San Diego State vs Fresno State: Keys to an Aztecs Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
San Diego State takes on Fresno State in a fight for the Old Oil Can
San Diego State returns to Southern California to play in a rivalry game for the top spot in the Mountain West and the Old Oil Can.
WEEK 9: #21 San Diego State Aztecs (7-0, 3-0 MW) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (6-2, 3-1 MW)
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.
RADIO: 101.5 KGB / XTRA 1360 / iHeart Radio App / SiriusXM ch. 383
SERIES RECORD: San Diego State leads the all-time series 30-25-4. November 15, 2019, was their last head-to-head meeting where the Aztecs beat the Bulldogs in the now-demolished SDCCU/Qualcomm Stadium.
LAST WEEK: San Diego State held on to beat Air Force at Colorado Springs, 20-14 whereas Fresno narrowly beat Nevada at home, 34-32.
ODDS (as of 10/28, via Vegas Insider): San Diego State -1
SP+ PROJECTION: San Diego State, 24-22.
FEI PROJECTION: San Diego State by 2.6
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: San Diego State 62.02% win probability
The Aztecs left Colorado Springs with their undefeated record intact, but a hungry Fresno State team is chomping to handing SDSU their first loss of the 2021 campaign.
“(Fresno State) is a really good football team. They’ve been playing good football,” remarked Coach Brady Hoke on his Aztecs’ opponent. “They’re very balanced. (The win) at UCLA, they’ve been ranked.”
Despite losing to the Aztecs in 2019, Fresno State has the talent and personnel to hand them to do so. Ever since the Bulldogs have joined the MW in 2012, they own a 5-3 record against the boys on the Mesa.
San Diego State is ready and knows what’s at stake for Saturday’s contest.
Three Keys for an Aztecs Victory
1. Contain Haener
San Diego State has struggled with mobile quarterbacks. It’s a gift and a curse for the defense to penetrate the pocket. The problem is opposing QBs like Nash, even the Pac-12 QBs have found running lanes when they see the pressure coming.
Coach Hoke on QB Jake Haener:
“You look at (Fresno State quarterback) Jake Haener. He runs around at times. He reminds me of (San Jose State’s) Nick Nash and I really didn’t want to think about that kid anymore.”
Nick Nash was able to break contain and have 7 rushes for 27 yards. He was also able to scramble, extend plays to find the open man. There were several big passes given up once Nash was outside the pocket.
Jake Haener has never faced the Aztecs in uniform. He transferred from Washington in 2018 and was ineligible to play in 2019. But in 2021, he’s averaged 322. yards of passing per game with a 67.9% completion percentage.
Winning at UCLA and a score-away from losing to Oregon, he’s proven himself.
The problem for San Diego State is that their pass defense is weaker than its running defense, but it has improved. Going into Saturday’s game they rank 31st in FBS at 199.96 passing yards per game allowed. A month ago going into their game against New Mexico they were 88th with 243.75 passing yards allowed per game.
So the key is for Caden McDonald to get his name called on game day and get the extra attention from the Fresno State offensive line, so the rest of the front-seven can apply pressure on Haener. The Fresno State QB has only seen this defense from the sidelines, and if it’s one thing that carries over from Rocky Long’s tenure is a menacing, roving defense ready to pounce.
2. MANAGE THE QBs
Lucas Johnson gives San Diego State the best chance to win on game day, and he’s proven that with his decision-making against San Jose State. The issue is that the offense was just stalling until OT. The offensive possessions were the same at Air Force. Johnson completed 10 passes for under 100 yards.
It’s clear to Fresno State, that they’re going to run the ball 20-30 times on Saturday and it’s going to be up to the quarterbacks to not make mistakes and get out of the way. Lucas Johnson at home is a better QB than on the road. His home totals 27-for-45 with a 60% completion percentage for 196 yards with a 2:1 TD-INT ratio compared to his road stats of 13-of-17 for 110 yards with a 2:0 TD-INT ratio.
Greg Bell, Chance Bell, and Jordan Byrd will have to carry this team to victory on Saturday. San Diego State is 52-2 the last 54 times it has rushed for 200+ yards. Greg Bell fell off in production and this game seems like a good bounce-back spot. The senior back from Chula Vista was held to 83 total yards of rushing over the last two games and kept out of the end zone. Bell last broke 100+ yards of total rushing on October 9 against New Mexico.
3. Let Fresno State Make the Mistakes
The Aztecs have been 39-2 the last 41 times when owning a turnover advantage. The last time the Aztecs were +1 in the turnovers and lost was at Hawaii losing 11-14 in 2019. I’d keep my eye on San Diego State’s defensive backs to show up this game and grab an interception or two. In Fresno State’s loss to Hawaii on October 2nd, Haener threw 4-picks and ultimately threw one to lose the game on the game’s final drive.
Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims are really good running back and have a combined 891 yards 6 rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs. But the offensive unit as a whole has fumbled the ball 9 times in 2021 with Rivers contributing 3 fumbles. Win the turnover game, win the game period.
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers has never broken over 100 yards when facing San Diego State in 2019 he went 15 rushes for 47 yards and 1 touchdown, In 2018, he had 22 rushes for 78 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 fumble. Fresno State will score touchdowns from their receivers, but Greg Bell and company will have a dominant game on the offensive side of the ball. San Diego State’s defense will make another statement their winning formula of strong defense and a dominant running game wins championships.
“We’re not real flashy but the one thing we do have is the way we are playing together and complementing each other,” remarked Coach Hoke on how San Diego State considers style points. “We’ve got a formula to try and win every game.”
San Diego State 23, Fresno State 20