After a heartbreaking 22-17 loss at Coastal Carolina, the BYU Cougars return to LaVell Edwards Stadium where they are set to host the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday, Dec. 12. The Aztecs are 4-3 this season, with wins over UNLV, Utah State, Hawai’i and Colorado State, and losses to San José State, Nevada and Colorado.
The Cougars and Aztecs have faced each other a total of 37 times, dating back to their time in the WAC and Mountain West Conference. BYU holds a 28-8-1 series lead, although SDSU won their last meeting 13-3 last season in San Diego.
The Aztecs are coached by Brady Hoke, who also coached the team in 2008-09 before leaving for Michigan. Hoke returned to SDSU in 2019 as the defensive line coach before taking over as head coach in 2020. He has a 17-15 record with the Aztecs, and an 82-75 record as a head coach overall.
LET'S GET IT!! 😤 pic.twitter.com/79lfPxEmTX
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) December 12, 2020
The Aztecs boast the 21st ranked rushing offense in the country, with 203.7 rushing yards per game. They will likely look to employ the same game plan that proved effective against the Cougars last week, by controlling the ball and keeping Zach Wilson and BYU’s high-powered offense on the sideline.
Senior running back Greg Bell leads SDSU with 569 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. Junior running back Jordan Byrd has 222 yards on only 33 attempts, for an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Byrd was also named the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring a 93-yard touchdown on a kickoff return.
Junior Jordan Brookshire will get the start at quarterback this week for the Aztecs, although the team said junior Lucas Johnson will be available to play as well after missing time the past couple of weeks with an injury. Brookshire has only played in two games for SDSU this season and saw limited action last year. In his career, he is 21-of-43 passing, with 180 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He has 103 rushing yards on 41 attempts.
SDSU ranks third in the FBS in total defense, allowing only 269.1 yards per game. They have yet to face an offense as prolific as BYU’s but with Hoke’s background as a defensive coach they will look to make a statement in this game. The Aztecs had four defensive players named to the Mountain West All-Conference Team — sophomore defensive end Cameron Thomas, junior defensive end Keshawn Banks, junior cornerback Darren Hall and senior safety Tariq Thompson.
On a defense that returned nine starters from last season, Thompson brings a vast amount of experience, having started in 46 games for the Aztecs. The 6-foot, 210-pound safety has amassed impressive career states, with 215 total tackles, 12 interceptions and six forced fumbles. Thompson leads the team in tackles this year with 37, followed by fellow senior safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. with 36.
The Aztecs have been able to get after the quarterback and have 18 sacks as a team this year. Junior Caden McDonald has emerged as a solid pass-rusher from the linebacker position — he leads the team with 4.5 sacks in 2020. Junior defensive tackle Jonah Tavai has 3.5 sacks, and Thomas and junior defensive end Connor Mitchell each have three.
Hoke’s 3-3-5 defense will try to pressure Wilson with a three or four-man rush, leaving an experienced secondary free to wreak havoc downfield. BYU will need to do a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage than they did last week if they want to match SDSU’s run attack and give Wilson a clean pocket to work from.
— ESPN 960 (@espn960sports) December 12, 2020
The first quarter will be critical for both teams to establish what type of football they are going to play. The Aztecs have held their opponents scoreless on the opening drive in six of their last seven games and have scored in the first quarter in seven of the last eight. Look for SDSU to jump out to an early lead and try to grind out the clock for the remainder of the game.
The Aztecs can’t match the offensive talent of Wilson, Dax Milne and Gunner Romney, but their strengths match up well with BYU’s weaknesses. Their heavy ground attack will put the spotlight on BYU’s front seven for the second week in a row and the Cougars will be in trouble if they fail to stop the run again. SDSU has only scored more than 34 points once in the past three seasons, so a high-scoring game gives a clear advantage to BYU. The Cougars are the more talented team but, as we saw last week, if the Aztecs can force a tight, defensive contest, it really could be anybody’s game.
No. 18 BYU vs. San Diego State
Date: Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020
Time: 8:00 p.m. MT
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
Weather: Mostly Clear, 23 degrees
Where to Watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN
Where to Listen: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Spread: BYU -17
Written by Bridger Beal-Cvetko
Bridger is a student at Utah Valley University where he studies journalism and mass communication. He is the sports editor of the on-campus newspaper, The Review. Bridger is a life-long Cougar fan and college football enthusiast.