SDSU Aztecs at Stanford Cardinal
Friday August 31, 6:00 PM
Last year was a season with mixed emotions. On one hand, the Aztecs were ranked, beat both PAC-12 schools on their schedule, and made it to their eighth straight bowl game. On the other hand, San Diego State did not win the conference (which is Coach Rocky Long’s main goal), finished second in the division, and lost their bowl game.
Rashaad Penny is gone, and that is the bad news. The good news is that the Aztecs bring a lot of up to Palo Alto for this Friday’s game against Stanford. San Diego State returns seven starters on offense and six on defense as they head to hostile environment in week one.
Waiting for the Aztecs will be a Stanford team ready for revenge. The Cardinal come into the season ranked 13th in both polls and is looking to start off on the right foot against the Aztecs.
Stanford is led by running back Bryce Love, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Last season, Love rushed for an impressive 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns. Against the Aztecs, he rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Love is the focal point of the Cardinal offense as they like to wear you down in between the tackles and then have him hit you with a big run. As a team, Stanford was 30th in the NCAA in rushing, proving how explosive the run game is, but when it came to the pass, they were less than extraordinary.
Stanford averaged 186.3 yards per game through air last season, good for 99th in Division I. KJ Costello starts this season’s game against the Aztecs and will look to build on his sophomore campaign. Costello’s numbers are extremely similar to San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman. Somewhat of a game manager, Costello finished with 1, 573 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions. When analyzing how Costello and Chapman differ, one can look at the number of sacks each had to endure. The Cardinal line did an excellent job protecting Costello as he only was sacked eight times, compared to 29 for Chapman.
There is some disarray on the Cardinal line though as starting center Jesse Burkett will be out for this game. The center duties, including calling out the blocking signals, lands on redshirt freshman Drew Dalman. Also, Stanford will depend on two players to man the left guard spot, meaning that some stability at the position is lacking. Finally, Love’s fullback, Daniel Marx, graduated last season, so the Cardinal will be working behind a new one in Reagan Williams.
Defensively, Stanford returns a defense that finished 68th in rushing defense (169 yards per game) and 80th in pass defense (236.1 yards per game). The Cardinal will be better and more experienced on defense. Of the 11 starters on offense, 10 will be at least in their junior year, if not beyond. The defensive line has been revamped this season and Stanford head coach David Shaw says the he expects a lot out of them.
Starting safety Frank Buncom, who is a San Diego native and attended St. Augustine High School, will be a player to keep an eye on in the defensive secondary. The senior safety will look to make some plays against the team who spoiled his homecoming last year. Another San Diego native is Alijah Holder, former Aztecs receiver Mikah Holder’s twin brother. Holder is not expected to play this weekend, which is a blow for the Cardinal as Holder was a starter at the cornerback spot.
As mentioned earlier, the Aztecs bring experience to the table even with Penny, their superstar running back, gone. The starting offensive line remains intact; a year older, stronger, and wiser. Their cohesiveness should be a huge boost for running back Juwan Washington, who looks to build off his limited touches last season. Washington rushed for 1213 yards and 13 touchdowns as Penny’s backup and now the spotlight lands on him. As always, the Aztecs will look to pound the ball on the ground, and Washington will be called on to lead the attack.
Chapman is back for his senior season as the signal caller for the Aztecs. He will be looking to bring his steady hand to Palo Alto and give the Aztecs a chance to pull out the victory. You can expect the Cardinal to dare Chapman to beat them with his arm. The San Diego State receivers will need to help Chapman out and make the big play when the ball is thrown their way. Look for the Aztecs to use tight ends Parker Houston and Kahale Warring in the passing game.
Defensively, the Aztecs have been one of the best units in all of college football. They finished 11th in total defense in each of the last two years (they were fifth three years ago). Everybody is going to have to work together to stop Love, from the front line to the secondary.
In the secondary, keep an eye on Tariq Thompson, who had an outstanding year last season as a true freshman. Thompson was named to the preseason all-conference team and has made a name for himself as a great young player. The secondary will need to be stout on the ground and through the air. They will need to stop Love when he gets to the second level and be ready for when Costello goes to the air. It suffices to say that the defense will be busy Friday.
To win this game, the Aztecs will need to play a near perfect game to upset the Cardinal once again. On offense, they need to move the ball both through the air and on the ground. They also need to avoid turnovers and the line needs to do a solid job in protection.
Defensively, San Diego State needs to contain Love. They simply cannot allow him to run around and beat them for long gains. San Diego State’s defense needs to keep Costello uncomfortable and force him into turnovers. Finally, the Aztecs need to get stops on third down. Stanford can wear a team down, so not allowing long, sustained drives will be key.
This will be an exciting and challenging game for the Aztecs to open up the season. Expect crowds of Aztec fans to be in attendance, supporting the team from behind enemy lines. While the Cardinal are 14.5 point favorites, I expect San Diego State to keep the game closer than that and possibly pull off the upset.
You can watch the game this Friday on FS1 at 6 pm