Neither the Wyoming Cowboys nor the San Diego State Aztecs were projected to win the Mountain West in 2019. However, as we near the midpoint of the season for both teams, and with conference play in full swing, confidence is high that both will compete for their respective division titles. In fact, the winner of Saturday night’s cross-division clash will control its fate in the race.
Wyoming is set to travel to San Diego with a 4-1 overall record, which includes both a 53-17 win over UNLV in its conference opener and a 37-31 win over Missouri to start the season. The Aztecs are also 4-1 but come in with a 1-1 mark in league play after beating Colorado State 24-10 a week ago but losing to Utah State 23-17 in their previous contest.
Wyoming at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -3.5
When Wyoming Has the Ball
The Cowboys like to run the football, and they’ve been very good at it despite suffering injuries at running back and on the offensive line. Wyoming ranks second in the Mountain West in rushing offense (248.2 yards per game), rushing touchdowns (14) and rushing attempts (220) — all behind Air Force — and leads the conference in yards per carry (5.64) by a wide margin.
Quarterback Sean Chambers leads the Cowboys in most rushing categories, including yards (381) and touchdowns (6), and at 7.06 yards per attempt, he leads all Wyoming players who have more than 10 carries this year. Chambers, who has also thrown for 562 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception this season, ran for 102 yards and two TDs last week against UNLV. It was his second 100-yard rushing performance of the season.
A trio of running backs has shared the load. Titus Swen emerged as the team’s second-leading rusher on the season after posting a game-high 136 yards, plus one TD, on the ground last week. Xazavian Valladay (225 yards, 3 TD) and Trey Smith (227 yards, 3 TD) have both been banged up this year. Valladay scored twice and ran for 58 yards against the Rebels. Smith missed last week’s game and is expected to be out for four to six weeks.
San Diego State boasts the No. 1-ranked run defense (45.4 yards allowed per game) in the country. No opponent has run for more than 82 yards in a game against the Aztecs, who have also held opponents to 1.79 yards per carry, which leads the Mountain West and ranks second nationally. Linebacker Kyahva Tezino, who leads the team with 43 tackles and ranks a close second to defensive lineman Keshawn Banks (6.0) with 5.0 tackles for a loss, has led the effort on the field.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
In years past, the Aztecs would follow a ground-based offensive game plan. However, head coach Rocky Long has allowed San Diego State to open things up more in 2019, which (along with injuries) has hurt rushing production. The Aztecs have averaged just 134.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 9 in the conference, and 2.98 yards per carry, which is the worst figure in the league and ranks 123rd in the country.
Still, running back Juwan Washington is one of the best running backs in the conference when healthy. Washington has already missed two games this year, but he returned to carry the ball 22 times for 85 yards against Colorado State. He currently sits behind Chance Bell (211 yards, 1 TD) and Jordan Byrd (207 yards, 2 TDs) on the team’s rushing yardage leaderboard and has yet to find the end zone on the ground. Washington has scored on a reception, however, and has hauled in nine passes for 65 yards.
Kobe Smith, who might be the only receiver in the country to wear No. 92, has emerged as quarterback Ryan Agnew’s favorite target, and as one of the best wideouts in the Mountain West. Smith leads the Aztecs with 25 receptions, 368 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Overall, Agnew has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 945 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Cowboys have held opponents to just 83.4 rushing yards per game, which is second-best in the Mountain West. However, Wyoming has been uncharacteristically susceptible to the pass this year, allowing 328.8 yards per game through the air — second-worst in the conference and No. 127 in the nation.
This game features the strength of the San Diego State defense (the run) against the strength of the Cowboys offense, but the Aztecs’ offensive strength happens to be Wyoming’s biggest weakness (the pass). Add the home-field advantage, and the fact that San Diego State’s running back room is healthier than Wyoming’s, and the Aztecs are rightfully favored to win. But it should be very close.