Cougars look to extend winning streak to six in a row when they take on the Aztecs
The Cougars (7-4) come into their regular-season finale on a hot streak. They have run off five straight victories — including wins over Mountain West Conference foes Boise State and Utah State — to secure a spot in the 2019 Hawaii Bowl. BYU's latest victory, a 56-24 win over UMass, qualified as its most lopsided of the season. The Cougars raced out to a 49-0 halftime lead and rolled up 628 yards and 27 first downs on the Minutemen.
The Aztecs (8-3, 5-3 MW) have seen the wheels come off on offense as the regular season winds down. San Diego State fell 14-11 to Hawaii after Matt Araiza missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds. The Aztecs have totaled just 41 points while losing two of their last three games. They are scoring just 19.5 points per game, which ranks 118th out of 130 FBS teams.
BYU leads San Diego State 28-7-1 in the all-time series between the two former WAC and MWC foes. The Cougars have won six straight games against the Aztecs and 16 of the last 17 in the series overall — most recently winning 23-6 in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl.
BYU at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: BYU -3.0
When BYU Has the Ball
Much of what BYU accomplished on offense against UMass can be a bit deceptive given how awful the Minutemen defense has been all season. Still, the Cougars are on the right track going up against an Aztec defense that could be the toughest BYU has faced since the season opener against Utah.
Zach Wilson seems to have shaken off the rust from his prolonged absence. The sophomore led BYU to touchdowns on seven straight first-half possessions against UMass. Wilson threw for 293 yards and four touchdowns on 17-of-20 passing while playing just a single half. He extended BYU's streak of 200-yard passing games to 13 going back to last season. The Cougars are on track to throw for at least 200 yards in every game in a season for the first time since 2008.
Things are a bit unsettled in the backfield, where depth is a concern. Leading rusher Sione Finau did not play last week after suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Cougars will rely on Lopini Katoa as their primary ball carrier, although he has been banged up with injuries as well. Katoa led BYU in rushing last season but has just 285 total rushing yards so far this year. Jackson McChesney could see more time in the backfield after running for a school freshman-record 228 yards against UMass.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Turning yards into points is an ongoing problem since the Aztecs switched to a spread offense this season. San Diego State hasn't scored more than 31 points in a game this season and hasn't reached 20 points since the end of October. A defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in both scoring defense (13.7 ppg) and total defense (227.1 ypg) can only do so much in that situation.
And to make matters worse, the Aztecs will be without starting quarterback Ryan Agnew (63.4 percent completion rate, 2,175 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs) because of a calf injury. In Agnew's place, Carson Baker will get the call. The redshirt freshman is a San Diego-area product (from Helix High in La Mesa) and will not only be making his first collegiate start, it's also his first snaps period as he redshirted last year and has yet to get into a game this season.
Baker will need all the help he can get from his running game, which could be a problem considering San Diego's lack of success on the ground this season. It feels ironic considering how proficient the Aztec running backs were as recently as last season. San Diego State has reached 150 rushing yards in just three games this season and has generated less than three yards per carry in each of its last three games. Leading rusher Juwan Washington, who has battled ankle injuries this fall, has totaled 474 yards in eight games after falling a yard shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season a year ago.
BYU is banged up and digging deep into the depth chart at multiple positions as the regular season wraps up. It could be a factor playing against a bruising San Diego State defense that is among the nation's best in multiple defensive categories. Still, the Cougars have a clear edge on offense over the Aztecs. As long as BYU's offensive line buys Wilson enough times to make plays downfield, the Cougars should move the ball just enough to survive a defensive slugfest.
Prediction: BYU 17, San Diego State 16
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of BYU Athletics)