Fresno State vs. San Diego State: Keys to a Bulldogs Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Bulldogs head to Carson for a West division battle with San Diego State. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for against the Aztecs.
A high-stakes showdown.
WEEK 9: Fresno State Bulldogs (6-2, 3-1 Mountain West) vs. #21 San Diego State Aztecs (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, October 30 — 7:30 PM PT/8:30 PM MT
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park; Carson, CA
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes CBSSN, by following this link.
You can also stream the Fresno State radio broadcast on Fresno State All-Access.
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found on in and around Fresno on Fox Sports 1340 AM, as well as on the affiliates of the Bulldog Radio Network around the San Joaquin Valley. The San Diego State broadcast can be found on either XTRA 1360 AM or 101.5 FM (KGB).
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the all-time series 30-25-4. In the last meeting on November 15, 2019, the Aztecs defeated the Bulldogs, 17-7, in San Diego.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State defeated Nevada at home, 34-32, while San Diego State defeated Air Force on the road, 20-14.
ODDS (as of 10/28, via Vegas Insider): San Diego State -1
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State by 1.8
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 2.6
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: San Diego State 62.02% win probability
The Fresno State Bulldogs survived Carson Strong and the Nevada Wolf Pack last weekend, but things won’t get much easier in their climb to the top of the West division against the San Diego State Aztecs this Saturday night.
Brady Hoke’s squad has continued to defy the odds thanks to one of the best defense’s in the country and a running game that has rebounded in a big way from last year, so on paper this battle for the Old Oil Can should make for a fascinating contrast of styles. However, neither team has been able to crack 30 points in this rivalry since 2013 and the Aztecs have won three of the last five, so the Bulldogs will want to be prepared for another proverbial fist fight.
Here’s how the ‘Dogs can beat San Diego State.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Don’t let the Aztecs ground game get loose.
Greg Bell is one of the best running backs in the Mountain West, as Fresno State offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb noted on Monday, but when he’s less than 100% it hasn’t always been a given that the Aztecs ground game will pick up all of the slack. By Expected Points Added per carry, San Diego State is only 43rd among FBS teams; in terms of the percentage of drives that average at least four yards per play, though, the Aztecs’ 42.1% rate ranks 112th.
That can’t be blamed entirely on the evolving quarterback situation, either: Bell had 111 rushing yards in the team’s win over New Mexico in early October, but the quartet of running backs he leads — Chance Bell, Kaegun Williams, and Jordan Byrd being the others — have combined for 3.96 yards per carry in conference play. It’s a far cry from the Donnel Pumphrey/Rashaad Penny days and, combined with the fact that the status of star left tackle Zachary Thomas is also up in the air (he missed last week’s Air Force game with injury), it puts the Bulldogs defensive line in a good position to keep doing what it’s been doing: Get after the ball in the backfield.
2. Don’t be shy about testing the Aztecs secondary.
One reason the Aztecs have found a way to be even better than their past iterations is that they’ve successfully replaced all of the departed talent in their vaunted secondary. Veterans like Patrick McMorris and young talents like Noah Avinger and Noah Tumblin have made quarterbacks pay for their mistakes with 32 pass breakups and nine interceptions in seven games, allowing a 52.5% completion rate and 5.3 yards per attempt.
The rub, of course, is that Jake Haener is pretty easily the best quarterback these Aztecs will see to date. That’s probably true of Jalen Cropper, too, so the key will be keeping Cameron Thomas and San Diego State’s legion of attacking linebackers at bay long enough for the Bulldogs wide receivers to see how much of a dent they can make. This is much easier said than done, but the offensive line managed to get the job done against a similarly strong Nevada pass rush last weekend so it’s not impossible.
3. Manage the field position game.
Another obvious success story for the Aztecs is that they’ve found ways, week after week, to force opponents into long drives while exploiting their offensive mistakes to avoid the same situation themselves. On the season, San Diego State’s opponents have managed to earn just 26.1% of available yards per drive, a figure surpassed by only Georgia among defenses this year.
Punter Matt Araiza and his FBS-best 46.69 net yards per punt is the biggest reasons for this, but he’s also 13th nationally with a 82% touchback rate on kickoffs, as well. This game, then, is a big opportunity for Bulldog specialists Carson King and Jordan Mims to step up and ensure the Bulldogs aren’t continually behind the eight ball. Not every drive has to end in points to make a difference against this Aztecs defense, either, so long as the Fresno State offense can make good on its own ability to move the chains once or twice per drive.
San Diego State’s defense has proven itself to be a cut above pretty much everyone else in college football this year, but Fresno State will test just how good the Aztecs actually are. Containing Thomas, who leads SDSU with 4.5 sacks, is the top priority, but four different linebackers also have at least two sacks so ensuring there are no confusions in pass protection will be generally critical.
The Bulldogs offense, however, will probably find it tougher to stay balanced like they did in last week’s victory over the Wolf Pack since the Aztecs proved against Air Force that their ability to stop the run wasn’t solely driven by weak opposition. If Ronnie Rivers is limited or unavailable because of injury, can Mims produce enough to keep Jake Haener from having to throw on every down? It could end up looking a lot like the Wyoming game a couple weeks ago… or San Diego State could force the ‘Dogs into just enough errors where the Cowboys couldn’t to hold onto the Old Oil Can, which is what I’m guessing will happen.
San Diego State 20, Fresno State 17