Before diving into this week’s keys, let us revisit last week’s three keys to victory against Hawaii and how they impacted the SDSU Aztecs’ victory.
Win the first quarter
The game was tied at seven at the end of the first quarter, but the Aztecs scored first and had the ball up 7-0 near the end of the first quarter before Lucas Johnson’s fumble. Hawaii only needed one play to score a 19-yard touchdown after recovering the fumble. The Aztecs defense set the tone early and only gave up three points to Hawaii the rest of the game.
Rush for at least 200 yards
The Aztecs only rushed for 128 yards in the game on 43 carries, a three-yard per carry average. This total includes Jack Browning’s fake field run for a 13-yard touchdown on a trick play. Overall, the Aztecs won this game by converting 6 of 14 third-down conversions that extended drives and helped maintain a 34 to 26 time of possession advantage.
Get at least four sacks
The Aztecs collected four sacks for 21 yards in the game and continually pressured Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro all game with predominantly a three-man rush. Factoring in the yards lost due to sacks, Cordeiro finished the game with only 12 net rushing yards.
Here are the three keys to victory against Nevada this Saturday.
Get pressure on Carson Strong with a three-man rush
As discussed above, under the third key to victory against Hawaii, the Aztecs utilized a three-man rush more often than they usually do, which allowed them to drop eight defenders into coverage. Having that many defenders in coverage allows the defense to take away quick throws and have more bodies around receivers as they make the catch to limit YAC. This strategy will be even more paramount against the NFL talent that Nevada possesses at the skill positions.
The Nevada offensive line has struggled this season, and opposing teams have pressured Strong more often this season. Fresno State sacked Strong five times in their two-point victory, while San Jose State sacked Strong three times last week. If the Aztecs create consistent pressure to make Strong uncomfortable in the pocket, it will help slow down and limit Nevada’s explosive offense.
Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns
Nevada’s defense has allowed 19 touchdowns in 27 red zone opportunities this season, a 70% success rate, while the Aztecs offense has scored 21 touchdowns in 29 red zone opportunities, a 72% success rate. In their two losses against Kansas State and Fresno State, however, Nevada allowed six touchdowns in just seven red-zone chances. The Aztecs must sustain long drives and control the time of possession, but finishing those drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be critical given Nevada’s ability to score often.
Stay under five penalties and less than 40 yards
Penalties have been an issue for the Aztecs all season, averaging 65.67 yards on seven penalties per game. After starting the season with 82 and 85 penalty yards, they kept the penalty yardage under 50 for their next three games. But the last four games have shown regression, including a ten penalty, 61 yard game against Air Force, and a nine penalty, 90 yard game against Hawaii on Saturday.
The Aztecs have overcome these high penalty games to still win eight of nine, but the lack of discipline can and will eventually catch up to them. In a game that is expected to be hotly contested and come down to the final seconds, one crucial penalty to extend a Nevada drive or to derail a San Diego State drive can decide the outcome.