The San Diego State Aztecs are heavy favorites to become bowl eligible and improve to 3-0 in conference play Saturday after hosting the Mountain West rival San Jose State Spartans. Currently 5-1 overall and riding a five-game winning streak following a rain-soaked 21-17 victory over Air Force last Friday, Rocky Long’s squad remains one of three teams tied atop the MWC West Division.
Still searching for its first win of the season, San Jose State comes in on a far different streak. The Spartans are 0-6 overall and 0-2 in conference play. Despite valiant efforts at home against Hawaii and Colorado State, San Jose State has now lost 16 of 17 under Brent Brennan following an ugly 52-3 blowout at the hands of Army in Santa Clara last week.
San Jose State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -28
Three Things to Watch
1. The injury report
San Diego State has survived a slew of injuries to top players over the course of its winning streak. Senior starting quarterback Christian Chapman hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in Week 2, and though Chapman is close to returning, Ryan Agnew is likely to make his fifth consecutive start Saturday. Juwan Washington was the leading rusher in the Mountain West when he suffered a broken collarbone Sept. 22 against Eastern Michigan. Washington, who has 513 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season, has missed two games and isn’t expected back for at least three more.
Last week, running back Chase Jasmin, who excelled in Washington’s absence and ranks second on the team with 381 rushing yards and three TDs, left the game and entered concussion protocol, as did starting defensive back Trenton Thompson, who made one of the biggest plays of the game when he scored a touchdown following a blocked punt. Both are questionable to play, as is defensive lineman Chibu Onyeukwu, who suffered a knee injury against the Falcons.
San Jose State has also been bitten by the injury bug at times. Starting QB Josh Love suffered a concussion against Army and is questionable, and receiver Bailey Gaither is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
2. David vs. Goliath
Led by stalwarts like Kyahva Tezino, Anthony Luke and Parker Baldwin, San Diego State leads the Mountain West and ranks among the top five nationally (and No. 1 among Group of 5 conference teams) in rushing defense (87.17 yards allowed per game). The Aztecs have held opponents to a measly 2.5 yards per carry, which ranks No. 4 on the FBS leaderboard. Only two opponents have reached triple digits in rushing, with the best team performance coming last week when option-heavy Air Force gained 214 rushing yards on 51 attempts in muddy conditions.
The Spartans aren’t likely to fare any better. San Jose State has the worst rushing offense in the nation (50.33 yards per game) and has averaged an incredibly poor 1.59 yards per carry, which is the worst in the country by 0.65 yards. One reason for guarded optimism is the return of Tyler Nevens, who leads the team with 195 rushing yards and three touchdowns despite missing three games in September.
3. San Jose State TE Josh Oliver
San Jose State fans haven’t had much to cheer about this season, but Josh Oliver is a true bright spot for the Spartans on offense. Oliver leads the team with 33 receptions and 401 receiving yards, and he leads all Mountain West tight ends in both categories. In fact, Oliver leads all FBS tight ends in receptions, and he ranks second behind Texas A&M’s Jake Sternberger in yardage. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior is a red zone threat as well, having hauled in two touchdown catches, which ranks second on the team and second among MWC tight ends.
With the Spartans having virtually abandoned the running game already (SJSU’s 31.7 rushing attempts per game are sixth fewest nationally) and with Gaither injured, Oliver could have an even bigger role in the San Jose State offense moving forward. And, if he continues to put up good numbers, Oliver should lock down an All-Conference spot and could garner All-American votes. He’ll also earn attention from NFL scouts.
It’s easy to overlook because of the Aztecs’ winning ways, but the injuries San Diego State has suffered this season have had an effect on the team’s depth. If Chase Jasmin can’t return to action, third-string running back Jordan Byrd will likely receive the bulk of the carries. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound true freshman isn’t a workhorse and has just 10 career carries — although he is explosive and scored on a 72-yarder against Boise State.
San Jose State has also suffered injuries at high-profile positions, and with the worst rushing attack in the country pitted against one of the best run defenses, it’s difficult to imagine the Spartans putting the ball in the end zone. Josh Oliver is a playmaker and a pro prospect, but he can’t do it alone.
Prediction: San Diego State 27, San Jose State 3
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.