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San Diego State Aztecs vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Prediction and Preview

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Prediction and Preview

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Prediction and Preview

Both Fresno State and San Diego State are looking to bounce back from disappointing losses when the two rivals clash in the annual Battle for the Oil Can this week.

The Bulldogs (8-2, 5-1 MW) dropped out of the Top 25 after falling to Boise State 24-17 for their first conference loss of the season. Fresno State could not stop the Broncos' run game, allowing Alexander Mattison to tally 144 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 carries. Now, Fresno State has no room for error in its quest for a return trip to the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

The Aztecs (7-3, 4-2 MW) are in must-win mode to keep their fading divisional title hopes alive after suffering an inexplicable 27-24 loss to UNLV. San Diego State was held to 89 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per rushing play against a Rebels defense that ranked last in the conference in rushing defense coming into the game.

San Diego State leads the rivalry series 29-24-4. Fresno State is looking for its second straight win over the Aztecs. The Bulldogs dominated en route to a 27-3 win last season.

San Diego State at Fresno State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Fresno State -15

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Fresno State bottle up San Diego State's running attack?

As UNLV proved with San Diego State last week, stopping the run will go a long way toward neutralizing the Aztecs offense. San Diego State relies on ball control and tough defense to win games. The Aztecs are not built to bombard opponents with a flurry of yards and points through the air.

Getting those stops may prove easier said than done for Fresno State. The Bulldogs' solid run defense has taken a step or two backward in November. Before Mattison ran all over them last Saturday, UNLV's Charles Williams churned out 121 yards on only 16 carries a week earlier. Mattison and Williams are two of only four players to have 100-yard games against Fresno State under head coach Jeff Tedford, but it is a concerning trend when facing a team like San Diego State.

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The Aztecs average 166.1 rushing yards per game. Juwan Washington opened the season with three straight 100-yard games before breaking his collarbone against Eastern Michigan in Week Four. With Washington finally back in action, his odds of crossing that 100-yard plateau again are solid.

2. Will the Aztecs be able to contain KeeSean Johnson?

One reason why Fresno State sports one of the better offenses in the Mountain West is that KeeSean Johnson is a reliable playmaker in the passing game. The senior receiver is the school's career receptions leader with 250 catches. He is also closing in on another Bulldogs record.

Johnson needs just 269 receiving yards to pass Charlie Jones and become the all-time leader in career receiving yards at Fresno State. Currently, Johnson has 3,076 career receiving yards, and the record is definitely within his reach, as he averages 95.3 receiving yards per game. Johnson ranks third among Mountain West receivers with 953 yards and seven touchdowns on 70 catches. He is only 47 yards away from becoming just the fourth receiver in school history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

San Diego State will have its work cut out in stopping him. Johnson has hauled in at least eight catches from Marcus McMaryion in each of the last four games. He has totaled 443 receiving yards over that stretch and has not finished with fewer than five receptions in any game this season.

3. Will either team be able to find the end zone?

If you enjoy point-a-minute shootouts, this game may not be for you. Fresno State and San Diego State have carved out spots as the top two Mountain West teams in total defense and scoring defense.

The Bulldogs allow the fewest points in the league, giving up just 13.5 points per game. They have held three opponents (Nevada, Wyoming and UNLV) without a touchdown this season. Fresno State ranks second in total defense, surrendering 321.1 yards per contest.

It's a similar story with San Diego State. The Aztecs lead the Mountain West in total defense, yielding 302.3 yards per game. They are second behind the Bulldogs in scoring defense, surrendering only 20.7 points per contest. A strong defense has offset a decidedly mediocre offense for San Diego State. The Aztecs have scored more than 30 points in a game just once this season. On the other hand, they have held opponents to 21 or fewer points seven times.

Final Analysis

Fresno State had little trouble in dispatching San Diego State a year ago, and the Bulldogs seem to have a clear edge over the Aztecs once again. Both teams feature strong defenses, but Fresno State can put points on the board when needed. That isn't a claim San Diego State can make. It will be a grind-it-out battle over four quarters, but the Bulldogs will make just enough plays to pull away late.

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Prediction: Fresno State 27, San Diego State 20

— 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.