Derrick Tuscan/

San Diego State vs Hawaii: 3 Keys To Watch for the Aztecs

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It would be too easy to say SDSU responded with an “Aloha” to their respective former and current offensive coordinator in advance of this Saturday’s matchup with Hawaii. But this game is all about re-setting the table for a battered, beaten and bruised SDSU football program.

Hawaii comes in as a welcome fresh breeze. When the Aztec football team takes on the Rainbow Warriors at Snapdragon, the SDSU squad will say hello to an old, trusted friend: its running game. Hawaii may have the worst run defense in the nation. This game could not come at a better time for SDSU.

This matchup features two of the lowest ranked teams in all of FBS at very critical facets of the game. San Diego State drags in at #131 in passing offense. Hawaii #108 in running offense. The Aztecs boast #121 in penalties. The Warriors are a lowly #1301 rushing defense.

Some around the nation have labeled this matchup as ‘unwatchable filth’, and while we want to grind our teeth, clench our fist and fight back—the numbers and the games we’ve all seen so far truly do live up to that characterization. The Aztecs and the Warriors truly are filthy.

Hopefully for the Aztecs, things are looking up with recent changes. Facing Hawaii after one of the most tumultuous 72 hours in recent program history is an opportunity to say goodbye, for one game at least, to SDSU’s offensive woes, especially the nation’s worst passing attack.

With the Aloha spirit and the restorative powers of the islands in mind, here are three keys to victory for the Aztecs against the Rainbow Warriors.

1. Reduce the pre-snap penalties.

Seriously, has anyone seen it this bad? From the broadcast team to Twitter-ites to our own SoM podcasters, it has been a broken record every week about the offensive line and pre-snap penalties.

Said San Diego State Head Coach Brady Hoke, “You can’t get into a rhythm with seven false starts. It kills drives. That’s a responsibility that we all take on.” One of the youngest lines in college football has to start improving or Hoke will be taking on more calls for staff changes.

There’s ample cause for hope, though. The line should collectively take a step forward this week without having to leap over yellow flags. Hawaii gave up 353 rushing yards to New Mexico St. in a 45-26 loss. NMSU had not surpassed more than 303 yards in any of their first four games.

If the Hawaii defense could not slow down the Aggies’ offense, how will it stop the Aztecs’ foundational strength? Hawaii won’t stop the Aztecs. Pre-snap penalties could, though.  

2. Keep the quarterback(s) out of the injury tent.

It has been an injury-plagued welcome to the Red & Black for SDSU quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a transfer from Virginia Tech who had ignited hopes in the fan base for a significant upgrade to the quarterback position. Burmeister was knocked out of last week’s game after a helmet-to-helmet hit sent him into concussion protocol. Somehow he is expected to play Saturday night against Hawaii, as of press time.

This is a risky proposition. Will the new offense be more run heavy with less Braxton carries? Yes. But with the luck SDSU has had up to this point, no added bad PR is needed. Why risk potentially further injuring a quarterback that could use two weeks off to fully recover? The Aztecs with the bye week can ensure a healthy Burmeister for the final stretch run. Putting him out there this weekend makes one question if the safety of the player comes first.

After Boise St. knocked out Burmeister, backup Kyle Crum suffered a broken collarbone, which left true freshman Liu Aumavae to finish the game. This week, junior Jalen Mayden moved back to quarterback from the safety position, adding more experienced depth to a group that must feel like they are running for their collegiate football lives week in and week out.

Has it been the O-line play or the play calling? Or both? We’ll find out in the weeks ahead. But one thing is certain. If you can’t keep your quarterbacks out of the injury tent, it won’t matter who is behind center.

3. Intangibles.

Hoke knows his young men have weathered a lot recently. It hasn’t been the grand start to the first season in a new stadium that everyone–and we mean everyone–envisioned. The season hangs in the balance this week, followed by a bye week for the new (old?) offensive coordinator and new quarterbacks coach to work their magic.

“This is where we’re going to find out the most about ourselves as a football team and do our best to keep working forward,” Hoke said, drawing on the recent past for some inspiration.

“The guys in the film room put something together about the team in 2015 that started out 1 and 3, and ended up winning 10 in a row and ultimately the championship. That really inspired the guys, and we’re looking forward to being back at Snapdragon for this week’s game against Hawaii.”

Prediction: The offense runs the ball well, commits fewer penalties, and the defense doesn’t have to do it all itself. SDSU takes down Hawaii the way a monster wave rolls over a surfer.

Aztecs 44, Rainbow Warriors 7.

Watch below for the most recent look at the Hawaii Warriors where they lost convincingly to the New Mexico State Aggies.

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