BYU vs. San Diego State: Poinsettia Bowl 5 Things to Watch For

The Brigham Young Cougars will head to the sunny coast on Thursday to battle the San Diego State Aztecs for the Poinsettia Bowl title.  This matchup between old WAC and MWC rivals will be a showcase of the Cougar defense and the Aztec offense.  With BYU’s quarterback still unannounced, San Diego State will have to prepare for the style of both Riley Nelson and James Lark.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on in Thursday’s bout:

1. Is Riley Nelson at 100% health?

On the season, Nelson has suffered a severe back injury, which locked him to the sidelines for two games this season. He also sustained a rib injury that sidelined him from his final regular season opportunity against New Mexico State on November 24th, which gave James Lark a chance to have an explosive, record-setting game.

At this point, either Riley Nelson or James Lark could get the nod to start the Poinsettia Bowl Thursday. According to statements made by head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Nelson will start if he is healthy, but the latest reports indicate that Lark probably will have an opportunity to repeat his dominance against New Mexico State. However, the Aztecs will conceivably be a much more formidable opponent then the Aggies were.

2. Can Adam Muema break through?

San Diego State running back Adam Muema has 1,355 rushing yards on the season with 16 touchdowns and an average of 6.4 yards per carry. The Aztecs boast an offensive spread of 15th overall rating for rushing yards (229.2/game) and 28th overall for average points (35.1) per game.

BYU’s defense has been one of the most premier in all of NCAA football this season and has particularly had great success against the ground attack of opponents this season. If SDSU’s offensive line can hold up and make some gaps for Muema, watch for some explosive plays from the sophomore out of Covina, California.

3. Ziggy Ansah, Kyle Van Noy and BYU’s #3 defense.

The Cougars have been in control in almost all games this season when on the defensive side of the football. The thing about BYU’s defense is that the workload has been shouldered not by one player, but several have stepped up to make big plays consistently. Brandon Ogletree, Preston Hadley, and Daniel Sorensen accompanied Ansah and Van Noy in shutting down opponents’ run game.

Where the BYU defense has come up short on the season thus far has been in the secondary. When teams have been able to work their passing game, it has opened up options with the run game as well.  In both of BYU’s losses of more than three points (against Oregon State and San Jose State), the opposing team has been able to light up the secondary and move downfield quickly. If San Diego State wants to exploit BYU’s weakness, SDSU needs to improve his passing game.

4. A hat trick of hat tricks.

Hat trick is a hockey term for scoring three goals in the same game. Wide receiver Cody Hoffman has scored three touchdowns in each of his first two bowl games. Will he do it for a third time? If he does, he will move past Austin Collie for the school record for most career touchdown receptions. Who is at quarterback shouldn't make a difference in how many touchdown receptions Hoffman gets. Both Nelson and Lark have shown they like to look for the Hoff down by the goal line.

A big day from Hoffman will be a good sign for BYU. As noted in the game preview passing the ball is the best way to slay the Aztecs.

5. Another chapter in BYU bowl lore.

The fantastic finish in the Armed Forces Bowl last year was the latest in a long line of great moments in BYU bowl lore. Are we about to see another epic chapter written in the BYU bowl annals? San Diego is home to some of the greatest:
  • The 20 point comeback win in 1980;
  • Steve Young catching a touchdown to win in 1983;
  • Beating Michigan to complete the school's first undefeated season and secure the 1984 National Championship;
  • Ty Detmer shredding the Penn State defense in 1989 for an all-bowl record 576 yards that still stands today;
  • On the final reception of his record breaking career, Eric Drage racing 52 yards to give BYU a chance to pull off the major upset of Ohio State in 1993.
Regardless of how you feel about how the season has gone so far, this game is worth watching.

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