By @SDSportsfiend (via Twitter)
As the #24 ranked Aztecs returned home from a business trip victory at Hawaii, they quickly had to shift their focus and prepare for Saturday’s divisional clash with an ultra-talented Nevada team. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 pm (PST) and will be the next to last game on the season schedule at Carson, California’s Dignity Health Sports Park. CBS Sports Network will have the television broadcast rights this weekend and XTRA AM1360 has the audio broadcast.
This will be SDSU’s “homecoming” game away from home for 2021. SDSU holds the historical matchup edge with 7 wins to Nevada’s 6. However, the Wolfpack are coming into this matchup riding a 3 game win streak against the Aztecs. No other team in the Mountain West has put together such a consecutive win total against SDSU in over a decade. To say this game is of most importance for San Diego State would be an accurate statement. Currently SDSU are a -2.5 point favorite over Nevada.
The Wolfpack are coming off an emotional 27-24 home victory over San Jose State after their Lou Groza award semifinalist kicker, Brandon Talton, kicked the game winning field goal with 3 seconds left.
This week’s match-up between San Diego State and Nevada has serious conference championship implications as neither team can afford to drop a game and tie-breaker advantage in the West division standings. Both teams sit atop their division in the Mountain West standings at 4-1 with Fresno State, thanks to a blowout loss at home to Boise State last Saturday, sitting anxiously right behind them at 4-2.
Whichever team loses in this all important game, the Bulldogs own the tiebreaker with wins over both Nevada and SDSU. The winner of this game maintains the inside track to reaching the conference championship game, while the loser will likely be watching the game from their couch on December 4th.
If you follow college football, you know that Nevada is lead by a potential 1st round NFL draft pick in QB Carson Strong. The 6’ 4” gunslinger leads a potent Wolfpack offense that boasts the 3rd best passing attack of all teams in the FBS at 376 yards per game.
The Fighting Norvells like to spread the ball around to multiple receivers and the Wolfpack have at least 6 players who have at least 25 catches on the year. By comparison, Daniel Bellinger leads all Aztecs with 21 receptions. Carson Strong’s favorite targets are WR Romeo Doubs, WR Melquan Stovall and TE Cole Turner who have combined for a staggering 156 catches for 1,879 yards through 9 games.
Aztec fans may still have nightmares from last year’s nationally televised broadcast as Doubs torched the Aztecs’ secondary for 133 yards on 5 catches in a 26-21 Wolfpack win. As teams focus on stopping Nevada’s passing game, this allows for their bowling ball running back Toa Taua to gain chunk yardage on the ground as well. The 5’ 9” 210 pound senior is averaging over 5 yards per carry.
The Aztecs defense who have the 10th best scoring defense in college football have a formidable task ahead of them to say the least.
Blueprint for Victory?
Fortunately for the Aztecs, Nevada’s close win vs San Jose State and Carson Strong’s subpar performance against the Spartans may provide the Aztecs with the gameplan for slowing down the Nevada air raid offense. San Jose State applied pressure from their defensive front to sack Strong 3 times and forced him into 2 first half interceptions.
The strength of the Aztec defense is in their front seven with Cameron Thomas, Jonah Tavai and Keshawn Banks anchoring the line. Those 3 Aztecs combined for 4 sacks against Hawaii. In order to slow down Carson Strong and the vaunted Wolfpack offense, San Diego State’s defensive line will need to apply pressure on Strong and not allow him to operate from a clean pocket.
San Jose State also used disguised coverages to keep Strong and the Wolfpack offense off-balance for most of the night. In the postgame press conference, Wolfpack head coach Jay Norvell attributed the Spartan’s defensive success to showing Nevada “a lot of crazy looks” during the game.
As San Diego State defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix game plans for Nevada, borrowing a few concepts from the San Jose State defensive playbook may help the Aztec secondary force some ill-advised throws by Strong that create opportunities for turnovers and flip the field for the Aztecs.
Such was not the case when the Aztecs faced Fresno State, only other explosive passing offense on their schedule. Boise State took down Fresno State and played a similar defensive strategy to what Hawaii was able to do in their victory against the Bulldogs—zone defense.
Presenting crazy looks on defense is something that the Aztecs 3-3-5 defense is geared to do—around the line of scrimmage. But what about the back end secondary? Are the Aztecs willing to bring a mix of coverages and chaos in the passing lanes to shake up one of the premier quarterbacks in college football? If not, it may be a long night for the homecoming crowd in attendance.
Stay tuned Wednesday as our usual Sons of Montezuma Podcast will be released with more on this crucial San Diego State Nevada matchup. You can listen to last weeks episode here below!
College Football Playoff Top-25
Regardless of style style points, the Aztecs found themselves for the first time in school history an ESPN College Football Playoff Top-25 team. After viewing our weekly watch/tv rooting guide last week, you would’ve noticed that quite a few teams above and just behind the Aztecs lost last weekend. It will be excitingly interesting to see just where SDSU shakes up in this weeks new ratings after the fallout.
The 11 member committee that decides these rankings have shown their respect for the Mountain West schools this season, so here is to hoping they don’t punish SDSU too harshly for Fresno State’s debacle against a middling Boise State team. Fresno is expected to carry on strongly this season so that loss should’nt be too much of a weight holding SDSU down.
While SDSU can no longer count the Fresno State loss as being to a top-25 ranked team, they CAN indeed milk the victory over Utah for all it’s worth, as the Utes have gone on an impressive rebound since losing to our Aztecs back in late September. Utah now finds themselves atop the Pac-12 South division with wins over all the major brands like UCLA, Arizona State and of course USC.
If the Aztecs and Utes can pull of the victory this weekend, things could get really interesting when Utah faces a #4 Oregon Ducks team next weekend in Salt Lake City. Let’s all pray to the God Huitzilopochtli for his ultimate power in making this happen for our Aztecs!