Often times early this season Coach Brady Hoke would be quoted after a game as saying the teams challenges were not about what the opponent was doing, but that it was about us, and what we are doing. This game against the Nevada Wolfpack presents SDSU with the opportunity to truly take the next step. To get themselves under control, disciplined, and up to speed enough to play against the opponent and not themselves.
After a productive bye week off of San Diego State football is back at it again this Saturday night to take on their third Mountain West Conference opponent of the season. The Aztecs travel to Reno, Nevada to take their chances against a Wolfpack team who has given them fits the last several years. Historically SDSU has 8 wins to Nevada’s 6, but 3 out of the last 4 have gone in favor of Air Raid Nevada teams.
That winning streak for the Wolfpack came to an end last season in a fourth quarter thriller when Aztecs defensive back Patrick McMorris broke up a 4th down pass to seal the win for SDSU. The big victory propelled SDSU to finish out the season winning the Western division and proved Nevada was never a serious MW Championship threat.
Despite all of the high passing stats Nevada had accumulated over the past few seasons, they never got over the hump with head coach Jay Norvell. He decided to take his staff on to greener pastures in Fort Collins as the head coach of Colorado State—so Nevada Reno comes into this matchup as a shell of their former selves.
Nevada began the season with two quick wins under first year head coach Ken Wilson, the victories were over lowly New Mexico State and Texas State. What has happened since has been 5 straight losses. Two of note have been one loss at home vs FCS Incarnate Word and the other just last weekend against SDSU’s most recent opponent, the Hawai’i Warriors, 31-16.
Though the Aztecs did also struggle with the Warriors themselves two weeks ago, the bye week has now effectively given SDSU a chance to truly reorganize the offense under Jeff Horton. With the return of QB Braxton Burmeister out of concussion protocol, this also gave time for a more secure and accurate assessment of the quarterback room with QB coach Ryan Lindley.
Head Coach Brady Hoke spoke on how the team prepared in the bye week:
“I was excited about the fundamental work that got done—the fundamentals and techniques that can help us become a better football team. You look at what’s ahead of us, Our destiny is in our own hands. When you look at the conference—it’s up in the air. Our cornerstones of mental & physical toughness are things we have to rely on and every week is going to be a battle.”
So what should we look for in the Aztecs offense?
San Diego State is 54-2 the last 55 times it has rushed for at least 200 yards (2-0 this year). Against Hawaii, Nevada surrendered 223 yards on the ground. This will be the obvious goal of Jeff Horton’s offense once again.
The last time the offense took the field newly re-converted QB Jalen Mayden had his coming out party passing for over 300 yards, a score and a perfect game winning drive. However, the Aztecs running game left a lot to be desired. SDSU was only able to muster 95 rushing yards. The holes just weren’t there despite who was carrying the rock.
This week expect to see starting right guard Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli back from injury and on the field. His absence on the line was surely felt in the run game on that right side as a tag team along with Josh Simmons.
Backup guard Dean Abdullah got some crucial experience filling in for the starter Ulugalu-Maseuli, but he also had his struggles. Adding back those 60 lbs back onto the line with Ross should provide a little more of that physical toughness coach Hoke was talking about.
When it comes to the running backs, vs Hawai’i, senior Chance Bell returned from injury and put up over 7 yards per carry. However his carries were limited to only 7 opportunities. Look for that number to increase now that he’s much healthier than before.
Meanwhile Jordan Byrd continues to be the playmaker we all expected this season. His increased workload this season has truly been the most consistent success of all the offensive weapons. Any time the ball is in his hands good things are bound to happen.
Jalen Mayden was officially announced as the starting QB shortly after the official bye week. In both San Diego and beyond in Texas, that news was met with plenty of optimism and excitement for an unlikely leader emerging to the forefront.
Plenty of highlights were shared and stories were told of the cool Texas swag that is in Jalen Mayden. And while his first game on the scene was able to have a happy ending against Hawai’i, this game against an opportunistic Wolfpack defense is absolutely the next step up.
Nevada surrendered 173 passing yards to Hawai’i. But it is their defense that has bagged up 10 interceptions this season which puts them #2 in that takeaway category for all the Mountain West Conference. To put that in perspective, the SDSU defense only has five INT’s—Wolfpack defensive back Bentlee Sanders has five just himself.
Granted, the caliber of QB the Aztecs defense has had to face has been of much better quality all around—still this is the challenge for Jalen Mayden and the offense this weekend. Mayden will once again be called upon to perform while facing a stacked box from the defensive side. While the offense relied heavily on the quick passing game against Hawai’i and undoubtedly have had two weeks to expand Horton’s offense, Nevada is desperate for a win.
The homecoming crowd at Mackay Stadium is sure to be alive in the first quarter. For Mayden to have a nice & efficient start to the game is key if the Aztecs want to squash any early confidence the fans may try to inject into their home team’s defense.
What’s Up With the Aztecs Defense?
Very rarely do you punish a defense that only gives up 14 points in one game these days. Yet, here we are. The Aztecs played Hawai’i tough all night. But the defense faltered at the worst of times—giving up uncharacteristic big plays to allow the Warriors to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Nevada’s rushing attack is led by Toa Taua. Though Nevada ranks near the bottom of the MW Conference in rushing performances, stopping Taua has never been an easy feat for SDSU. This year is no exception.
The defensive front for the Aztecs will have to remain stout for the full 60 minutes of this contest. Linebackers will need to wrap up their tackles, while the secondary must take good angles to reinforce the swarm to the ball gang tackling style the Aztecs defense has been known for.
At quarterback Nevada’s Nate Cox lends his big 6’9″ body (yes you read that right) into the rushing attack at times. But getting pressure on him in the passing game is another obvious key for. This season however, that hasn’t been an easy task for the red & black.
This year SDSU’s sack totals are way down—which was a given considering the loss of elite pass rusher Cam Thomas to the NFL. But when you stack up this years defense to even their Mountain West counterparts, the production is not close to where it should be. Of all conference teams SDSU ranks at #10 in sacks, earning just 8 total all season long.
Sacks is just one category to measure a defenses performance and perhaps not the greatest one to look at. But when you consider again that interception totals are also way down at just 5 this season ranking SDSU at #8 in conference, you realize this defense is just not the same Warrior 3-3-5 stack we are used to seeing.
The only saving grace is that Nevada’s passing offense is middle of the pack in conference at #7. And their offensive efficiency sits at #9 in the lower half as well.
So let’s face it, Nevada stinks. They had very little preseason hype to win the conference and now sit at 0-3 in conference games already. Their season is effectively over when it comes to competing for the championship. But with a new coach and many new players, this season is a building block for their long term goals.
SDSU on the other hand sees it all before them on the table still. This game is a must win if the Aztecs are to move forward with their aspirations of winning 22. The Aztecs offense is loaded with talent at every position, will they be able to get it going on all cylinders?
With Jalen Mayden being able to grasp Horton’s new offense, there is plenty of motivation here to play their best and continue this dream scenario for the young quarterback. We fully expect to see another challenging style of game vs the Wolfpack’s defense that may be ugly still at times. But this game is the perfect opponent if the Aztecs are to take the next step.
The Aztecs have been given a 7 point favorites according to Las Vegas and the over/under sits at 36 last time checked. In the end playmakers like Jordan Byrd, Tyrells Shavers and Jesse Matthews and a tough grind it out rushing attack should prove to be too much for the Wolfpack. Our prediction:
San Diego State 27 Nevada 17