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San Diego State vs. UCLA: potential game of the year matchup for the Aztecs?

After starting 2-0, the Aztecs face off against arguably one of the bigger games in recent years when they meet UCLA at Snapdragon Stadium.

NCAA Football: Coastal Carolina at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Aztecs head into a matchup against Pac-12 UCLA on Saturday. Their 2-0 record is deceptive having barely beaten two inferior teams. Can the Aztecs put together a complete game performance against the Bruins or will they be outclassed by a team set on bigger sites?

San Diego State was able to eventually put down the Bobcats. Then they outlasted the Bengals. Now they will have to find a way to wrangle the Bruins. Bazookas and bombs are out of the question. What weapons can the Aztecs muster that will give them a victory over the favored Bruins? UCLA is fresh off of a 24-13 victory over Coastal Carolina which featured starting QB Ethan Garbers being pulled for future star Dante Moore. After coming in the game on the fourth Bruin series, he showed why he is considered a star in the making with a nice scramble and completion followed soon by a touchdown pass. He finished the game 7/12 passing for 143 yards and 2 TD with one interception. The Bruins were picked off three times which may play into the Aztec's hands as they have intercepted 3 passes in each of their two victories.

Defensive Questions

The Aztecs will need to contain the balance the Bruins seem to show on offense. Leading the nation with six interceptions is a strong point for the Aztec secondary. Expect the Bruins to start Moore at QB this week, challenging the Aztec defense to play containment and force Moore to hurry his throws. The Defensive secondary might help carry the day if he cannot find an open receiver and has to resort to hurried throws or escaping the pocket. The Aztecs have shown they are prone to giving up yards through the air. They will need to find a way to address that issue. Aztec linebacker Cody Moon, leads the team with 15 tackles with 10 being solo. Expect him to be key to containing the Bruins running game. The Aztecs have shown the ability to get off the field, but their previous opponents, while technically inferior on paper, have kept the games close into the fourth quarter. They will need to force the Bruins into third-down situations and keep them under 50%.

Offensive Questions

Another game and another close call. The Aztecs performed just well enough to win again against an inferior opponent. The passing game is again lacking with no receivers stepping up to be the go-to player. With Jaylen Mayden accounting for over half of the offense, with more rushing yards than passing yards, the Aztecs have become fearfully one-dimensional. Tight end Mark Redman has provided most of the receptions, but defensive pressure on the front could relegate his ability to get open. Another player needs to emerge otherwise the Aztecs will be a team that relies solely on its quarterback to run. That could spell a recipe for disaster and defeat against an upcoming string of talented opponents,

Who are the Bruins?

The Bruins are coming off an entertaining 27-13 win against Coastal Carolina last weekend. They premiered their 5-star quarterback of the future in Dante Moore who went 7/12 for 143 yards and two scores. They featured a strong running game with backs TJ Harden (11/76) and Carson Steele (13/76, 4 rec/20, 1 TD) leading the way with a steady ground game. Through the air, California transfer J. Michael Sturdivant excelled as the Bruins playmaker with five catches for 136 yards including a 62 yard TD. The Bruins had 417 yards of offense in a balanced game. The weak spot seems to be a propensity for interceptions, giving up three. UCLA held the Chanticleers to 56 yards on the ground on 34 attempts. How the Aztecs will address this challenge remains to be seen.

San Diego State (2-0) vs. UCLA Bruins (1-0)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium, San Diego, Ca.

Date/Time: Saturday, September 9 at 4:30 PM PST

Betting Line: UCLA is favored by 14.5 points with a 48.5 over/under line according to Draft Kings. There is a straight-up 81.9% chance of a Bruin victory.


RADIO: San Diego Sports 760

History: This is the 24th meeting between the Aztecs and the Bruins. Their history stretches all the way back to 1922 and has the Bruins dominating with a 21-1-1 record. The only Aztec victory was their last meeting in 2009 at the Rose Bowl, a 23-14 Aztec win. That broke a 19-game losing streak against the Bruins. This will be the 10th game played in San Diego in various locations.

Keys to the Game

  1. What will the offense do to sustain drives and score points? The game will start and end with Mayden needing to have the game of his career. He will need to read defenses quickly, react, and make decisions. He has been a confident team leader, but he cannot shoulder the entire burden himself. They will need to convert better than 5/12 third downs. They will need to be better than 18 first downs. They will need to be better than 87 yards passing. And they, as a team, will need to improve on 14 penalties for 138 yards. These killed the offensive drives as well as extended their opponents. Coach Hoke has said he will make this an issue to address both on and off the field. One can hope that last week's game against Idaho State shook all the cobwebs from the Aztec rafters.
  2. Can the defense stop UCLA drives and continue providing turnovers? While the defense has kept scoring fairly low against Ohio and Idaho State, points can be scored easily by the Bruins. They are balanced and if the Aztecs shut down the run, the Bruins are capable of flipping the ball to a myriad of capable receivers. Conversely, their running game looks strong with backs Harden and Steele pounding out the yards. The Bruins aren’t picked to be a top team in the Pac-12, they are still a worthy, talented, and dominant team that will likely be bowling at the end of the year. This game will require a total team effort of plugging holes, making tackles, and putting the Bruins into challenging down-and-distance situations. Throw in a few interceptions and we might have a game.

Analysis/Prediction: At the start of the season, I had predicted the Aztecs would upset UCLA by a 28-24 score. At this point, I am revising my game prediction to be an Aztec loss, 38-24. They have not been able to contain teams, taking close contests into the fourth quarter. They are too one dimensional and until balance and a breakout player emerge, teams will be keying on Jalen Mayden. He is, at this point, the team's most valuable player, but he cannot be a solo act. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with games against nationally ranked Oregon State, Boise State, and Air Force waiting in the wings. Spotting a 2-0 record to start, one could easily see the Aztecs drop their remaining three games if they are not able to turn around their execution. With some hope, Snapdragon Stadium will be filled to capacity for the 4:30 pm kickoff. Can a full stadium give the Aztecs what they need to get over the hump? Perhaps, but one does need to start somewhere and maybe 35,000 prayers might do a bit to see a heavenly outcome.