Three Keys to an Aztec Victory
Limit Nick Nash to less than 30 yards rushing (on non-sacks)
A fast, aggressive defense, which the SDSU Aztecs have, typically flies after the quarterback on passing plays to bring him down for a sack. This aggressive pursuit can often put the defense in a precarious position, losing contain by opening lanes for the quarterback either up the middle or off the edge. After coming in to replace an injured Starkel in last year’s matchup, Nash broke contain numerous times, rushed for 53 yards, and connected with several receivers down the field while outside the pocket.
Earlier this year against Utah, the Aztecs allowed backup quarterback Cameron Rising (who came into the game in the second half after starter Charlie Brewer was benched) to break containment, rush for 46 yards, and lead two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Both games were situations where the Aztecs’ defense was not fully prepared for a dual-threat quarterback that came in during the game.
When the Aztecs expected and prepared for a dual-threat quarterback throughout the week, they did a much better job. In the four games this year except for Utah, the Aztecs only allowed 64 yards rushing to opposing quarterbacks. As a result, the Aztecs will be more prepared for Nash this season, and keeping him in the pocket around the slew of Aztecs defenders should limit his effectiveness.
Jesse Matthews collects at least 75 receiving yards
So far this season, Jesse Matthews caught seven passes, which is tied with tight end Daniel Bellinger for the team lead. Matthews’ seven catches, however, only accounted for 40 receiving yards, with his longest completion going for eight yards. In contrast, Bellinger collected 163 receiving yards on his seven catches. While this is a byproduct of the infrequent passing plays run by the Aztecs offense due to its dominant running game, there have also been many missed opportunities between the quarterback and Matthews when he has been open.
In last year’s matchup against the Spartans, Matthews caught six passes for a career-high 139 yards. Given the Spartans’ talented defensive line, the running lanes may not be as open for the Aztecs running backs in this game, which would require more plays in the passing game. While Tyrell Shavers will draw the opposing team’s best cornerback, look for Matthews to have an advantage and to find his breakout game of the season this week.
Win the turnover battle
In last year’s matchup, the Aztecs held a three-point lead with twelve minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and were ahead in the turnover margin, 1-0 at that time. Then came three consecutive Aztecs turnovers, two fumbles which gave the Spartans a short field and led to touchdowns, and an interception in the Spartans end zone, which ended an Aztec scoring opportunity.
So far this season, the Aztecs are undefeated and hold a +3 turnover margin through five games. While the Spartans are an incredible -10 in turnover margin, leading to their 3-3 record. Greg Bell lost three fumbles, including one last week against New Mexico that was returned for a touchdown. Bell will need to ensure he protects the football as he goes up against a talented Spartans defensive front.
The Aztecs are 38-2 in the last 40 times they have won the turnover margin and will look to continue that trend this week.