After posting three straight 10-win campaigns, San Diego State took a couple of steps back last year but still made their eighth straight bowl game under Rocky Long. The hope is that some tweaks on offense and a little better health will allow SDSU to return to contender status in the Mountain West.
Previewing San Diego State's Offense for 2019
San Diego State is mixing up the look but sticking with the formula when it comes to its run-first offense. The Aztecs are switching to a spread attack, which means the quarterback will be lined up in the backfield instead of behind center. However, Long is adamant that handoffs to running backs — and not downfield throws — will remain the focal point of the attack.
San Diego State is hoping that the change will spruce up an offense that scored fewer than 20 points five times last season while averaging 20.6 points for the season. The Aztecs averaged 30.8 points in 2017.
Senior running back Juwan Washington will again be the feature back. He rushed for 999 yards and 10 touchdowns last season despite missing four games due to a fractured clavicle.
Senior quarterback Ryan Agnew started eight games but completed just 51.6 percent of his passes. He finished with 1,651 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Aztecs don't possess a consistent producer at receiver, and junior Tim Wilson decided to take a medical retirement after battling injuries in the spring. With Wilson out of the picture, offensive coordinator Jeff Horton needs Kobe Smith, Elijah Kothe and Ethan Dedeaux to step up on the outside.
Junior center Keith Ismael, a first-team All-Mountain West selection last season, anchors the offensive line. He missed the spring due to shoulder surgery but is expected to be ready for fall camp.
Previewing San Diego State's Defense for 2019
Senior middle linebacker Kyahva Tezino is the leader after a huge 2018 campaign in which he racked up 127 tackles and 8.5 sacks. The first-team All-Mountain West selection figures to at least equal that output this season. He is flanked by sophomore Caden McDonald and junior Andrew Aleki.
The secondary is strong with second-team all-conference pick Tariq Thompson back at safety. Thompson, a junior, is a playmaker with seven interceptions and three forced fumbles in two seasons. Juniors Tayler Hawkins and Trenton Thompson also are solid safeties, while senior Luq Barcoo and sophomore Darren Hall are the probable starting cornerbacks.
The defensive front is a work in progress. Jonah Tavai, a junior college transfer slated to arrive for fall camp, may make a run at the starting tackle position.
Previewing San Diego State's Specialists for 2019
Redshirt freshman Matt Araiza will be the new placekicker, and he must replace John Baron II, who ranks second in school history with 50 field goals and had a reputation for delivering in the clutch. Junior Brandon Heicklen is entering his third season as a punter after averaging 41.8 yards per boot and placing 26-of-68 punts inside the 20-yard line last season. Washington has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career in producing a 23.6-yard average.
The Aztecs are attempting to bounce back from a relative down season (7–6) after going 32–9 over the previous three campaigns. A late-season swoon convinced Long that the pound-the-ball offense needed a change, but it remains to be seen whether the Aztecs can run the ball as efficiently from the spread as they did with the QB behind center. Keeping Washington healthy will be a major priority. San Diego State figures to compete with Fresno State for the MW West Division crown, but it doesn’t have enough talent to contend for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
National Ranking: 63
(Top photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson/SDSU Athletics)