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Aztecs Look To Get Back On Track Against Idaho State

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The inaugural game at Snapdragon is mercifully in the rearview mirror. San Diego State football gets a do-over on and off the field at 5 p.m. Saturday, September 10, with a matchup versus Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference. As of press time, there is a chance of rain forecast for kickoff.

Given Mother Nature’s fickleness nowadays, we point that out rather gingerly in the hopes of avoiding a downpour that sends fans scurrying to the concourses again, this time from the rain.

San Diego State and Idaho State are each searching for their first victory. With that being said, here are three keys to victory for the Aztecs against the ISU Bengals.

1. Improved Play in the Trenches.

It can only improve from week one, right? The line play on both sides of the ball in the opener was horrible. The loss of William Dunkle (Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad) and Cam Thomas (Arizona Cardinals active roster) to the NFL left, well, large holes up front on their respective sides of the ball.

The Aztecs’ offensive line has for more than a decade been stocked with maulers in the run game. In week one, inopportune penalties only compounded the difficulties for a young Aztec O-line still looking to build an identity.

Now, the Aztecs have been gifted with an Idaho State defense that gave up 52 points in its opener. This game should be the confidence builder needed for an Aztec O-line looking to develop consistency. One cautionary note. Idaho State’s defense still managed five sacks against UNLV. Will the Aztecs’ quarterback(s) have time to throw?

The defense has been a strength of Aztec football since Rocky Long first roamed the sideline as the defensive signal caller. Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix now in his third season, has continued the tough brand of hard-knock 3-3-5 defense after Long’s departure.

Expectations only grew in 2022 with the return of seven starters. Look for the Aztec defensive front to return to its bully form against what should be an overmatched ISU offensive line. The Bengals aren’t very big up front and eight ISU drives ended in punts against UNLV.

2. Converting/Defending Red Zone Opportunities.

Not that there is ever a good time for a turnover, but turnovers especially sting when your team is driving toward the opponent’s end zone and trying to build some momentum. The Aztecs had a first-half interception at a key juncture and a second-half fumble among its red zone opportunities.

Conversely, the Aztecs allowed the University of Arizona to go 5 for 5 in the red zone, which included four touchdowns. Overall, look for the Aztec offense to do better in converting on third down. That goes hand in hand with being more productive in the passing game. More opportunities should be coming this week for WR Jesse Matthews. As bad as ISU played in its opener, as lopsided as the score was, the Bengals went 2-2 in red zone opportunities against UNLV.

3. Improved Tackling.

Coach Brady Hoke said this about his defense missing so many tackles in week one, “It’s not who we’ve been.” Coach Hoke counted 35 (!) missed tackles in the opener. 

Defensive end Jonah Tavai added, “We know one thing we have to work on this week and going forward.” Pursuit angles and wrapping have been the focus. 

The Aztecs have five players on the defensive side of the ball who earned all-conference accolades a year ago. That’s too much talent to keep bottled up for much longer.

But let’s give the credit where credit is due. Arizona’s newly purged roster showed to be an impressive improvement of talent on both sides of the ball—especially at the key quarterback, wide receiver and running back positions. A return to form is in the cards for SDSU’s defense against an FCS opponent. 

What’s New with ISU

Charlie Ragle was named the new head coach of the Idaho State football program. A highly respected 10-year veteran of Pac-12 coaching staffs, Ragle comes to Idaho State after spending the last five years at Cal. It is the second week in a row that SDSU faces a team that had only one win in 2021.

What’s Familiar with ISU

There Idaho State Bengals have several connections to San Diego. Sophomore RB Raiden Hunter is from San Diego and played his high school ball at San Diego high. Sophomore DL Tyler Gonzalez also is from San Diego and from the Granite Hills high program. In addition Cornerbacks coach Pierre Cormier who played at Madison High in San Diego, was recently a Graduate Assistant in the SDSU football program prior to joining the Bengals staff this season.

Stay tuned Thursday as Greg Woods sportswriter for the Idaho State Journal joins the Sons of Montezuma Podcast to give a little more insight to who the Bengals are and what they bring.

Prediction

The offense continues to run the ball well, limits turnovers, and the defense tackles well in stifling ISU in all phases of the game. Aztecs 34, Bengals 13.

Listen to the latest Sons of Montezuma Podcast where the guys recap the 38-20 loss to the Wildcats and how the brutal heat spoiled the Snapdragon Stadium party.

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