UNLV vs. San Diego State: Three Keys To An Aztecs Win
The Runnin’ Rebels and Aztecs open a most unusual season this Saturday. Here’s how San Diego State can manage the win.
It’s a new era for the Aztecs AND the Runnin’ Rebels! In their 30th matchup both teams feature new head coaches.
WEEK 8: UNLV (0-0, 0-0 MW) vs. SDSU (0-0, 0-0 MW)
WHEN: Saturday, October 24th — 7:30 PM PST / 10:30 PM EST
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park; Carson, California (27,000)
RADIO: 101.5 FM (KGB) and XTRA 1360 AM.
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the series 19-10.
LAST MATCHUP: November 26, 2019 | Aztecs won 20-17.
ODDS: SDSU -13.5
Carson, CA — Forget what you know about UNLV. The program has taken some big steps to get itself back on track.
After going 4-8 last season, the program finally addressed the elephant in the room (and replaced him). While the Runnin’ Rebels will be adjusting to many changes, they will have an all-new persona. Meanwhile, the Aztecs, who went 10-3 last season are also adjusting to a somewhat new coach; a new starting quarterback and a new, temporary stadium in Los Angeles.
Here’s how the Aztecs can score a win in their pandemic season opener.
Three Keys to an Aztecs Victory
1. BE READY TO FACE an upgraded UNLV
The Japanese say “a fish rots from the head down.” Five years of mediocrity manifested from the stewardship of former head coach Tony Sanchez, who departed UNLV with a 19-40 record. The move to hire Sanchez was met with skepticism when he arrived at UNLV with a high school football coaching pedigree most recently from Nevada’s Bishop Gorman. The hire was unusual, and the result regrettably foreseeable.
Sanchez was replaced by Marcus Arroyo, whose resume is substantially more qualified. It includes coaching gigs for solid programs including quarterbacks coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and running backs coordinator for Oklahoma State. Most recently, Arroyo delivered big time as offensive coordinator for the 11-2 Oregon Ducks, who went on to defeat Utah in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship and subsequently moved on to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers in last year’s Rose Bowl.
Arroyo is a major upgrade.
He graduated from San Jose State in 2002 where he quarterbacked for the Spartans, so Arroyo will be right at home in the Mountain West.
New Aztecs head coach Brady Hoke maintains the upper hand, but expect Arroyo to try and shock the Aztecs and the Mountain West with his own brand of Power 5 football.
2. unleash ELITE DEFENSE to squash unlv’s offensive
Coach Hoke is ALL about defense. During his first stint as Aztecs head coach, he enlisted Rocky Long as defensive coordinator in 2009. Long ran Hoke’s defense-first protocols before graduating to head coach, and subsequently caused Power 5 coaches shudder every time they faced the Group-of-Five powerhouse. Hoke, who went on to coach the Michigan Wolverines, is the original architect of today’s elite defense. Despite Rocky Long’s exodus, the defense should stay elite without losing a step.
The Aztecs won ten games last season, allowing opponents only 12 points per game, 75 yards rushing and 212 yards passing. If they keep that up, they will continue to be very hard to score against.
Managing UNLV’s offense, the Aztecs must target and stop Charles Williams, a talented running back who ran for 1257 yards last year. They must also aggressively collapse the pocket quickly to suffocate a potentially dynamic offense led by several rotating quarterbacks. UNLV may be full of surprises, so the Aztecs have to be extra aggressive to stifle any chances of the Runnin Rebels gaining real offensive traction.
3. CAPITALIZE ON PINPOINT PASSING but keep insurance
Starting quarterback Carson Baker has played in just one game thus far, but what a game it was. He executed on 19 of 24 passes against a talented BYU squad, delivering an Aztecs win during their final game at SDCCU.
During the game he executed with stunning accuracy on nearly all passes, and left some Aztecs fans with the hope that he may exceed all of his recent predecessors as quarterback. This year he benefits from a returning trio of talented receivers in Kobe Smith, Jesse Matthews and Daniel Bellinger, who combined for 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns during 2019.
Nonetheless, Rocky Long taught the Aztec Nation that, even without a dynamic quarterback, the Aztecs can win consistently. Over much of the last decade, a string of starting play callers managed to effectively advance the ball and score without superstar players, in no small part due to the Aztecs’ reliance on its ground game and the cultivation of some of the last decade’s most prolific running backs. It’s a simple formula: massive offensive line, solid running back, and guts to go right down the middle of the gridiron.
While the Aztecs’ run game left something to be desired last year, running back Chance Bell returns this season as the tip of the spear, and he will be a part of that offensive insurance card as new quarterback Carson Baker gets his bearings.
Even though the Aztecs will manhandle the Runnin’ Rebels, don’t be surprised if coach Arroyo generates a lot of buzz.
This game might be a lot more entertaining than most would expect, so tune in to see how Marcus Arroyo’s Rebels stack up against Brady Hoke’s Aztecs.
It’s a new era in the Mountain West.
San Diego State 24, UNLV 16