With hopes of qualifying for a New Year's Six bowl dashed, the BYU Cougars look to close a memorable season out on a high note when they host their former conference rival San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday night.
The No. 18 Cougars (9-1) suffered their first loss a week ago, falling 22-17 to Coastal Carolina when Dax Milne was stopped on the 1-yard line on the game's final play. BYU struggled to stop the run for four quarters after coming into the game with a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in that category. It opened the door for the Chanticleers to dominate time of possession and string together long drives that kept the Cougars' normally potent offense off the field for long stretches.
The Aztecs (4-3, 4-2 Mountain West) are a team in a similar mold to Coastal Carolina. San Diego State boasts a punishing running attack and a tough defense. The Aztecs lead the FBS in fewest yards per play allowed (4.05). A pair of special teams touchdowns helped them close out league play with a 29-17 victory over Colorado State. San Diego State held the Rams to 265 total yards, forced a pair of turnovers, and recorded 11 tackles for a loss.
BYU leads the series 28-8-1. San Diego State beat the Cougars 13-3 last season, earning the Aztecs their first victory over BYU since 2005.
San Diego State at No. 18 BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -17
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Running the ball is a bread-and-butter staple for the Aztecs. San Diego State ranks second in total rushing yards this season with 1,426 yards, trailing only Air Force.
Greg Bell has keyed the rushing attack. The senior leads the Mountain West with 569 total rushing yards. Bell has rushed for six touchdowns and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He is not the only backfield threat BYU needs to worry about. Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd have both rushed for more than 200 yards through six games. Byrd also is deadly on special teams with 360 return yards and a touchdown on 11 kickoff returns.
The passing game is a weak spot on offense. Jordon Brookshire will start at quarterback on Saturday. Brookshire threw for 130 yards and a touchdown while completing 58 percent of his passes against Colorado State. The junior has appeared in two games and has completed less than half (49 percent) of his passes to date. Still, Brookshire was handed the keys to the offense after ineffectual performances from Carson Baker and a hamstring injury to Lucas Johnson.
When BYU Has the Ball
Few things went right for the BYU offense in the loss to Coastal Carolina. The Cougars struggled to sustain drives late in the game against a tough Chanticleer defense.
Zach Wilson managed a season-low 8.0 yards per attempt. Wilson completed 63 percent of his passes for 240 yards. But he also tossed his third interception of the season and seemed a bit rattled and pressured by Coastal Carolina as the game progressed. It also didn't help that wide receiver Gunner Romney exited with an injury in the fourth quarter, depriving Wilson of one of his primary targets. If Romney can't go or is limited on Saturday, that puts some added pressure on Dax Milne, who is BYU's first 1,000-yard receiver since Cody Hoffman in 2012, and Isaac Rex to make big plays.
Tyler Allgeier is coming off three straight 100-yard games. He only needs 43 more yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Cougars since the school's all-time rushing leader Jamaal Williams in 2016. Allgeier is averaging 7.3 yards per carry on the season. He has averaged eight yards per carry or better in each of his last three games. Stopping him could be a big chore for San Diego State.
Generating offense against San Diego State was nearly impossible for BYU last season. The Cougars are much improved on that side of the ball this time around. Meanwhile, the Aztecs are thoroughly mediocre on offense. BYU won't need to light up the scoreboard get an edge on San Diego State. The Aztecs have never had consecutive victories against the Cougars and that trend is unlikely to change this weekend.
Prediction: BYU 20, San Diego State 13
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— 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.