The Mountain West Conference will have a crucial crossover game on Saturday night at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego as Utah State (1-1) will take on San Diego State (3-0). These two teams last met in Logan, Utah, back in 2016, with the Aztecs winning 40-13.
Utah State is coming off of a bye week, which was a great opportunity to hit the reset button after destroying FCS member Stony Brook 62-7 in Week 2. Offensively, the Aggies have not missed a beat despite returning only two starters on that side of the ball. Quarterback Jordan Love has completed 58-of-82 pass attempts for 710 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. The wide receiver position group has grown into a position of strength as Siaosi Mariner (13 rec, 246 yards, 3 TDs), a graduate transfer from Utah, is off to a great start. Injuries are a concern defensively, as Utah State lost Fua Leilua to a season-ending knee injury in the Wake Forest game. The secondary has also taken some hits injury-wise, and it will be a storyline to watch moving forward.
San Diego State is off to a nice start in 2019, as the Aztecs picked up a road win at UCLA along with knocking off New Mexico State 31-10 last week in Las Cruces. The improvement each week has been noticeable after a sluggish season-opening 6-0 win over Weber State in which the offense struggled mightily. It was a ground-and-pound type of performance by the Aztecs last week, as they rushed for 281 yards in a boost to a running back room that has faced health issues. Senior running back Juwan Washington and junior running back Chase Jasmin are both dealing with injuries. The defense has been lights out, limiting teams to just 24 points so far in 2019. This unit is going to have to lead the way until the offense can get a bit healthier as the season goes along.
Utah State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah State -3
When Utah State Has the Ball
Balance is going to be important for the Aggies in this matchup. Utah State is averaging 656.5 yards of offense and 48.5 points per game so far in 2019 due in large part to their ability to beat you both with Jordan Love's arm and by running the football consistently. Jaylen Warren (28 carries, 246 yards, 3 TDs) and Gerold Bright (18 carries, 104 yards, 2 TDs) have formed a nice 1-2 punch at running back to keep defenses on their heels. Look for the Aggies to play fast and for Love to get the ball into the hands of playmakers like Mariner and tight end Caleb Repp, who has caught 10 passes for 117 yards so far in 2019.
The Aztecs are going to try everything they can get pressure on Love and get him out of rhythm. Safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. is the leading tackler so far this season with 25. Linebacker Kyahva Tezino is currently second on the team in tackles with 22 and will need to have a performance similar to the one he had against UCLA in Week 2. Tezino was just about unblockable at times against the Bruins and has the ability to take over games defensively. Also, keep an eye on what coach Rocky Long does with his pass coverages to try and confuse Love all game long.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Quarterback Ryan Agnew should have plenty of opportunities to make plays in the passing game with health issues in the Aggies secondary. Agnew has taken a step forward with his accuracy — he is completing 64.4 percent of his passes through three games. Wide receiver Kobe Smith has 11 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown; he'll need to get plenty of targets, as will Jesse Matthews. The running game has to make its presence felt in order to keep Utah State’s offense on the sideline. Jordan Byrd has rushed for 195 yards on 37 carries so far in 2019, and he will need to see the ball at least 15-20 times on Saturday. Chance Bell will also be a threat to go for 100 yards and along with Byrd gained a lot of confidence last week against New Mexico State.
Head coach Gary Andersen and his defensive staff are going to try to force the Aztecs to be one-dimensional through the air by shutting the down the running game. Linebackers David Woodward and Tipa Galeai are going to have to step up and combine for at least 15-20 tackles or more. The ability to generate a pass rush on Agnew will also be crucial in an attempt to create a couple of turnovers and really swing the game in the Aggies' direction.
This game should go down to the wire if both teams play to their maximum capabilities. Utah State should reap the benefits of having played on the road at a tough Week 1 environment like Wake Forest. The Aggies went toe to toe with a good Demon Deacons team and had a shot to win it late. Both teams should have plenty of confidence in their personnel heading into this matchup, but in the end, Jordan Love will make one more big play at quarterback than Ryan Agnew, and that will be the difference for Utah State on Saturday night.
Prediction: Utah State 31, San Diego State 27
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.