Week 13: SDSU vs Fresno State Preview

MWC

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Game Details

Date: Saturday, November 25, 2023

Time: 7:30 pm PT

Channel: Fox Sports 1

Betting Line: FSU -5.5, O/U 47.5 (BetMGM Sportsbook)

Location: Snapdragon Stadium (San Diego, CA)

Records: SDSU 3-8 (1-6), FSU 8-3 (4-3)

Series: SDSU 30-27-4

Old Oil Can: Held by Fresno State

The Brady Hoke era officially ends for San Diego State in the final game of the 2023 season when the San Diego State Aztecs host the Fresno State Bulldogs on Senior Night in the battle of the Old Oil Can. 

The Aztecs’ loss at San Jose State was their fourth consecutive and eighth in their last nine after starting the season with two wins. 

“It was another tough one, to be honest with you,” said Hoke about the 24-13 loss to the Spartans after the game was tied at ten at halftime. “The way the second halves have gone a little bit during the last five games. … we’ve got to keep improving, keep getting better, and play for the guys who have represented this program in the seniors. … It’s senior day, and that’s always an emotional day. When you have guys that you’ve coached for five years, that’s always tough.”

Super senior Cedarious Barfield will be one of 18 seniors honored before the game. On Tuesday, he explained the added significance of a win in his final game collegiate game due to wanting to send their coach out on a win and reclaim the Old Oil Can. 

“Just excited,” Barfield said when asked his thoughts on preparing to play his final game. “Taking it all in, being here for six years. It has been a fun ride. I just remember first stepping on campus and everything like that and just seeing how far we came. So, it’s just kind of surreal. Time really does fly.”

Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs were in prime position to play in the Mountain West Championship game until two straight losses, including a surprising defeat at home last Saturday against New Mexico, eliminated them from contention. 

FSU can still earn a third-straight ten-win season (the first time in its history) by beating the Aztecs and winning their bowl game. 

The Bulldogs have won the last two matchups and four of the last five in the series. Aztec coaches, players, and fans would rather forget last year’s outcome when the Bulldogs erased an 18-point second-half deficit for a 32-28 victory that required an onside kick recovery in the final minute of the game. 

When SDSU has the ball: Advantage – FSU

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Offense

The Aztecs average 19.36 ppg (114th), 170.18 passing ypg (115th), 147.73 rushing ypg (81st) and 318.91 total ypg (112th).

Jalen Mayden’s final collegiate game will be his 20th consecutive start at QB for the Aztecs since converting back over from safety and taking over mid-season in 2022. This year, Mayden’s play has been inconsistent in OC Ryan Lindley’s new system. Mayden has completed 63.2% of his passes for 1,842 yards, but his nine touchdowns match his nine interceptions. 

He continues to lead the team in rushing as well (432 yards), although RB Jaylon Armstead (407 yards) closed the gap considerably with a career-high 134 yards against San Jose State. It was Armstead’s first career 100-yard rushing performance and the first by an Aztec running back this season.

Despite the running game looking its best, aided by holes opened up by the offensive line that were non-existent throughout the season, the offense was once again unable to generate many points. The passing game was the culprit against the Spartans, only passing for 117 yards. Mayden’s two interceptions in the second half thwarted potential scoring drives that could have kept the Aztecs in the game. 

WR Mekhi Shaw (27 rec, 359 yds, 2 TD) and TE Mark Redman (33 rec, 354 yds, 3 TD) are the most productive pass-catchers on the team this year, but both could very well end up with less than 400 receiving yards on the season.

Defense

The Bulldogs allow 23.82 ppg (50th), 219.45 passing ypg (56th), 162.91 rushing ypg (90th) and 382.36 total ypg (74th).

Statistically, the Bulldogs are an average defense but have found great success on that side of the ball by forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs’ 16 interceptions are third-best in the country, and 22 turnovers are sixth. CB Carlton Johnson leads the team with four interceptions.

DE Devo Bridges, a Preseason All-Mountain West selection, was the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Defensive MVP in 2022. He has six quarterback hurries and seven TFLs (2.5 sacks) this season. 

DE Morice Norris, Jr. leads the team with 8.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. 

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

LB Levelle Bailey is second on the team with 68 tackles but leads them with two forced fumbles. He also has three interceptions. Bailey’s efforts in the Mountain West over 47 career starts have earned him All-Conference Honorable Mention three times. 

S Dean Clark (Kent State transfer) had a career-high ten tackles against Utah State and earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week with two forced turnovers against UNLV. His 70 tackles are a team-high. 

The defense’s downfall in the past two losses was due to its rush defense, allowing both the Spartans and Lobos to rush for over 300 yards in each game. Up until these two games, the Bulldogs had not allowed a player to rush for over 200 yards against them since 2018. Kairee Robinson and Jacory Croskey-Merritt both accomplished the feat in back-to-back weeks. 

Key matchup: Jaylon Armstead, RB, vs Levelle Bailey, LB

Riding off the euphoria of his first career 100-yard performance, Armstead and the Aztec offense will face off against a struggling rush defense. The offensive line combination that started against the Spartans, with Tommy Mirabella at RG for the first time this season, should remain in the lineup for the final game of the season. Given the struggles of the passing game producing big plays and consistency over four quarters, the Aztecs will have to rely on the ground game to pick up first downs, move the ball down the field, and create scoring opportunities in the red zone. 

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When FSU has the ball: Advantage – FSU

Offense

The Bulldogs average 31 ppg (41st), 280.64 passing ypg (24th), 101.27 rushing ypg (120th) and 381.91 total ypg (65th).

The Bulldogs’ offense is the only one in the country that does not have a fumble lost on the season. Their lone fumble lost as a team, tied with five other teams for the best in the country, was by a defender (Bailey) returning an interception. Their 11 total turnovers are 19th. 

QB Mikey Keene (UCF transfer) started nine of 11 games this season, including passing for 366 yards in Week 1 at Purdue, the most by any FSU QB in his debut. He has thrown for 2,406 yards (third in MW) on 66.6% completion (first in MW) with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. 

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

After suffering an injury against UNLV, he missed two games but returned in relief last week against New Mexico. Tedford expects Keene to return as the starter on Saturday. 

RBs Malik Sherrod (738 rush yds, 7 TDs) and Elijah Gilliam (355 rush yds, 5 TDs) are the top rushers for the Bulldogs. 

Three different receivers have caught five touchdowns each for the Bulldogs. 

  • Jaelen Gill (Boston College transfer) has caught 43 passes for 439 yards; 
  • Erik Brooks leads the team in receptions (50) and receiving yards 658); 
  • Jalen Moss became the first true or redshirt freshman to have two 100-yard receiving games in a season since Davante Adams in 2012. He was rated as a Top 5 signee in the Mountain West in the class of 2022 from Menlo Park, CA. He is second on the team with 613 receiving yards (on 49 receptions). 

The Bulldogs possess the 12th-best third-down conversion rate (48.48%) and the 13th-best red zone offense (92.5%).

Defense

The Aztecs allow 27.55 ppg (81st), 245.82 passing ypg (107th), 167.09 rushing ypg (97th), and 412.91 total ypg (106th).

Barfield closes out his sixth and final season as an Aztec on Saturday night for his 50th game played. He leads the team with four interceptions and has forced one of the defense’s seven fumbles. He is also third on the team with 52 tackles. 

LB Zyrus Fiaseu leads the team with 64 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Fiaseu has made a strong case to be honored as an All-Conference performer in 2023. 

JUCO transfer Tupu Alualu (4 TFLs, 3 sacks) is the only other player on the defense with more than 1.5 sacks.

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

CB Chris Johnson intercepted his first pass as an Aztec against the Spartans and returned it 44 yards. It was the Aztecs’ 11th interception on the season. After being at the top of the leaderboard with eight interceptions through four non-conference games, the defense has only been able to collect three in seven conference games. Part of that may be due to conference teams attacking the Aztecs on the ground more than through the air. 

After recording 17 TFLs and eight sacks in two home games against Nevada and Utah State, the defense was unable to get many negative plays in their last two road contests, combining for only three TFLs (and zero sacks).

Key matchup: Toreon Penright, LT vs Cooper McDonald, SAM LB

FSU starting LT Jacob Spomer sustained a torn ACL two weeks ago, leading to Kingsley Ugwu starting last week against New Mexico. In this week’s depth chart, Toreon Penright is listed as the starter. His next start would be the first in his career. The Aztecs have struggled mightily pressuring the quarterback this season, which has led to big plays surrendered on the back end. In order to disrupt the Bulldogs’ passing game, they will need to put pressure on Keene and not allow him to get in a rhythm of finding receivers down the field. Attacking an LT making his first career start could be the focus for a four-man front that also likes to bring a second linebacker (fifth rusher) often. McDonald is the best edge rusher on the team and, despite not tallying many sacks, has 24 QB hurries per Pro Football Focus (the next highest on the team is Garret Fountain with 12).   

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Special Teams: Advantage – SDSU

The Aztecs are 10th in ESPN’s Special Teams Efficiency Rating (65.9), while the Bulldogs rank 23rd (60.7). 

Jack Browning, a Ray Guy Award semifinalist, was able to punt against San Jose State, but Gabriel Plascencia continued to kick field goals. After making his first two career attempts in the second half at Colorado State, Plascencia stayed perfect by nailing two more against San Jose State, including a career-long from 46. With Browning’s departure at the end of the season, Plascencia will have a leg up on winning the place-kicking competition next year under a new head coach. 

PK Dylan Lynch and P Carson King handle the kicking duties for FSU. Lynch has made 20 of 26 attempts this year. His 52-yard field goal against Purdue was the longest by a Bulldog since 2010. 

King has been the school’s punter since 2020. He is averaging 41.7 ypp on 45 attempts this season, with 19 downed inside the 20. 

Malik Sherrod returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Boise State this season, the Bulldogs’ first kickoff return for a score since 2008.

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