A pair of 2-0 Mountain West foes will collide at Dignity Health Sports Spark in Carson, California, on Friday night when the San Jose State Spartans meet the San Diego State Aztecs. The Spartans hit the road for the first time this season, while the Aztecs are in the midst of a stretch of three games over the first four weeks at their temporary home for this season, as San Diego State has begun work on building a new stadium to replace SDCCU Stadium.
San Jose State opened its 2020 season with a 17-6 win against Air Force before topping New Mexico 38-21 last Saturday. San Diego State dominated in its two wins, scoring the first 27 points of the game in a 34-6 victory against UNLV and closing its 38-7 win against Utah State by scoring the final 28 points.
This series has been very closely contested since its inception in 1935 when San Jose State won 24-9. But the Aztecs have held the upper hand overall — lead the series 22-19-2 — and as of late against the Spartans, entering this meeting with a seven-game winning streak, the most recent a 27-17 victory in San Jose last season.
San Jose State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: San Diego State -9
When San Jose State Has the Ball
The Spartans came out much more aggressive in the first half last week against New Mexico — scoring 21 first-half points — after being held scoreless until the third quarter in the season opener against Air Force. Quarterback Nick Starkel had a tremendous day in just his second game with the Spartans. The graduate transfer by way of Texas A&M and Arkansas, completed 34 of his 47 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns to take Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors, among other accolades.
With Starkel's prolific passing day, not a whole lot of the Spartans' offensive production came via the ground game, as the team mustered just 99 rushing yards against New Mexico. Ten different Spartans caught at least one pass from Starkel, led by Bailey Gaither's 10 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown. Tre Walker caught nine passes for 107 yards and two scores, while Isaiah Hamilton (2 rec., 50 yds.) and Sam Olson caught the other touchdowns from Starkel.
SJSU will face a different kind of challenge on Friday night trying to solve San Diego State's defense. The Aztecs limited UNLV and Utah State to 13 combined points in the first two weeks, allowing just 401 total yards in those games. They've also done well to cause havoc in the backfield, as Caden McDonald has already recorded 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Safeties Dwayne Johnson Jr. and Tariq Thompson are two senior leaders patrolling the secondary and leading the team in tackles, with 13 and 12, respectively.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
While the aerial attack (353.5 ypg) has been San Jose State's go-to in the early stages of the 2020 campaign, San Diego State quarterback Carson Baker has thrown for 300 total yards in the Aztecs' first two games. Baker was efficient last week against Utah State, completing 18 of 27 attempts for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This was just his fourth collegiate game, having played in just two as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
The Aztecs dominated on the ground against the Aggies, rushing for 409 yards after tallying 290 yards rushing against UNLV two weeks ago. Greg Bell has led the way both weeks, notching 157 rushing yards and a touchdown — with two catches for 29 yards and another score — against Utah State. Chance Bell (no relation) added 98 yards and a touchdown in the effort against the Aggies, with Jordan Byrd taking his only carry of the day 73 yards for a score as well.
San Jose State's defense kept Air Force off the board until the fourth quarter in the season opener and, despite giving up 21 points to New Mexico, can feel good about its play over the first two weeks. San Diego State is the only Mountain West team that has given up fewer points thus far. Additionally, Kyle Harmon is blossoming into a real playmaker at the linebacker position, as he's registered 14 tackles in each of the first two games this season after starting seven of the final eight games in 2019.
Both teams enter Friday night's matchup with quite a bit of momentum after starting out 2-0. While San Jose State and San Diego State have both had strong defensive performances to start the 2020 campaign, the Aztecs' reputation on that side of the ball is more established. That combined with their productive running game should be the difference in leading SDSU to an eighth straight win in this series.
Prediction: San Diego State 38, San Jose State 23
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Nick Starkel photo courtesy of sjsuspartans.com)