The New Mexico State Aggies (0-1) and the San Diego State Aztecs will square off on Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, for a little “Mountain West After Dark” action. These two teams met back in 2019 with the Aztecs picking up a 31-10 win in Las Cruces. San Diego State had dominated the all-time series with just one loss (and a tie) in the 12 total meetings.
New Mexico State could not get anything going in all three phases of the game in its opener against UTEP in the Battle of I-10 rivalry, losing 30-3 last Saturday night. Aggies quarterback Jonah Johnson struggled all night long and completed just eight of 24 pass attempts for 82 yards. Running back Juwaun Price was held to just 37 yards on nine carries. The defense didn’t have any answers for Miners wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who caught five passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. This game showed that the New Mexico State has plenty of things to work on after sitting out the 2020 fall season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
San Diego State will be kicking off its 2021 season this week and will be looking to put things together on a more consistent basis on offense. The Aztecs are always going to cause problems for teams on defense with their hard-nosed, physical brand of football. However, until they can really lock things down at quarterback and an offense as a whole, they are going to struggle to contend in the Mountain West.
New Mexico State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -28.5
When New Mexico State Has the Ball
Head coach Doug Martin and his offensive staff will have to get a few easy throws for Johnson in the early to get his confidence up. Screen passes out in the flat to Price or another running back can hopefully slow down San Diego State's pass rush. It will also take some pressure off an offensive line that will be under fire all night long and potentially open up some running lanes. This is going to be easier said than done, as the Aggies face an Aztecs defense that returns its entire starting defensive line and linebacking corps.
NMSU receivers are going to have to find a way to win their one-on-one battles against a secondary that must replace three standouts, including Darren Hall, who was a fourth-round pick in this year's NFL draft. Dominic Gicinto caught two passes for 31 yards last week for the Aggies against UTEP, but he and the rest of the offense will need to step up to have any hope of keeping this game close.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Jordon Brookshire is slated to start at quarterback for the Aztecs, and he'll look to inject some much-needed life into an offense that sputtered often last season. SDSU averaged 151.4 passing yards per game in 2020, which ranked 10th in the Mountain West and 115th nationally. Wide receiver Jesse Matthews and tight end Daniel Bellinger are the top returning pass catchers after combining for 45 receptions, 529 yards, and a touchdown last season.
One downside to not being able to throw the ball effectively is that it allows defenses the chance to stack the box more to try and slow down the run. The Aztecs averaged close to 200 rushing yards per game in 2020 and return their top four rushers. Greg Bell led the way with 637 yards and six touchdowns, while Chance Bell averaged 4.9 yards per carry and scored three times on the ground. Both should get plenty of opportunities to run on Saturday night behind a retooled offensive line that's under the direction of new position coach Mike Goff.
San Diego State has a golden opportunity to get off to a fast start on offense this week, as New Mexico State's defense is likely to wear down over the course of four quarters. Brookshire should be able to play loose after being named the starter and make a few confidence-building plays throwing the football down the field.
The Aztecs should also be able to pile up the yards on the ground and set up their defense for a relatively stress-free night if they come out with the proper level of focus. Expect San Diego State to cruise to an easy win that sets them up for an interesting two-game stretch against Pac-12 opponents Arizona and Utah.
Prediction: San Diego State 34, New Mexico State 10
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