This Saturday the SDSU Aztecs football team has two goals in mind when they host the San Jose State Spartans. First—to obviously win. Winning one more game on this years schedule would ensure the red & black are bowl eligible for the 12th year in a row.
The second goal—to be spoilers. A win over San Jose would ultimately be ruining the Spartans hopes of winning the western division of the Mountain West Conference. The Spartans trail only Fresno State after losing just a few weeks ago to a Jake Haener-less Bulldog team.
The Aztecs have a chance to put them squarely in their graves this Saturday night. But newsflash, if you thought last year’s Double-OT thriller was difficult to pull off, this year figures to be an even tougher challenge.
Former Hawai’i Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro transferred over to the Spartans this past off-season and leads a surprising San Jose State squad into Snapdragon Stadium for this all important divisional matchup.
Cordeiro started three years at Hawaii before transferring to SJSU and has emerged as one of the NCAA’s passing leaders. He averages 278 yards a game, placing him at 20th in the nation.
If Cordeiro has emerged as a budding surprise, so have the Spartans (6-2, 4-1). Despite winning the Conference two years ago during the COVID-19 shortened season, SJSU was not expected to be among the top tier of teams in the Mountain West conference this fall.
But the Spartans opened eyes early in the season when they gave the SEC’s Auburn Tigers all they could handle in a tough 24-16 loss. They have only gotten better since, with the exception of that hiccup and only conference loss against Fresno State.
SJSU are slight favorites on the road against the Aztecs, but it won’t be easy. Here are 4 factors that can seriously tip the scales on who will walk away victorious from this long time in-state rivalry.
Ground and Pound
The Spartans’ defense is known to possess one of the best frontlines in the conference, featuring standout lineman #92 Cade Hall and #42 Viliami Fehoko.
“They’re a very physical football team–from the offensive line to what they do up front defensively and their linebackers,” said Aztecs Head Coach Brady Hoke.
This Spartan defensive front is so good, they even make their opposing QB’s knock themselves out, as proven here against Colorado State.
The Spartan D limits teams to 120 yards a game on the ground and the Aztecs haven’t exactly had the rushing attack of past teams. But when the Aztecs do run effectively they are nearly impossible to beat. When SDSU surpasses the 200 yard mark they are 54-2.
Though they have yet to be dominant in the run game, the return of Jaylon Armstead off the injured list has immediately paid off big for the Aztecs.
In last week’s 14-10 win over UNLV, Amstead saw the most game action since week 4 against Toledo. He put the Aztecs 4-minute offense on his back and bull rushed over the Rebel defense to close out the game and secure the victory.
A bull in a china shop describes the 5’11” 220 lb sophomore accurately when he breaks through the line. Armstead in all of his 32 carries this season has averaged over 8 yards per attempt. That success will be needed and be considered a top factor if the Aztecs are to pull off the upset.
Who will turn over who?
The Spartans are not known for turning the ball over. QB Cordeiro has only thrown two interceptions on the season. It’s not lost on the Aztecs. “We’re going to try and do our best to get the ball back and we do things at practice like the peanut punch, the interception drills, the different things that you try and emulate,“ Hoke said.
Aztecs defensive back Dallas Branch happens to be coming off a game where he had one of his team’s two end-zone interceptions. His team forced four turnovers overall in last week’s homecoming victory over UNLV. Branch is looking forward to the challenge that SJSU poses in protecting the ball.
“They have some great transfers,” Branch said. “They also have a great quarterback that came from Hawai’i that we saw a couple of years ago. He’s very dynamic– he can run, throw, everything. This week is about being disciplined, understanding our technique and assignment, and competing out there.”
Protecting the Quarterback
Maybe it’s a good thing Aztec Quarterback Jalen Mayden has experience evading the rush week in and week out. Playing behind a porous offensive line has readied him for what he is about to go up against. He’s going to be tested this week like no other.
Whether stepping up in the pocket, rolling out, or just tucking and running–Mayden will need to display all of his fast-growing skills when he faces a surging Spartans defense. With 17 sacks in the last two weeks alone, the Spartans average a conference-leading 3.62 sacks per game.
“We got to take a lot of pride and I do think (the Spartans) are the best defensive linemen in our league,” Hoke said. “I think they do a nice job, when you watch them attacking at the line of scrimmage and coming off. They’re very talented.”
Hoke notes his offensive line has improved, only earning two penalties last week. “We just got to do our job. We have to keep improving,”
Special Teams Need to be Special Again
SDSU’s special teams have been mostly a solid, sometimes spectacular unit. Coach Deakin always has his unit in the right position for them to make a play. So maybe last week was an anomaly. Kicker/Punter Jack Browning has been recovering from injury, but he does already have some game winning kicks under his belt in just his first year as the starter.
“As far as the kicking game, it probably was one part that we really thought we didn’t play like we’re capable. We dropped a snap on a punt and Jack (Browning) never does that, he doesn’t do that in practice.” Coach Hoke detailed this week.
The Aztecs also missed two field goals. Look for a return to solid this Saturday and perhaps the biggest factor of them all.
We here at Sons of Montezuma speak the truth, our truth. And today I’m giving my honest prediction.
San Jose State 27, San Diego State 17.
The game kicks off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1) at Snapdragon Stadium.