Fresno State vs. San Diego State: Three Keys To A Bulldogs Win
The Bulldogs and Aztecs will battle for the Old Oil Can and the driver’s seat in the West division race. Here’s how Fresno State can win.
Still plenty to play for.
WEEK 12: Fresno State Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3 MW) vs San Diego State Aztecs (7-2, 4-2 MW)
WHEN: Friday, November 15 — 6:30 PM PT/7:30 PM MT
WHERE: SDCCU Stadium; San Diego, California (54,000)
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on 940 AM, while the SDSU broadcast can be found on 101.5 FM (KGB) and XTRA 1360 AM.
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the series 29-25-4. In the last meeting on November 17, 2018, the Bulldogs defeated the Aztecs, 23-14, in Fresno.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State lost to Utah State at home, 37-35, while San Diego State lost at home to Nevada, 17-13.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Fresno State -1
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 2.9 (57% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 1.3
The Fresno State Bulldogs have spent 2019 on an unpredictable path from week to week, but their chance to defend the Mountain West crown is still alive as they hit the road to face off with rival San Diego State.
The Old Oil Can isn’t the only thing on the line Friday, but this year’s matchup may be of a different vintage because it’s hard to imagine both teams being much more different. Rocky Long’s Aztecs have thrived on strong defense and special teams, holding opponents to the fewest points per drive since 2015 while Jeff Tedford’s offense, on that same basis, is scoring more points than any Bulldogs team since 2013.
Here’s how the Bulldogs can score a win over the Aztecs to stay in the hunt for the conference crown.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Try not to lose the field position game too early.
Even if the SDSU offense hasn’t always succeeded, there’s little doubt the defense has continually put them in a position to do so. The Aztecs rank fourth nationally with a 45.4% three-and-out rate and 12th in Stop Rate (percentage of drives ending with a punt, turnover, or turnover on down), and they’ve been especially good when opponents are pinned inside their 20-yard line in allowing 0.53 points per drive, which ranks seventh.
Getting at least one or two first downs in those situations could be crucial, then, since one thing these two teams have in common are that punters Blake Cusick and Brandon Heicklen have been very good this season. Fresno State and SDSU rank 15th and 31st, respectively, in net punting, so putting Cusick in a position to succeed — and putting the Aztecs in a position they have habitually struggled; they average 0.81 PPD when they are pinned inside the 20, 107th nationally — will make life easier for a depleted defense.
2. Have the better performance on the defensive line.
This one might be easier said than done. The Aztecs own a 6% sack rate that’s roughly similar to what they did in 2018, but they’ve been much more democratic about it this time around. Kyahva Tezino still has three sacks, but the defensive line trio of Keshawn Banks, Cameron Thomas and Myles Cheatum have combined for 12 sacks and 22 tackles for loss, a huge reason why San Diego State ranks second among FBS teams in Stuff Rate (plays stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage).
The fact that offensive tackle Syrus Tuitele and guard Quireo Woodley are dealing with nagging injuries may not help matters, either, but the good news is that the Aztecs offensive line has had its own adventures. Even without defensive end Isaiah Johnson, the latest injury casualty to be finished for the season, Mykal Walker and company should be able to step up and contain an offense that’s run the ball at its usual clip, 60%, without much success: SDSU’s 23.3% Stuff Rate on offense ranks 111th and their 3.35 YPC is down nearly two-and-a-half yards from two seasons ago.
3. Find a way to put the game in Ryan Agnew’s hands.
SDSU’s junior quarterback has been solid but he’s not what you’d call a true difference maker. He’s thrown the ball 26 times on average in the Aztecs’ seven wins, but that number jumps to 36 in their two losses with little difference in yards per attempt. Agnew is also still prone to the occasional poor decision and has struggled in more obvious passing situations, earning a first down on just 10-of-42 passes on third downs of seven or more yards. If the defense can create situations where he has to make a play, it may as well be a roll of the dice for the Aztecs but seems to favor the Bulldogs.
The Aztecs have walked a fine line all season and you can make a reasonable case that they haven’t faced a strong and balanced offense like Fresno State all year long. There’s a lot of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness in this year’s clash, so while it’s hard to imagine a blowout on either side, it seems more likely the pedestrian SDSU offense will fail again to hold up its end of the bargain even against an iffy and banged up defense.
Fresno State 24, San Diego State 20