San Diego State will look to continue its winning ways on Friday night as the Aztecs travel up to take on the San Jose State Spartans. When these teams met last year, San Jose snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series with a 28-17 win. This has been a historically close series, as the Aztecs have 22 wins, the Spartans have won 20, and they have tied twice.
Brady Hoke has handled San Diego State's nomad status well as their new stadium continues construction. The Aztecs (5-0, 1-0 Mountain West) methodically beat New Mexico 31-7 last Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. It was a combination of a strong running game and suffocating defense that propelled San Diego State to the victory. Greg Bell rushed for 111 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. Jordon Brookshire added 45 yards on five carries with two rushing touchdowns after missing two games with a foot injury. The defense limited the Lobos to just 193 total yards and forced two turnovers as they continue to emerge as one of the better units in the nation on that side of the ball.
San Jose State (3-3, 1-1) fell behind 13-0 and did not recover in a 32-14 at Colorado State on Saturday. Nick Nash went 11-of-22 for 154 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception as the offense a whole turned the ball over three times. The Spartans' defense had not enough answers for a balanced Rams offense that threw for 232 yards and rushed for 217 against them. Kyle Harmon and Jay Lenard were bright spots for the defense with 14 and 13 tackles, respectively, to lead San Jose State.
No. 24 San Diego State at San Jose State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego State -7
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Efficiency is going to be important for the Aztecs since they are not a team that is designed to light up a scoreboard for 40-50 points. Brookshire has done a nice job of managing the offense, as he has only thrown one interception. The downside for Brookshire is accuracy: he is completing just 45.8 percent of his passes this season. That must improve if San Diego State wants to run the table and win the Mountain West Conference. Bell is going to see a healthy dose of action this week, perhaps at least 20 carries if not more for the Aztecs offense. San Diego State is averaging 244.4 yards per game on the ground which is good for 11th in the nation.
The Spartans must find a way to make Brookshire beat them in the passing game despite the fact they are allowing 228.2 yards per game through the air. One way to get this done will be to generate a consistent pass rush on Brookshire to keep him in the pocket. Viliami Fehoko leads San Jose State with three sacks and six tackles for loss, so he will have to set the tone on Friday night. They also need to force the Aztecs to kick field goals when they allow them inside the 20-yard line because they can ill afford to give up too many touchdowns. While opponents have scored on 87.5 percent of red zone trips (tied for 86th nationally), San Jose State has only allowed touchdowns on 37.5 percent of trips (tied for 10th).
When San Jose State Has the Ball
Taking care of the football will be very important because San Jose State has been up and down at the quarterback position in 2021. Nick Starkel, who is dealing with an arm injury, and Nash have both played and are completing just 51.8 percent of their passes after six games while throwing 11 touchdowns and six interceptions between them. The issues at quarterback have trickled down through the rest of the offense, as the Spartans are only averaging 20.5 points per game and 333.0 total yards, which is nearly 100 yards below their 2020 output. This week, the Spartans must find a way to move the ball both on the ground and through the air.
The Aztecs need to keep doing what has been working on defense, as they are only allowing 16.6 points per game, 270.4 total yards, 50.0 rushing yards, and 18 sacks through five games. Caden McDonald, Garret Fountain, and Cameron Thomas lead a balanced pass rush that includes 11 different players who have registered at least half a sack. Tayler Hawkins leads a secondary group that has picked off four of the seven passes by the San Diego State defense. The goal for this week is to force two to three turnovers and make Spartan pass cachers Derrick Deese Jr. and Isaiah Hamilton earn everything they get in the passing game.
The scenario of playing on the road on a Friday night is always dangerous when you are a team that must travel on a short week. San Diego State has the target on its back and needs to have its defense set the tone early to take the crowd out of the game. On the other hand, San Jose State can add some drama to this game if it gets an early touchdown and stays within striking distance. Expect to see a physical game that will hang in the balance until the second half, where the Aztecs will pull away and pick up win No. 6 in 2021.
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