Does any Mountain West Conference team stand a chance of beating San Diego State during the regular season? It feels like a legitimate question given how dominant the Aztecs have been on both sides of the ball in conference play.
San Diego State (6-1, 3-0) is riding a 14-game winning streak against Mountain West opponents heading into a Friday night showdown with Utah State. The Aztecs have outscored their conference foes 469-148 during that stretch. They have allowed just 13 points in three Mountain West victories over UNLV, Fresno State and San Jose State, while averaging 28.3 points per contest.
Utah State (3-4, 1-3), on the other hand, needs three wins over its final five games just to reach a bowl game for a sixth consecutive season. The Aggies have won 17 of their last 19 home games against Mountain West opponents.
San Diego State leads the all-time series 11-1. Utah State’s lone victory in the series came in 1967 when the Aggies defeated the Aztecs 31-25 in San Diego.
San Diego State at Utah State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Will the Aztecs run all over the Aggies again?
Utah State could not stop the run when it faced San Diego State last season. The Aztecs rushed for a season-high 336 yards on 61 carries. There are plenty of reasons to believe history can repeat itself in the rematch.
Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing yards (1,246) and rushing yards per game (178.0). Pumphrey, a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, also is second in rushing touchdowns (13) and third in all-purpose yards per game (198.7) this season. The senior comes into Friday’s game as the active FBS career leader in rushing yards (5,518), all-purpose yards (6,536), rushing touchdowns (58), total touchdowns (63) and 100-yard rushing games (28).
Stopping Pumphrey is easier said than done for Utah State. The Aggies rank sixth among Mountain West teams in rushing defense (151.6 ypg). Pumphrey has churned out 100 or more rushing yards in six consecutive games.
2. Can Utah State move the ball against San Diego State’s defense?
The Aztecs are finding ways to make life miserable for multiple offenses this season. San Diego State ranks among the nation’s best in every major defensive category.
Dating back to the start of the 2015 season, the Aztecs are tied for second nationally in turnovers forced (46). They also rank fourth in yards allowed per carry (3.1), fifth in total defense (286.4 ypg) and sixth scoring defense (16.8 ppg).
San Diego State’s defense has not allowed a touchdown in 169 consecutive snaps from scrimmage. The Aztecs have given up just 13 total points over their last three games – UNLV, Fresno State and San Jose State. They have held 19 consecutive league opponents to fewer than 400 yards of total offense – the longest active streak for any FBS team. During that stretch, San Diego State has allowed just 255.1 yards per game.
3. Will the Aggies solve their second-half offensive woes?
Scoring after halftime has been a major problem for Utah State in nearly every game this season. The Aggies have no problem getting off to a quick start. Sustaining offensive momentum through all four quarters is a different story.
In their first three Mountain West games (Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State), the Aggies were outscored 45-17 after halftime. Utah State was shut out in the third quarter in all three contests.
The Aggies seemed to put those issues behind them against Fresno State. Kent Myers threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes and backup QB Damian Hobbs ran for another score in a 38-20 win over the Bulldogs. Myers totaled 188 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-29 passing in leading an offense that seemed like it finally turned a corner.
Will it mean much facing San Diego State’s defense? Recent history suggests Utah State could face trouble getting on the board after halftime. The Aztecs have allowed just three second-half points in Mountain West play this season.
Utah State has a good track record of taking down conference opponents on its home field. San Diego State presents a unique challenge. The Aztecs are one of the better defensive teams not just in the Mountain West Conference, but in the nation, and can control the ball on offense with an elite running back at their disposal. Unless the Aggies can force multiple turnovers, pulling off an upset here feels like a long shot.
Prediction: San Diego State 27, Utah State 13
— 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.