SDSU and their old rival, BYU, square it off in football this week.
The rivalry once created some of the most notable games in collegiate sports. The years of Kawhi Leonard versus Jimmer Fredette certainly highlight the rivalry on the hardwood. On the gridiron, some may remember the 52-52 tie back in 1991 with a WAC championship and Holiday Bowl berth on the line, when NFL Hall Of Famer Marshall Faulk was an Aztec facing off against BYU’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Ty Detmer.
The two teams have squared off 35 times, with BYU holding a 27-7-1 lead. On Saturday, the rivalry will be renewed when the two programs clash on the football field in Provo, Utah, for their 36th meeting. Only two other teams have seen the Aztecs play more in school history.
The EVT staff decided to take sides and write about the keys to victory for each team.
Evan Anderson, who has been covering SDSU sports, will explain SDSU’s path to an upset versus BYU. Then Nick Lee, a lifelong BYU fan, a BYU-Idaho alum, and contributor to Vanquish The Foe, will break things down from the Cougars’ perspective. Enjoy.
SDSU stopped their two-game losing streak with a victory over Colorado State last week. That game highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the team. The offense still looks lost without their starting quarterback and running back. Jordan Brookshire looks to have earned the second-string job over Carson Baker, while the Aztecs will look for Lucas Johnson to return. Chance Bell was a great second running back to back up Greg Bell. Since G. Bell’s injury, C. Bell has had reduced effectiveness. That has led to Kaegun Williams and Jordan Byrd sharing time with C. Bell in a run-by-committee strategy.
What is working for the Aztecs is their lights-out defense and special teams. Last game, the special teams scored two touchdowns on a punt and kick return. Ignoring two blocks, kicker Matt Araiza has only missed two kicks all season. Their defense has at most allowed 28 points this season. Darren Hall has three interceptions this season and looks to have NFL quality of play. Cameron Thomas had a breakout performance against Colorado and kept it going against Colorado State. In those two games, he was involved in 22 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss.
There are two ways BYU will come into this game against their old WAC and Mountain West rivals. They will either be angry and motivated to get the bad taste in their mouths of Coastal Carolina ending their bid for perfection and a New Year’s Six bowl, or they will limp into Saturday unmotivated and unfocused.
BYU has their best quarterback since they left the Mountain West in 2010 in Zach Wilson, who is garnering first-round NFL draft buzz. Their offensive line has several NFL prospects. They have some behemoths along the defensive line that can make any offensive line sweat. However, it just flat out comes down to BYU’s mental toughness and attitude coming off of that brutal loss. They went from 9-0 to taking a last-minute game and a 2,200-mile journey, to watching all their hopes and dreams come crashing down as they fell one yard short of the game-winning touchdown. That’s hard to bounce back from.
Head coach Kalani Sitake is a beloved man in Provo, but one of his shortfalls is finding ways to get his team motivated. Last year, once BYU accepted a bowl invitation to play in Hawaii on Christmas Eve, they mailed it in against San Diego State and paid the price. This year, they could fall into a similar trap. If BYU is truly the veteran, experienced team they look to be, they will overcome that loss to defeat SDSU and finish 10-1 ahead of a bowl invite and finish the season ranked for the first time since 2009. From a BYU fan’s perspective, literally, anything can happen on Saturday. There is no easy way to tell which BYU team will show up.
Why SDSU Will Win:
SDSU’s offense has struggled to the point where it will be hard to go down from here. If Lucas Johnson and Greg Bell are healthy, the dynamic of the offense will open up a bit more. With Jordon Brookshire and Chance Bell, fans should expect a lot more shorter passes and more running. Brookshire has not been completing passes at a high mark, so shorter, quicker plays can keep the BYU defense respecting the passing play. Then their running game can come in the form of either C. Bell, Williams, Byrd, or Brookshire himself.
SDSU will win this game with their defense. Opponents have averaged 2.96 yards per rush and 5.19 yards per pass attempt. They rank 8th in the nation in rush defense and 5th in pass defense but defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix has his work cut out for him. Zach Wilson has first-round potential to lead BYU’s passing game while Tyler Allgeier is a running back that has averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Forcing a few turnovers can get the offense second-guessing and playing on their heels.
As Coastal Carolina showed, BYU can be beaten. They used a heavy rushing approach, which gave them a lot more possession time compared to BYU. SDSU has the tools to mimic that game plan. The Aztec defense should keep Zach Wilson off the field as much as possible. Then the mixture of running backs can wear down the BYU defense and force them to make mistakes.
Why BYU Will Win:
With how many seniors and experienced players BYU has, their mindset should be to grind even harder and focus even more to put that brutal loss to Coastal Carolina behind them. The fact that this game is at night in Provo, Utah at 4,600 feet elevation in mid-December, when the forecast calls for sub-freezing temperatures, causes one to think BYU has a distinct advantage. And in a normal year, BYU would pack Lavell Edwards Stadium for a game against an old rival.
BYU might not hold this rivalry to as high esteem as the Aztecs do these days, but they would still love to beat SDSU like they have in years and eras past. Zach Wilson is a completely different person and player than he was against the Aztecs last year. He was not healthy nor right in the head in that game last November. The Coastal Carolina game was an anomaly for this high-powered offensive attack, given the lack of time to prepare.
BYU is the better team on paper, period. They are seventh in the entire nation in offensive yards per game and fourth in total defense. BYU will have all week to prepare for SDSU and also to stew on that loss. The Cougars should be eager to get back on the field and get back in the win column.