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Undefeated Aztecs Travel to the Silicon Valley for a Clash with the Spartans

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The #24 Aztecs will travel to the Silicon Valley for a Friday night matchup with the defending Mountain West champions, the San Jose State Spartans, at CEFCU Stadium. SDSU leads the overall series 22-20-1.

The game kicks off on Friday, October 15th at 7:30 PM and will be available to watch via CBS Sports Network. An SDSU fan-favorite CBS personality, Rich Waltz, will be on the call along with Aaron Taylor providing analysis and Amanda Guerra reporting from the sideline.

This will be the second time that SJSU faces a ranked team this season. In September they lost (30-7) to #15 USC, which no longer holds a nationally ranked distinction. The Spartans last beat a ranked squad in 2016 when they took down #16 Fresno St. and are 0-6 against opponents in the AP Poll since then. The numbers are on the Aztec’s side.

SJSU is 3-3 on the season and 1-1 in Mountain West play. Alternating wins and losses in six consecutive games, the Spartans look to continue that trend coming off a tough 32-14 loss to Colorado State. The loss to the Rams was their first in conference play since UNLV defeated them in November of 2019. 

San Jose State 14 vs Colorado State 32 highlights by Mountain West Conference YouTube official.

SJSU has not competed up to expectations this year. After coming off an incredible COVID season that produced a Mountain West championship, the Spartans looked to pick up right where they left off. Head coach Brent Brennan was rumored for a small number of head coaching opportunities elsewhere after last season, but his decision to return to San Jose was supposed to bring an added security for the program. So far the decision is not paying off on the field.

Despite all of this, Friday night SJSU will get a little bit of an energy boost as it’s their Homecoming Game. This will be the sixth time that SJSU has hosted San Diego State for their HoCo. Most recently was in 2019 when the Aztecs came out victorious (27-17) with Kaegun Williams taking the opening kickoff a full 94-yards to the house as Spartan alumni and fans were trying to find their seats.

San Jose State Defense

Even in the Spartans victories this season vs FBS competition, each one has been by a slim margin. They struggled to beat Hawaii 17-13, which mind you, is always a difficult challenge when playing on the islands. But perhaps even more indicative of San Jose’s struggles was their shoot-out victory against lowly New Mexico State 37-31.

San Diego State definitely had their first-half struggles against the Aggies just the same. However, it is our consensus that those issues were more internal than what New Mexico truly offered as challenges for the Aztecs. For SJSU to allow 31 points at home to NM State, only to follow up with allowing 32 points the following weekend to CSU, is an absolute shocker. Especially for a team that returned their entire defensive front from just a year ago when they often overpowered Mountain West offensive lines.

After a 2020 year in which standout defensive lineman Cade Hall racked up 10 sacks, the junior DL is stuck sitting on 1 for this young 2021 season. While the SDSU defensive unit ranks among the top 10 in the nation with 18 sacks on the season so far, SJSU fails to make the top 50.

San Jose State Offense

It is unknown if SJSU QB, Nick Starkel, will be available Friday. He has been sidelined for two weeks after suffering a left arm injury vs Western Michigan. Nick Nash, the hero from last season’s Spartans victory over SDSU, has stepped up at the position and has thrown 5 touchdowns and 1 interception in two games. 

Regardless of who is taking snaps behind the center, the Spartan’s best offensive weapon is undoubtedly tight end Derrick Deese Jr. The senior leads the team in both receiving yards (334) and receiving touchdowns (3). While the rest of the receiving corps are to be respected, it is Deese Jr. who commands coverage at all times no matter the situation on the field.

The Spartans running game is led by Tyler Nevens who is at 406 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. However, if backup QB Nick Nash is given the chance to start Friday night, then those rushing opportunities can be expected to be split fairly evenly.

San Diego State Offense

Coming into this matchup, the Aztecs are feeling good about themselves offensively—but not great. The offense last weekend, against a Rocky Long coached New Mexico team, accomplished Brady Hoke’s first objective in starting fast. The obvious way to do that is to play to your strength and that is with the Aztec’s bruising running game. With a healthy Greg Bell and the entire stable of senior running backs running hard and looking to burst big gains each carry, this will undoubtedly be the pathway towards a championship season.

The passing game however did not start off fast. QB Jordon Brookshire struggled to get things going after coming off a month-long injury. But the second half did show a lot of promise. Completing passes to a mix of receivers has been a strength of Brookshire’s despite the low frequency. If the Brookshire to Shavers, Bellinger, and Mathews connection can continue to build strength–this Aztecs offense can be a complete force.

The luxury of having Lucas Johnson’s escapability out of the quarterback spot had its dazzling moments against the last two opponents. But Jordon showed last week, with his two rushing touchdowns, that he is also just as capable and perhaps the stronger and more physical runner. It may not carry the same attention as the option offense that Air Force runs and it may not be as graceful as many Aztecs fans want to see. But if the Aztec’s O-line and running backs can continue their physical ways, and Brookshire can hit his targets with accuracy and consistency while adding in the element of his strong rushing out of the backfield, this Aztec’s offense could be unstoppable.

San Diego State Defense

This will be a big test. A test of redemption for the Aztec defense. In last year’s game, defensive lineman Cam Thomas effectively knocked Spartan QB, Nick Starkel, out of the game early in the 1st quarter and Nick Nash came in to save the day. The goal this weekend, no matter who plays, would be to corral the SJSU quarterback and try to create turnovers—something the Aztecs surprisingly have not done enough of for Coach Hoke’s liking.

Last weekend the defense pitched a shutout despite the scoreboard showing 7 points. While we don’t expect that same level of domination, it will be interesting to see how Coach Kurt Mattix decides to play either quarterback this time around and who will get the potential matchups against SJSU’s TE Derrick Deese Jr. This performance test is one you won’t want to miss.

The Sons of Montezuma Podcast will have our best picks for players of the game, something you’ll definitely want to listen for!

What’s At Stake

San Diego State is the favorite at (-8) with the over/under being (41.5). While everyone expects the ranked SDSU team to be favored, it is only by a relatively small margin. This is surprising because SDSU averages 35.6 PPG and has a top-10 defense in the nation, only allowing 16.6 PPG. The Spartans average 20.5 PPG and have not played a defense as good as the Aztecs this season. The best defense the Spartans have faced this season has been Western Michigan, who ranks 24th nationally in Total Defense. SJSU scored a measly 3 points in their loss to the Broncos. 

The Aztecs have not forgotten last year’s “home” loss to the Spartans, which was SJSU’s first victory in the series since 2013. They look to knock off the reigning MW champs to become 2-0 in MW play and push the Spartans to the bottom of the leaderboards in the West division.

Not lost on the Aztecs coaching staff is the opportunity for the Aztecs to earn bowl eligibility with a victory Friday night. “I was fortunate enough to be a part of the first locker room in 2010 at Wyoming when we (SDSU) got our 6th win and to see the amount of men that were crying out of joy and relief to be that first in 12 years since we’d won six. That’s a vivid memory that i will carry for the rest of my life, was being a part of that team and starting that legacy of where we are today,” Offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski told reporters on Monday.

“There’s things that as a senior that will never be taken away from you–when you win that sixth. And that’s one, you got a winning record and will always be remembered as a winner. Two, you’re gonna carry on the legacy of being bowl eligible. And three, where do we go from there, because we have the ability to continue to build this and every week make it something special.”

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Opinion

I wouldn’t mind seeing more slip-screens out of the backfield and getting Jordan Byrd more involved to mix things up. QB play has been hard to watch and I don’t see it improving without change, whether that’s changing the passing scheme or jersey number. Something just isn’t clicking there and it needs to start doing so if the Aztecs want to keep a national ranking deep into the season. Regardless, the #24 Aztecs should be 6-0 if they continue with what they do best, running the football and creating havoc on defense.

You can listen below to the Brady Hoke report where he reflects on the victory over New Mexico and sets his sights on the San Jose State game. As well as the most recent two SDSU press interviews with defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix and offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski.

Andrew Serrano — Twitter: @ndrewserrano

Andrew is a San Diego State University graduate and sports enthusiast who enjoys playing below-average golf and trying new craft beers. During his time at SDSU, he was a KPBS Newsroom Assistant and NPR copywriting intern.
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