The San Diego State Aztecs will look to earn the first victory of their 100th season of football and their first win in Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday against the Idaho State Bengals. The Bengals play in the Big Sky Conference in Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
After a disappointing loss to open the year against the Arizona Wildcats, the Aztecs will try and avoid their first 0-2 start since 2013. The defeat snapped a seven-game win streak in season openers played at home.
Under new head coach Charlie Ragle, the Bengals lost their first game on the road to UNLV, 52-21 (SDSU will host UNLV in conference action later this year.) ISU is 1-35 in their previous games against FBS opponents.
Ragle spent the last five years as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Cal after serving six years at Arizona under those same roles.
Former SDSU grad assistant, Pierre Cormier, was named the cornerbacks’ coach for Idaho State earlier this year.
SDSU head coach Brady Hoke noted the lopsided score in the loss to UNLV but made sure that his team will give the Bengals their full respect and preparation.
“We just turn on the tape from the Arizona game,” he said when asked about playing an FCS opponent. “That’s all we have to do. Our preparation has to be more about us. We’re going to take them very seriously … (Ragle) has done a good job without being there too long.”
When SDSU has the ball: Advantage – SDSU
The Aztecs rushed for 170 yards against Arizona, but the majority of those yards came in the second half when the game was out of reach. The carries were also dispersed among five different running backs, but the final box score showed quarterback Braxton Burmeister with a team-leading ten carries (for 20 yards).
Hoke admitted postgame and again during Tuesday’s press conference that he does not want that to be the case. “There’s a little bit from (Burmeister), he’s got to be a little more patient, and we have to do a better job upfront. We have to make sure our routes are detailed.”
Burmeister’s affinity for running out of the pocket at the first sign of danger contributed to an overall passing yardage of 51 yards on ten pass attempts (five completions), despite playing more than half the game before departing due to a right shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Will Haskell fared worse, only completing 2 of 6 passes for 11 yards. Burmeister’s two best throws of the game were on a touchdown and an interception. The 11-yard touchdown pass to Tyrell Shavers on 4th and 3 in the second quarter utilized the receiver’s 6-6 frame on a back shoulder fade into the end zone. The interception was a perfectly thrown slant pass to Brionne Penny between two Wildcats, which went through Penny’s hands and into the defender’s for the turnover.
While the Aztecs will lean on their talented and deep running back unit to generate their offense behind a young but talented offensive line, they must be able to connect in the passing game downfield to Shavers and Jesse Matthews to truly reach the potential of the offense. Playing against Idaho State’s secondary may be exactly what the Aztecs’ offense needs to kick start the 2022 offense.
Key Player – Chance Bell, Running Back, 5-10, 200lbs
Bell returned for a super senior season with the expectation of an increased role and a chance to show NFL scouts that he can play at the next level. Despite talks about him becoming the lead back, receiving 15-20 carries a game, he got eight in the first game (tied for first from the backs with Cam Davis), rushing for 30 yards. He ran hard despite few open holes. The Aztecs will surely begin this matchup by pounding the ball on the ground, and Bell will get the first opportunity to show what he can do. While the team will rotate in and provide carries to the other four running backs, if Bell can get the team started on the opening drive of the game, he could force the coaching staff’s hand to let him stay in for more carries as the game proceeds.
The Bengals’ defense gave up 45 points to UNLV in the first half (only seven in the second half) and four touchdown passes to quarterback Doug Brumfield. The biggest play was a 72-yard touchdown reception by Ricky White. Overall, the Bengals’ defense allowed 554 total yards and 50% third down conversions.
The lone bright spot for their defense was collecting five sacks in the game after registering only seven the entire 2021 season. Defensive lineman Spencer Tatafu led the way with two sacks, the most by any Bengal in a game since 2019.
Key player – DJ Hagler, Linebacker, 6-1, 232lbs
The senior collected a career-high eight tackles against UNLV plus a sack. Before 2022, Hagler played 31 games at Idaho State but only recorded 13 tackles. He will look to build upon a promising opening game despite the fact that his defense gave up 52 points to UNLV.
When Idaho State has the ball: Advantage – SDSU
The Bengals went into fall camp with a quarterback competition between junior Tyler Vander Waal (transfer from Wyoming) and sophomore Hunter Hays. Vander Waal won the competition and started against UNLV, completing 7 of 13 passes for 130 yards. He threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Johnson but also threw an interception. Hays relieved Vander Waal and also completed 7 of 13 passes, but for only 61 yards. He threw a touchdown, a 19-yarder to Xavier Guillory, and ran one in from five yards out.
Last year, Hays threw for 1,066 yards, six touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Vander Waal threw for 375 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Guillory led the receiving corps with four receptions and 73 yards, while Johnson added three catches for 69 yards.
The Bengals had a horrid day rushing the ball against UNLV, netting only 50 yards on 40 carries. In order for the Bengals to have any success against the Aztecs’ defense on Saturday, they will need to establish some semblance of a rushing attack, or the Aztecs’ front six is going to harass whichever quarterback is taking the snap under center.
Key player – Cyrus Wallace, Tight End, 6-3, 227lbs
The junior transfer from Santa Barbara City College caught four passes for only 24 yards against UNLV. But, the coaching staff coveted his size, athleticism, and versatility when they recruited him out of junior college and have high hopes for him in his first season at the school. Last year, he caught 27 passes for 452 yards and three touchdowns. The Aztecs struggled last year containing big, athletic tight ends such as San Jose State’s Derrick Deese, Jr. Despite a mild performance in the first game, look for the Bengals to get Wallace more involved in the passing game against SDSU.
The vaunted Aztecs’ defense was humbled in their opening game, allowing 38 points and 461 total yards while only registering four tackles for loss and one sack. The biggest culprit for the shoddy defense was 31 missed tackles on 75 defensive snaps per PFF. In comparison, the Aztecs only had one game last year with more than 13 missed tackles (19 against Utah on 93 defensive snaps).
“A lot of different things when you miss (31) or pursuit angles, we got to wrap and get guys on the ground,” said Hoke.
“When you do poorly at something, there’s only one way to fix it, and that’s to work harder at it,” said senior linebacker Caden McDonald about the poor tackling. “We had to look at the tape and had to be very constructive and be real with ourselves. I’m looking forward to changing it this week in practice.”
In addition to the missed tackles, the lowlight of the defensive performance was allowing eight receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns to UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing, Arizona’s slot receiver. The Bengals’ offense has many similarities to the Wildcats, and they had some success in the second half against UNLV by finding slot receivers.
The bright spot for the defense was forcing two consecutive turnovers in the second quarter that, for a moment, seemed to get the Aztecs back into the game. Cedarious Barfield forced and recovered his first career fumble, while Noah Tumblin caught his first career interception. The loss snapped the Aztecs’ 16-game win streak when forcing two or more turnovers.
Key player – Keshawn Banks, Defensive End, 6-4, 255lbs
The senior who elected to return for a fifth season and was named on the Mountain West Preseason Team was primed for a big year with the departure of All-American Cameron Thomas. However, his season did not begin the way he or the coaching staff would have liked. Banks was non-existent against Arizona, failed to record a tackle (two missed), and earned an overall defensive grade of 66.5 per PFF. If the Aztecs’ defense is going to reach its ceiling this season, Banks will have to produce consistently. The Bengals’ offensive line gave up ten tackles for loss and five sacks to UNLV in their first game, and Banks should be able to feast himself in this game.
Special Teams: Advantage – SDSU
The six kicking duties in this game will be performed by two players as both teams employ one player to perform kickoffs, punts, and field goal/extra point attempts. SDSU’s Jack Browning made both his field goal attempts and pinned a punt inside the five-yard line that led to a touchdown on a punt block in the end zone on the ensuing possession. His lone blemish in the game was a shanked 15-yard punt. Idaho State’s freshman kicker, Ian Hershey, did not attempt a field goal but punted seven times for a 46.7 average with a long of 65 yards. The Bengals allowed two kickoff returns of greater than 30 yards to UNLV, so returner Jordan Byrd could have an opportunity for a return touchdown in this contest.
Date: Saturday, September 10, 2022
Time: 5:00pm PT
Channel: Mountain West Network
Betting Line: SDSU -37 (WynnBet Sportsbook)
Location: Snapdragon Stadium (San Diego, CA)
Records: SDSU 0-1 (12-2 in 2021), Idaho State 0-1 (1-10 in 2021)
Series: SDSU 1-0 (38-21 victory in 2004)