Keys to Victory: San Diego State vs Northern Illinois University

Credit: EVT Sports

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Credit: EVT Sports

The #19-ranked Aztecs (4-0, 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference) will face off against Northern Illinois University (2-1) Saturday at SDCCU Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM PST.

Coming off of back-to-back come-from-behind victories with significant delays (blackout/lightning storm), the Aztecs are looking to extend their streak to seven games dating back to last year. Their victory over Air Force was another statement win, proving that this team can once again make plays when coming from behind, but more importantly, make plays when faced with adversity.

San Diego teams are not particularly known for playing well in inclement weather and last week was no different. San Diego State was outplayed early as gusting winds and rain wreaked havoc to start the game. Fortunately for the Aztecs, lightning forced both teams back into the locker room for 85 minutes, and as play resumed, the weather had changed. So did the momentum of the game. SDSU capitalized on the break in the weather to rally from behind and beat the Falcons, 28-24.

NIU is coming off of a bye week and an impressive win over Nebraska in Lincoln, 21-17.  The Huskies took the lead early in that game with a pair of interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.  NIU started the season with a loss against Boston College, but bounced back the following week with a victory over Eastern Illinois.  Northern Illinois is currently in first place in the Mid-American Conference and a victory over the Aztecs will bode well for them as they make their bid in the Group of Five’s race to a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Last year the Aztecs defeated the Huskies 42-28 in a match at NIU that was their first game against one another since 1971.  SDSU had great games from Donnell Pumphrey (220 yds and 3 TDs) and Christian Chapman (126 yds, 3 TDs/1 int) and the defense held off NIU’s late rally to preserve the win.

SDSU on Defense

  1. Stop Jordan Huff

The Huskies like to run a balanced attack.  The passing game, led by 6-foot-2 sophomore quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, will need to get the running game going early to keep the Aztec’s defense guessing.  Senior running back Jordan Huff is coming off a good performance against Nebraska where he rushed for 107 yards on only 16 attempts.  Stopping him on first and second down, and forcing the Huskies into third and long, will be key for the Aztecs in getting the defense off the field.  The SDSU backfield has been impressive thus far and should be able to make plays against this passing offense if the defense can shut down the run.

  1. Warrior Up

One of the key positions for Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 defense is the Warrior Safety.  Six-foot two-inch junior safety Parker Baldwin has been manning that spot since the Mountain West Conference opener against the University of Las Vegas Nevada.  Parker leads the team in tackles, 28 total, and will be relied upon to be stout against the run and provide coverage against the Huskies slot receivers.  Attacking from the middle of the field while the front line shows multiple fronts and blitz packages will make it difficult for NIU to account for Baldwin, who should be able to make several key stops.

SDSU on Offense

Credit: Go Aztecs
  1. Start Fast

Northern Illinois has two things going for them heading into this game.  Momentum and rest.  Their win over Nebraska will have them beaming with confidence and champing at the bit to take down a top 25 team.  They’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Aztecs and should come into the game healthy.  It is paramount for the Aztecs to capture the lead early to put aside any doubt who the more physical team is.  Chapman will need to connect to his receivers early as the Huskies are expected to put 9 or possibly 10 players in the box to stop the vaunted Aztec rushing attack.

  1. Wells Runs Deep

David Wells has been clutch, making timely plays when the team needed him the most.  The Aztecs should be able to continue to use the six-foot five-inch senior tight end in play action for big plays.  Wells has two touchdowns this season and should start to see more touches as the season progresses.

  1. Penny Activated

Rashaad Penny comes into the game as the nation’s second-leading rusher and number 3 on several Heisman watch lists.  The Huskies have only allowed 3.6 yards per rush this season, but have yet to face a quality running back like Penny.  The Aztecs will need to control the clock and win the time of possession to wear down this NIU defense.  Penny will find it tough sledding in the beginning, but should be able find some holes as the game goes on.

This will be another tough match up for the Aztecs, who cannot afford to slip up.  A win against a Group of Five conference leader will bode well for San Diego State as they look to continue their progression up the national rankings.  San Diego State should jump out to the lead early and hold off the Huskies at the end for an Aztec victory.

Prediction:  SDSU 31 – NIU 24.

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