Utah State vs. San Diego State Game Preview: Three Keys for an Aggie Win
Utah State can atone for the heartbreaker at Wake Forest by stealing a road win at San Diego State.
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A conference heavyweight match is set for Saturday night.
WEEK 4: Utah State Aggies (1-1) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (3-0)
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 — 8:30 PM MT/7:30 PM PT
WHERE: San Diego, Calif. • SDCCU Stadium (54,000)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAM: FuboTV – Get A Free Trial
RADIO: Aggie Sports Network | Aztecs Sports Network
SERIES RECORD: Utah State trails San Diego State 12-1 all-time, including a 1-8 road record. SDSU won its last matchup with Utah State 40-13 on Oct. 28, 2016 — its tenth straight against the Aggies.
LAST WEEK: SDSU followed-up its week 2 win over UCLA by smacking New Mexico State 31-10. Utah State sat out with an ultra-early BYE while the rest of the conference constructed key early-season narratives.
GAME NOTES: Utah State | San Diego State
ODDS (via OddsShark): Utah State -4
SP+ PROJECTION: Utah State by 4.0 (59% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Utah State by 0.9
It might sound premature to declare this a do-or-die game for Utah State, but that’s precisely what it is. Now nearly three weeks removed from playing a meaningful down while the rest of the conference racked up meaningful wins, the Aggies must find a way to buck historical awfulness against San Diego State to maintain control of their own destiny — or risk being knocked out of the Mountain West title hunt before October.
Keys to the game for Utah State
1. Dunk on Ryan Agnew. A lot.
With so much of this game coming down to Utah State’s firepower vs SDSU’s relentless defense, the Aztecs’ man under center becomes a significant X-factor. San Diego State is happy to steal a W against anyone without much contribution from its offense, so senior quarterback Ryan Agnew playing clean football and avoiding key mistakes goes a long way. If he can connect deep even once over the top of Utah State’s suspect secondary, the game tilts dramatically in SDSU’s favor.
The reverse also rings true. Since the start of 2018, Agnew’s 12:7 TD:INT ratio has prevented the senior signal-caller from truly establishing himself among the conference’s elite QBs. It remains unclear what USU brings this season defensively — one of the nation’s leaders in forced turnovers in 2018 needs to prove Saturday it still has the same hard-hitting, Hybrid Theory-blaring third-and-long-devouring nastiness that earned this squad wins last year in a few tight spots on the road.
This matchup likely won’t boast many fireworks, nor will it feature many 15-play, 80-yard drives from offenses imposing their will — instead, small weaknesses will be amplified a hundred times over. Such a tight struggle will ultimately favor the team committing the fewest mistakes and most capable of forcing opponents into risky calls. Agnew is a fine QB, but happy to make such mistakes if the Aggie pass rush hits home.
2. Win the long night in the trenches.
San Diego State wants to run the ball. Utah State wants to run the ball. Your barista wants to run the ball. Everybody wants to run the ball.
Utah State’s front seven, particularly the defensive line, has earned all kinds of preseason praise as one of the conference’s premier position groups. This would be a great time to prove it wasn’t just noise, as SDSU has every intention of playing risk-free mucky offense if it means consistently moving the chains. Aztec running backs Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd lead the pack with 5.9 and 5.1 yards-per-carry marks, while SDSU as a team has amassed 137 rushing attempts through just three games.
Keeping the clock running with a high-volume running game played a major role in toppling UCLA back in Week 2. The Bruins defense constantly failed to get off the field while the Aztecs dominated time of possession (38:16), in addition to securing 10 points off of turnovers (see key no. 1 above). The Aggie line will be well-rested, but no amount of conditioning will survive sustained drives from this offense. Get in, force long third downs and get out — or it’s going to be a long night.
3. An all-time classic from Jordan Love.
Love has the type of talent that deserves the ball in his hands with the game on the line. In Week 1, it cost Utah State against Wake Forest in a tough loss that hasn’t yet fully healed.
On the road Saturday against a team USU never beats, in a game it feels like USU never wins, Love needs to be great. It’s probably fine for the rest of the team to approach this game with a survive-and-advance mentality, but Love needs to do more than survive — he needs to put the conference on notice that the Aggies aren’t in a rebuild.
He can do it, too. He almost did four weeks ago at Wake Forest, with a 68% completion rate and three touchdowns that will pretty much always be overshadowed by three key interceptions. This is a chance for the junior QB to lead his team through a tough draw and seize a major early-season victory on the road.
SDSU won’t allow much between the tackles, but this defense hasn’t yet faced a quarterback with Love’s ability to find soft spots in downfield coverage. Receivers will have chances to make their mark, and Love finding potential breakout star Siaosi Mariner through the air on an explosive play could mean more than just knocking the Aztecs down a peg. For USU to intimidate anyone this season, it starts here with a road win the conference will have no choice but to respect.
Utah State forces a pair of turnovers, Love throws a 20-plus-yard TD, and the Aggies sweat out a tight fourth quarter for a massive early-season win.
Utah State 30, San Diego State 24