Can Arizona finally earn its first victory in nearly two years when it battles San Diego State in Tuscon this weekend?
The Wildcats (0-1) have lost 13 straight games dating back to the 2019 season. Their latest setback was a 24-16 loss to BYU in the season opener in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Arizona never led at any point and never got fully on track offensively through four quarters. The Wildcats generated 425 total yards on offense, but they missed a pair of field goals, had a red zone interception, and converted just 5-of-17 third downs against the Cougars.
The Aztecs (1-0) needed a half to wake up their offense before pulling away for a 28-10 victory over New Mexico State. San Diego State scored all 28 points after halftime, rallying from a 10-0 deficit, while forcing three turnovers — including a pick-six by Andrew Aleki. The Aztecs racked up 263 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. They totaled only 76 passing yards.
Arizona holds a 10-5 lead in the all-time series. The Wildcats have won four straight games against San Diego State dating back to 1979, although the two teams last met in 2001.
San Diego State at Arizona
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Arizona -2
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Greg Bell enjoyed an outstanding season debut. Bell rushed for a career-high 161 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. It was the sixth career 100-yard game for the senior running back. His effort helped the Aztecs eclipsed the 200-yard mark in total rushing yards. Jordan Byrd and quarterback Jordon Brookshire pitched in with 78 rushing yards on a combined 10 carries. A similar level of production on Saturday will keep the ball out of Arizona's hands for long stretches.
Passing is an area of major concern after a mediocre outing from Brookshire. He completed just 6 of 19 passes, totaling 76 yards and throwing an interception. Brookshire cannot afford to have a similar outing against the Wildcats this week. He is capable of making plays with his arm. Against BYU last season, the senior quarterback threw for 230 yards and a touchdown while completing 67 percent of his passes. If Brookshire can get things going through the air, it will keep Arizona from simply stacking the box to stop the run.
Arizona is vulnerable against the run, so Brookshire showing efficiency as a passer will make a huge difference. The Wildcats allowed 161 rushing yards in their season opener and rank 10th among Pac-12 teams in rushing defense.
When Arizona Has the Ball
The Wildcats began their opener intending to alternate quarterbacks on each series. Gunner Cruz eventually took over and showed promise with his ability to move the chains. Cruz threw for 336 yards and a touchdown on 34-of-45 passing against BYU. He was the first Arizona quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in a game since 2019. Cruz entered the week as the top passer in the Pac-12, leading the league in total passing yards and completions.
Production from the backfield remains a work in progress. Michael Wiley and Northwestern transfer Drake Anderson combined for 98 total rushing yards in Week 1. Neither player averaged more than 4.3 yards per carry. Arizona has been at its best in recent seasons when the Wildcats have a proficient running attack. Getting the running game back on track is a surefire route to helping the Arizona offense become a serious threat again.
Running the ball will not come easy against San Diego State. The Aztecs have ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense in five of the previous six seasons. New Mexico State averaged a scant 1.8 yards per carry against San Diego State and finished with just 48 total yards on the ground.
San Diego State is 5-2 against Pac-12 teams since 2016. That's the best non-conference record for any FBS team against the league (minimum five games played) during that stretch. Arizona will find it tough generating consistent offense while going up against a stout Aztecs defense. The Wildcats are improved defensively, though, so San Diego State isn't likely to march up and down the field at will. Expect a nail-biter that extends Arizona's losing streak one more week.
Prediction: San Diego State 20, Arizona 17
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.