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Aztecs open Mountain West play Friday evening against Boise State.

The Aztecs will need to find their run, run, run game or it will be a long, long, long evening.

NCAA Football: North Dakota at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Aztecs open conference play as 7 point underdogs to Boise State. Can the Aztecs muster enough of a ground attack to keep the Broncos off the field? Boise State fresh off a convincing win against FCS foe North Dakota looks to build upon its newfound momentum. Watch out if they start rolling.

The Aztecs are caught in a mobious loop, infinitely chasing what they know they need to do, but unable to break out of the eventual outcome. Their season and team strategy is predicated on them discovering who they are. They have lost their qi, or energy source. They’ve lost their identity as a strong running team on offense. They have lost their confidence. All is not lost. Each game is its own beast, it’s own performance with an ending that has not yet been written. Two halves can produce entirely different results. The Aztecs can find their way by winning a half and discovering leadership. Last year Boise State did this to the Aztecs. SDSU was up 13-0 at halftime against the Broncos in Boise. The second half saw the Broncos make the plays and they scored 35 unanswered points to win 35-13. It can happen the the Aztecs. They must believe and they must execute plays.

Offensive Quagmire

The Aztecs offense is giggidy-giggidy. And not in a funny Glenn Quagmire kind of way. It is unreliable and disappointing. It teases and then comes crashing down. Some disappointing stats point to this. The team has averaged 18.75 points this season while yielding 25.5. Their passing yards exceed their rushing yards. They are 18/57 on third down conversions. they are 6/10 in red zone conversions. This shows both futility as well as too few opportunities. They lack the big plays that excite the team and the crowd. Quarterback Jalen Mayden has been most of the teams offense. He is 70/116 passing for 701 yards. He’s thrown 4 interceptions and only 3 touchdowns. His receivers have yet to show sustainability or dominance. Jaylon Armstead leads the rushing with 195 yards on 38 attempts. Close behind is Mayden with 193 yards on 40 attempts. Many of those attempts are scrambling to avoid a sack behind the line of scrimmage. He has shown breakaway ability, but too much shouldn’t be expected of the QB. To make matters worse, leading receiver Mekhi Shaw is out with an injury and his status is unsure at this time.

Total Team Play

The Aztecs seem at times to be going through the motions. Running like it’s practice. Some plays are serious breakdowns with players awaiting a coaching moment. There seem to be issues at every position. This is strange company for the Aztecs. How can they break out of these doldrums? Can they catch fire in time to be a serious contender for the conference title? One positive area is the continued emergence of tight end Mark Redman. Arguably the best tight end in the conference, he is also the leading pass catcher with 16 receptions for 179 yards and 2 scores. The second most in receptions is Kenan Christon with 12 catches for 78 yards. This squarely points to his wide outs not being able to get open. Perhaps the defense schemes to cover those receivers and let Mayden check down to his 3rd or 4th selection or a back out of the backfield. To make the running game come alive, there must be the threat of a pass or a deep ball. This may be a key contributor to the less-than-anticipated ground game.

The Broncos might be the best in the MWC

Coming off of two losses to ranked teams, the Broncos took care of business against North Dakota last week winning 42-18. Looking ahead they travel to Memphis to take on the Tigers, who at this time are 3-0. They play at Missouri this weekend. Leading the Broncos is Taylon Green, a 6’6” sophomore out of Texas. He has completed 46/87 passes for 576 yards, 3 TD’s but 4 interceptions. His backup is freshman Maddux Madsen who has played in all three games and has thrown 11/18 for 144 yards and 2 scores. Green is a big play guy with wheels and speed and could be a high draft pick when his college career is finished. Their rushing game is centered around Ashton Jeanty with 50 carries and 202 yards and 4 scores. He has also caught 14 passes for 236 yards and 2 more scores. He is the key to this offense and the Aztecs will need to find a way to contain his performance. His anticpated running mate, senior George Holani, has been injured since the Washington game. His status is week to week. Their leading receiver is Eric McAlister, a 6’4” sophomore who has 15 grabs for 238 yards and 2 TD’s. The Broncos have incredible offensive skill players and talent that is expected to perform highly during conference play. On defense they are led by linebacker Marco Notarainni with 20 tackles and 2 sacks. Their safeties account for 3 of the top 4 tacklers showing opponents have been able to get past the initial line of scrimmage. It will be necessary for the Aztecs to get into the secondary with their rushing game. To be held up at the line will spell an early bad omen. Broncos anticipated leading tackler DJ Schramm is also out with injury since the Central Florida game and his status is unsure.

San Diego State (2-2) vs. Boise State Broncos (1-2)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium, San Diego, CA. (Capacity 35,000). At least it’s not the god awful blue turf.

Date/Time: Friday, September 22 @ 7:30 PM PST

Betting Line: Boise State is a 7 point favorite. The over/under is 45.5 points according to Draft Kings. The score has a projection of 26-19 Boise State. There is a straight-up 67.9% chance of an outright Bronco victory.

TV: CBS Sports Network

RADIO: San Diego Sports 760

History: This is the 9th meeting between the Aztecs and Broncos. Boise won last year 35-13 and the year before the Aztecs won 27-16 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. Both teams are 4-4 in their contests. The Aztecs have averaged 24 points in their eight games. Can they score more than that and win? Most pundits have the Aztecs scoring less. They will need to prove to themselves that they can score.

Keys to the Game

  1. Is a quick start too much to ask for? The Aztecs have failed to start quickly in any of their games this year. The odds are one of these games, they will have a fast start. A fast start also implies being able to convert on opportunities. Third-down and red zone conversions have been below expectations. These metrics are being carefully monitored to find plays that will keep drives going and put the ball in the endzone. This seems like a broken record week in and week out. Expect this week's practice to focus on solutions to these challenging issues. The more the Aztecs can keep the ball out of the Broncos hands, the better chance they will have to be close in the fourth quarter.
  2. Will the defense contain the Broncos high-powered offense? Aztec defense, long a proud standard has been stretched in their four games this season. The bend but don’t break mantra will be on full display this Friday night. Game plan is typical against a team with an outstanding athlete at quarterback. Pressure, containment, and hurried throws. If they can establish this, the next level of defense will be to key on the back out of the backfield, namely Jeanty. He will be the difference maker for the Aztecs this weekend if they have any chance of an upset victory. The Broncos will use him on off-tackle runs, draws, screens, and swing passes. Throw in an occasional wheel route and Aztec linebackers and corners will need to do a stellar job at verbalizing coverages. One miscommunication and he can take a simple play to the house. With eight interceptions, the Aztecs have shown they can cover and break quickly on passes. More of this will be expected.

Analysis/Prediction: To begin the season, I had expected this to be a Boise State win, 38-21. I haven’t seen anything different to sway the eventual outcome. The Aztecs will need to have that one win to serve as a catalyst for the rest of their season. It’s possible it might be this game. Air Force is waiting in the wings for the Aztecs next. How will the coaching staff change the game approach? Maybe they don’t and hope for the best. Offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley is really hoping something breaks through. Coach Hoke is looking for a complete team effort. Let’s hope there is a decent crowd at Snapdragon considering it’s a Friday night and the weather looks perfect. As of this time, there are still plenty of seats remaining. Boise State travels well so expect quite a few orange and blue Broncos cheering on their team. Part of the struggle with a large crowd is the low amount of season tickets sold. Winning can help this. As for the hostile crowd? The Aztecs can silence them by scoring early and often. Can the Aztecs pull the upset and launch their conference season on a positive track? The ending has not yet been written. It will be found on the green turf between the trenches.