The Brigham Young Cougars (7-5) will conclude the 2012 season with the Poinsettia Bowl this Thursday against the San Diego State Aztecs (9-3). BYU can go out with a bang by beating the Aztecs or have a fizzling finish with one more disappointing loss. How the game will end, nobody knows, but one thing is certain—San Diego State won’t make it easy for the Cougars.
San Diego State has had its first 9-win regular season since 1977, and first conference championship since 1986. They have a more potent rushing attack than they did when Marshall Faulk was on the roster. The Aztecs are averaging 35 points per game. Their defense has been respectable this season allowing 24.5 points per game, forcing nearly two turnovers per game, and totaling 31 sacks.
Against common opponents, San Diego State beat Hawaii (52-14) and lost to San Jose State (38-34) just like BYU did. However, the Aztecs beat Boise State (21-19), and BYU lost to the Broncos. Interestingly, in each game against Boise State, a failed two-point after touchdown attempt decided the outcome of the game.
San Diego State has built up a lot of momentum during its current seven-game win streak. It is the longest win streak for the Aztecs since 1977. If they make it eight in a row, that would be the longest win streak since 1975.
The San Diego State passing game is expected to be a weakness. The Aztecs will be down to their third string quarterback after Ryan Dingwell was injured in the regular season finale. He has not attempted a pass this season, which conjures up bad memories of what happened when BYU played Oregon State in October. However, it will be surprising if San Diego State takes to the air the same way Oregon State did. San Diego State’s offensive identity this season has been to run the ball. BYU will have to stop the run first.
Besides all the reasons San Diego State has to win to make this an even more memorable season, they have history with BYU. The Aztecs and Cougars were conference mates from 1978 to 2010. Over that time, BYU won over 80 percent of the time. San Diego State lost the last game with BYU in 2010, 24-21. Many Aztec fans attribute that loss to a replay review of a fumble not being overturned. It was the latest in a long line of losses with an interesting twist that underscored the ultimate end result.
It is a given that San Diego State is going to come out of the gates with tons of emotion. They may run a few trick plays in the first couple of series trying to jump out to an early lead and take control of the game. Is BYU going to be ready for this?
BYU doesn’t have to match San Diego State’s emotion. One of the pitfalls of playing too high emotionally is that a team cannot sustain it the entire game. If San Diego State can jump out to a big lead early, then it will be easier to sustain the emotion. What BYU has to be worried about is weathering the storm. Should BYU weather this storm, they could be in a good position to burst the Aztecs' bubble and pull away in the second half.
BYU has to be mentally ready for this scenario, but will they be?
As the 7-5 record indicates, this has been a turbulent season. Moral victories don’t mean much. Many fans are ready and waiting to put this season behind them. If the team has this same mentality, it spells doom for their chances in this game. Such an attitude would be a little surprising since this is a senior laden team. That should motivate the core of this team to play a great game so they can go out on a high.
Like San Diego State, BYU will probably be using its third string quarterback. Riley Nelson who started the season at quarterback has not fully recovered from a rib injury he suffered at San Jose State in mid-November. Taysom Hill was lost for the season back in October. It will be very helpful if the offensive line can open holes for Jamaal Williams to run through to take pressure off James Lark.
It will be imperative, however, that Lark have a good passing day. All season long, the key to scoring points against The Aztecs has been to pass the ball. No team has scored more than 28 points without passing for at least 290 yards.
BYU will need points in this game. While the Cougar defense is great, they can’t be expected to keep San Diego State below 20 points. The Cougar D may stop the potent Aztec rushing attack for three quarters, but if the BYU offense isn’t scoring, that may cause the defense to get worn down in the fourth quarter like they did against Notre Dame and give up a lot of yards. That may lead to San Diego State scoring just enough points down the stretch to win.
If it isn’t clear enough already, the key to the game for BYU will be to pass the ball. That is San Diego State’s weakness, and that is the way to score a lot of points against the Aztecs.
All-Time Series: BYU leads 27-7-1
Last: BYU won 24-21 (2010)
Streak: BYU won 5
DATE: Thursday, December 20, 2012
KICKOFF: 6:00 PM Mountain Time
TV: ESPN, www.watchespn.com
RADIO: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM Ch. 143, www.ksl.com
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