San Diego State Football: First Look at the Towson Tigers
The Aztecs will host FCS Towson to close its non-conference schedule this fall. Here’s our early preview of what to know about the Tigers.
A worthwhile tune-up opponent.
San Diego State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
The San Diego State Aztecs will finish their their out-of-conference slate this fall with a home date against the Towson Tigers, who’ll visit Dignity Health Sports Park on September 25. If you don’t know anything about Towson, you’d be forgiven since this is the first time ever they will face a team from the Mountain West.
They’re worth taking notice of, however, given that the Tigers tangle with FCS powers like James Madison and Maine every year and are rarely down and out.
Location: Towson, Maryland
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
2020 Record: did not participate
Head Coach: Rob Ambrose (12th year; 66-64 at Towson, 69-71 overall). While you may recall that a few FBS teams like UConn and Old Dominion made the choice to forgo the 2020 football season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more FCS programs did the same. Towson was one of them, though the layoff didn’t seem to affect the perspective of their conference peers as the Tigers were recently picked to finish seventh out of 12 teams in 2021.
Perhaps that’s because Ambrose’s Tigers were a tough out for nearly everyone in 2019, when Towson finished 7-5 but had a pair of one-score losses to Villanova and Elon that kept them from finishing higher in the CAA. While they may be a longshot to reclaim a spot in the FCS playoffs this year, San Diego State would be well-served to avoid sleepwalking through this game.
WR/KR D’Ago Hunter
Hunter made a strong impact in his first full year as a return specialist back in 2019, averaging 26.7 yards per return and returning one kick to the house for a score. That’s why, in spite of his time away from the gridiron, he was recently named the CAA’s all-conference kick returner, as no other Tiger possesses his capacity to change the tenor of a game.
WR Caleb Smith
The Tigers’ leading returning receiver may have a tough battle on deck against the Aztecs secondary, but no one else on the roster is as likely to get a big play past them. He caught 35 passes for 570 yards two years ago, leading the team in both categories.
LB Christian Dixon
Aztecs fans can certainly appreciate good linebacker play and Dixon is the closest thing Towson has to a stopper in the front seven. The redshirt senior from Charlotte created his fair share of havoc back in 2019, compiling 77 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
— Towson Football (@Towson_FB) November 27, 2020
P Shane McDonough
In the event that the game becomes one of field position, the Tigers are at least equipped to give themselves a shot to hang around thanks to McDonough. After transferring from Marshall, he earned third-team all-conference honors in 2019 by averaging a healthy 43.9 yards per punt, landing 14 kicks inside the 20-yard line and booming nine of them for at least fifty yards.
Two years ago, Towson possessed a balanced offense that averaged six yards per play and averaged a shade over 30 points per game. Times have changed, though, and Ambrose will have a few questions to address in fall camp.
Chief among them is who will replace multi-year starter Tom Flacco at quarterback. Graduate transfer Chris Ferguson spent 2020 at Liberty and started for three years at Maine before that, so he’s likely to get a long look but is no shoe-in when Jeff Miller saw a bit of mop-up duty in 2019 and the current roster lists six total options.
Towson must replace its top two running backs from 2019, as well, and they’ll probably do so with a combination of returning contributors and new arrivals. Aaron Speight impressed in limited action two years ago and Georgia Tech transfer Jerry Howard had plenty of work in four years with the Yellow Jackets, so the cupboard isn’t bare.
Thankfully, the picture is a little clearer at wide receiver with Smith and senior Darian Street (33 catches, 455 yards, four TDs) back to handle the majority of the passing game’s workload.
Replacing a starting running back and quarterback is tough enough, but the Tigers must also find new athletes to replace a significant amount of havoc: Dixon is the only one among Towson’s top nine tacklers from 2019 back for this fall, and Sam Gyeni is the only other returning defender who had multiple tackles for loss.
The program’s aggressive approach to the transfer portal could pay dividends on this side of the ball, though. Among others, Towson has brought in linebackers Darien Reynolds (Gardner-Webb) and Elrom Ulmor (Rutgers), defensive linemen Tramar Reece (Indiana), Oly Okombi (Kent State) and Mason Cholewa (James Madison), and defensive backs Keyvone Burton (Temple) and Mark Collins Jr. (South Dakota). It remains to be seen how everything will shake out, but count on at least a few of these names to stick as starters.
Towson should end up being a perfectly competent team on the FCS level this fall, but it doesn’t look on paper like they’ll be able to make much headway against a defense like San Diego State’s. Even if the offense has its hits and misses across sixty minutes, the Aztecs should win this one going away.
San Diego State 35, Towson 13