San Diego State Aztecs vs. Arizona Wildcats – Week 2/Game Preview

Credit: EVT/Garrison

Credit: USA Today Sports

San Diego State vs. Arizona Wildcats

Arizona Stadium – Tucson, Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, September 11 @ 7 pm

TV: Pac-12 Networks

The opening game of the new Aztec Stadium will be on September 3, 2022, against the Arizona Wildcats.

That game will be the second in a home-and-home series between the schools. The first will be Saturday night when San Diego State faces the Wildcats on the road in Tucson.

The teams last met twenty years ago, on August 30, 2001, in San Diego. The Wildcats beat the Aztecs 23-10. SDSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but gave up 23 unanswered points the rest of the way. 

The Aztecs are 5-2 against Pac-12 teams since 2016, the best non-conference record against the Pac-12 by teams that have played a minimum of five games against the conference in that span. 

Opponent Information

Team: Arizona Wildcats

City: Tucson, AZ

Conference: Pac-12 

2021 Record: 0-1

Series Record Against SDSU: 10-5 (4 game winning streak)

Opponent

The Wildcats lost their opening game of the season last week to BYU 24-16 on a neutral field at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and are coming into this week’s game on a thirteen-game losing streak. 

Their first-year head coach, Jedd Fisch, is aiming to change the culture at Arizona and has branded the 2021 season with the slogan “It’s Personal.” Before 2021, Fisch’s only experience as head coach was as the interim head coach at UCLA for the final two games of the 2017 season after Jim Mora was fired. The Bruins went 1-1 in those two games with Fisch as the interim head coach. 

He has spent most of his twenty-year coaching career in the NFL, recently as the quarterback coach for the New England Patriots in 2020 and an offensive assistant/coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and 2019. Coach Fisch coached with Aztec head coach Brady Hoke’s brother at Florida.

The Wildcats played well in the second half against BYU after falling behind 21-3 early in the third quarter but ultimately fell short. Redshirt freshman quarterback Gunner Cruz, a transfer from Washington State, had a big passing day, completing 34 of 45 pass attempts for 336 yards and one touchdown (along with one interception) in his first career start. Cruz rotated with freshman Will Plummer at quarterback through the first several drives but then took over for the rest of the game and is expected to start against the Aztecs. This week, coach Hoke said he expects both will play on Saturday night.

Wide receiver and team captain, Stanley Berryhill III, caught a career-high 12 receptions for 102 yards. Coach Fisch was proud of the way Berryhill was able to “affect the game in a very positive way” and wants to emphasize getting him “some touchdowns.”

Sophomore running back Michael Wiley was named to the Preseason Watch List for the Doak Walker Award, which recognizes the top running back in the country. He had a solid game against BYU, rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries and adding 66 receiving yards on 6 receptions. BYU was able to keep Wiley from breaking any big plays on any of his 21 touches.  

Credit: AP Photo

Aztecs’ defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix likened the Arizona offense to the Los Angeles Rams offense, given coach Fisch’s time spent on the Rams offensive staff. Their offense has a “pro personality…lots of shifts and tight sets…and jet sweeps,” according to coach Mattix. Because they employ mostly 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) which is similar to what the Aztecs offense runs and the defense practices against, there is more familiarity going up against it versus the 10 or 11 personnel that New Mexico State ran. 

While coach Fisch was disappointed with some of the potential big plays they failed to capitalize on, he was encouraged about the plays they were able to make that got them back in the game in the second half. One major area for improvement, according to coach Fisch for this week’s practice, will be red-zone efficiency. The Wildcats reached the red zone four times against BYU, and all four drives ended with field-goal attempts, two of which were missed by kicker Lucas Havrisik. “The most disappointing statistic of the night was not scoring in the red zone. We’ll practice in the red zone this week to get better,” stated coach Fisch.  

Arizona’s defense is run by new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who is nicknamed “Dr. Blitz” due to his aggressive, blitz-heavy defensive schemes. In the previous five seasons, coach Brown was the defensive coordinator at Michigan. 

Against BYU, the Arizona defense played fairly well, holding BYU to only 24 points, collected eight tackles for loss, and recorded a safety. However, they were not able to get as much pressure on the quarterback as they typically would like, only generating three pressures on 31 attempts. The 67-yard touchdown pass they gave up to Neil Pau’u was against the blitz that did not get to the quarterback. The Wildcats were also unable to force any turnovers. 

Player to Know

Linebacker Treshaun Hayward. The transfer from Western Michigan was the 2019 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and was named an All-American by Sporting News and Phil Steele. He was one of five players to record 130+ tackles and 10+ tackles for loss. Hayward had eight tackles in the Wildcats’ opening game against BYU. The Aztecs’ offense will need to ensure they know where Hayward is at all times to not allow him to disrupt the running game. 

Aztecs

The Aztecs are coming off a 28-10 victory against New Mexico State, which saw them have to come back from a 10-0 halftime deficit despite being a 31 point favorite heading into the game. This week, the spread is much different as the Aztecs began the week as a one-point underdog. The line has since shifted to a pick’em game.  

SDSU dominated the second half against the Aggies behind the Aztecs standard attack:  outstanding defense and effective rush offense. The defense collected three turnovers, including one returned for a touchdown by Andrew Aleki while shutting out the Aggies in the second half. Greg Bell led the rush attack with a career-high 161 yards and a touchdown while Jordan Byrd added a 43-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep. 

Credit: USA Today Sports

Punter Matt Araiza comes off a historical performance in the opening game after averaging 56.8 yards over nine punts, the second-highest average with nine or more punts in a game since 1996. His 77-yard punt is the fifth-longest punt in Aztec program history. While teams would rather not have to punt nine times in a game, Araiza’s ability to flip the field position, especially in the first half, was critical to the Aztecs staying in the game despite not scoring any points. 

The opening game did not go as well for quarterback Jordon Brookshire, who struggled mightily in the passing game and did not receive much help from his teammates in that regard. His final stat line of 6/19 for 76 yards left much to be desired as he was out of rhythm from the opening play of the game. He will look to bounce back, or the calls from Aztec fans to bench him will grow louder. Coach Hoke and Byrd were confident during this week’s press conference that Brookshire and the offense, with first-game jitters out of the way, will be much more effective Saturday night.

Last week in preparation for the New Mexico State game, coach Hoke made a point to mention the improvement that comes between game one and two for a football team and how that would benefit the Aggies heading into their matchup last Saturday. He hopes that the same improvement will come for his team this Saturday in their second game of the season. 

Injury Updates

Starting cornerback Dallas Branch was out with injury for the opening game, while starters William Dunkle and Segun Olubi left the game with injuries in the second half. As their standard protocol, the Aztecs have not reported any injury news since the game on Saturday night, so it is unknown if any of these players will be sidelined on Saturday night. If Branch is unable to play, it is expected that Noah Tumblin will start in his place and continue to rotate drives with Noah Avinger.

Coach Fisch noted that there were no injuries to report from the BYU game, but the Wildcats may get two important players back on Saturday against SDSU that missed the game. Left tackle Jordan Morgan is expected to return from a leg injury, and wide receiver Jamarye Joiner, who had offseason foot surgery, is ahead of schedule and is expected to practice this week. 

Three Keys to Aztec Victory

  • Eliminate personal foul penalties

The Aztecs displayed poor sportsmanship at pivotal moments during their opening game, which led to four personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, two by offensive lineman William Dunkle one back-to-back plays, and one each by cornerbacks Tayler Hawkins and Noah Tumblin. Coach Hoke called the penalties “unacceptable” and put the responsibility on himself “to make sure we correct that and represent the university and ourselves in a better fashion than we did.” The Aztecs cannot afford to give up costly penalty yards in what is expected to be a close game on the road on Saturday night. 

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
  • Neutralize Wildcats blitzes

During the first half of the game against New Mexico State, the Aztecs, led by Brookshire, did a poor job identifying the pass rush, which forced hurried and indecisive throws. Against the Wildcats aggressive defense orchestrated by Dr. Blitz, they will have to be better in this regard if they want to give Brookshire a chance to find receivers down the field. The Wildcats only recorded one sack and three pressures against BYU but were able to record eight tackles for loss. Coach Fisch reiterated in his weekly press conference this week that they “need to get more sacks.” They also had the fourth-fewest missed tackles in the country per Pro Football Focus. Brookshire and the offensive line will need to be in sync, recognizing the blitz packages and sliding protection to cover them. Additionally, the Aztecs should look to utilize quick screens and dump-offs to tight ends and running backs to take advantage of the aggressive pass rush, which might eventually lead them to dial the pressure back. 

  • Rush for at least 200 yards

After the victory against New Mexico State, the Aztecs are now 48-2 in their last 50 games they have rushed for 200 more yards in a game. They rushed for 263 yards in that game. Given the struggles by Jordon Brookshire and the passing game in the opener, the rush offense will need to be just as dominant in this game. The Wildcats gave up 161 rushing yards to BYU last Saturday. Defensive coordinator Don Brown stated that the Aztecs “offensive line is probably one of their strengths…you gotta stop the run. You want to beat this club. You gotta get your nose dirty.” All Aztec opponents come into their matchup against them, stating they need to stop the run, but most are unable to do it. Whether the Wildcats are able to will go a long way to determine the outcome of the game. 


Opponent’s San Diego Connection

  • Offensive lineman Donovan Laie attended Oceanside High in Oceanside, CA
  • Offensive lineman Anthony Patt attended San Marcos High in San Marcos, CA
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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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