest for Aggies fans, is their ability to limit the big play. Against the Spartans, the longest play was 29 yards and against the Bulldogs, a 46 yard run and two 29 yard pass receptions were all the Aggies gave up. With the anemic Aztec offense seriously lacking big play abilities, the Aggies should be able to focus on stopping the run and short, over-the-middle passes.
San Diego State (3-5, 1-3 MWC) vs. Utah State Aggies (3-5, 1-3 MWC)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium in beautiful Mission Valley. (Capacity 35,000, easy to find if any fans want to show up to the game)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 4 @ 4:00 PM PST
Betting Line: The Aggies are a 2 1⁄2 point favorite. The over/under is 56 1⁄2 points according to Draft Kings. The score has a projection of 30-27 in favor of San Diego State. ESPN analytics predicts a 61.3% chance of an Aztec victory. Bettors are nearly all expecting Utah State to win outright and cover the spread.
TV: Fox Sports 2
RADIO: San Diego Sports 760
History: This is the 17th meeting between the Aztecs and Aggies. The Aztecs are dominating the overall series with a 13-3 advantage. The last meeting was for the MWC Championship in 2021 which featured a 46-13 Utah State victory. The Aztecs won in 2020 38-7, Utah State won 23-17 in 2019, but the 10 previous games were Aztec victories.
Keys to the Game
- Knock knock. Who’s there? Offense. Offense who? Exactly. This game and the remaining Aztec games will be solely on the back of Ryan Lindley and the Aztec offense. They need to show up and provide balance to the team concept. QB Jalen Mayden averages 6.7 yards per pass attempt and 10.8 yards per completion. He has been challenged finding receivers in the endzone, only accounting for six passing touchdowns. He has contributed six rushing touchdowns and leads the team in that category. These are countered against six interceptions and fourteen sacks. He also leads the team with rushing, having accumulated 400 yards on the ground. How he goes, so goes the Aztecs. Next up rushing are Kenan Christon and Jaylon Armstead, both with 257 yards. It is obvious that both components do not meet expectations. Receivers have also been by committee, with no one immediately showing breakout ability. TE Mark Redman has 256 yards, followed by Mekhi Shaw with 249 and Brionne Penny with 233. The passing game averages 15 receptions and 166 yards per game. These stats, when put into perspective, show a team struggling to move the ball, sustain drives and find the endzone. Against Nevada, they had ten drives that ended with seven punts, two downs and a turnover. Those drives need to have better conversion.
- The defense needs to do what they did against Nevada. It seems unfair and selfish to continue to rely upon the defense to carry the team. What’s next, expecting the defense to score while the offense takes a vacation? Allowing six points to Nevada should be the reason for cause celeb. Even so, the defense has yielded far more than expected. Giving up 34 to Boise State, 49 to Air Force and 34 to Hawaii should be reasons for legitimate concerns. Hawaii is off of a 35-0 thrashing against San Jose State, who up until recently, had similar defensive questions, but they seem to be gelling at the right time. There’s no reason that the Aztecs cannot put together a strong defensive performance, but it cannot be done at the expense of a non-existent offense. The defense held Nevada to 11 drives with only two field goals. The Wolfpack did miss two other field goals. A repeat performance like this would be a welcome continuation.
- Who will be the next player to step up? This has been the season-long mantra. It’s been a revolving door of hopeful opportunity. Some previous players mentioned include Lucky Sutton, Braylin Brooks, Deshawn McCuin, Cam Davis, Mekhi Shaw, Eric Butler, Sheldon Canley II and Marcus Ratcliffe. Unfortunately, there has not been any consistency or sustainability. The Aztecs can count on Jack Browning when punting, but a good punter does not make a winning team. While some players have had some good performances, the overall body of work has left many fans and perhaps even some players that next year should be better.
Analysis/Prediction: The Aztecs have taken on the role of underdog. They will probably be on the short end of expectations for the remainder of the season. Probably gone is a four-game winning streak heading into the season finale against Fresno State. My pre-season score was the Aztecs beating Utah State 27-13, but the Aggies offense and the Aztec's lack of one make me lean toward a 21-12 Aggie win. I don’t see alot of points. The Aggies are more proficient, but a strong defense can mitigate some of the offensive success. I’m not too excited about the game unless punting and three-and-outs are ones forte’. Around the MWC this weekend, Air Force is home against Army, looking to build upon their 8-0 start. they are on the fast track for a New Years six bowl. Boise State travels to Fresno
State, which on paper, looks to be one heckuva dog fight. Be sure to either watch or DVR this one. UNLV looks to rebound against New Mexico, Wyoming looks to do the same against Colorado State. The Cowboys with a win will be bowl-eligible. Hawaii travels to Nevada which should be an entertaining game, but one that doesn’t seem to hold much bearing on either the conference or a bowl berth. San Jose State has a bye week, anticipating their rivalry matchup with Fresno State next week. So far there are three bowl-eligible teams with Air Force, Fresno State and UNLV (congrats Rebels and Coach Barry Odom!) In the end, it has been a dark and stormy season for the Aztecs, one which started with promise and ended up with a broken engagement. They definitely are playing for next year, but perhaps they might be able to muster a bit of pride and pull off the upset.