So far in the nascent stages of the 2019 season, the Utah State Aggies have been on both sides of a wrecking football. They experienced a gut punch of a loss against Wake Forest, and followed that up by exorcizing those demons with a blowout win over Stony Brook the next week.
And now that the Mountain West Conference schedule starts this weekend — the games that really matter, several Aggies say — Utah State has an opportunity early in the season to prove what it’s made of. To prove that its strong performance against the Demon Deacons wasn’t a fluke. To prove that it can do more than pummel an overmatched opponent like the Seawolves.
The Aggies will have to do that against the San Diego State Aztecs, who present myriad challenges and have proven to be a defensive juggernaut. The Aztecs are undefeated in 2019 and have held opponents to an average of just eight points per game.
“They get so many negative plays,” Aggies coach Gary Andersen said of SDSU’s defense. “They catch you behind the line of scrimmage, they tip a pass, they pop a gap on you in those situations and those settings, so it’s difficult to prepare for. Hopefully our offense can do a nice job of protecting the quarterback and getting something going in the run game. I think that’s a huge part of this game for us.”
While USU is focusing on trying to get past San Diego State’s you-shall-not-pass defense, the Aztecs are worried about the Aggies offense. Utah State is averaging 48.5 points and 656.5 yards through two games this season.
For an Aztecs team that doesn’t allow many points, they don’t score much either, averaging just 20 points in three games. However, the team’s scoring output has increased with every outing.
Aztecs coach Rocky Long told The San Diego Union Tribune that they’re basically going to have to be perfect on defense just for an opportunity to outscore Utah State.
“If you watch them on film and look at the statistics, you’re very concerned,” Long said. “We have to give ourselves a chance to stay in the game. As fast as they score points, you could be out of the game before it even started.”
Senior running Gerold Bright has experience playing San Diego State, facing them in his redshirt freshman season. He remembered how cold that day was and that the Aggies turned the ball over “like four times.” But things are different now, he said.
“We've changed,” Bright said. “We've gotten better. Our goals are still the same. We're looking forward to getting this win.”
In 13 games between the Aggies and Aztecs, the Aggies have won only one. Senior defensive tackle Christopher ‘Unga said there’s no extra motivation for him in the game, regardless of the school’s all-time record against SDSU.
"To be honest, I don't get into statistics like that,” ‘Unga said. "Every game is the same to me. I take every game at its peak. No lows, no highs. To put it together, it's all one mentality for me."
Aggies junior quarterback Jordan Love — and how San Diego State defends him — may be the key to the whole game. With his pinpoint passing and 710 yards for four touchdowns in two games, Long knows they’ll have to make life hard for him.
“There’s only one chance you have, and that’s putting pressure on the quarterback,” Long said. “When you have the skill that they have out at wide receiver, though, if you can get pressure with a four-man rush, you can play decent defense. If you can’t get pressure with a four-man rush, you can sit there and take your lumps and they’ll score 50 points and run up and down the field.”
UTAH STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
At SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV » CBS Sports Network
Radio » 1280 AM/97.5 FM (Salt Lake City); 92.3 FM (Logan)
Records » USU 1-1; SDSU 3-0
All-time series » SDSU leads 12-1
Last meeting » SDSU 40, USU 13 (Oct. 28, 2016)
About USU » Team is coming off a bye week in which it worked on game planning for SDSU and getting younger players time with the coaching staff. … In addition to the four touchdowns, QB Jordan Love has also thrown three interceptions. … Coach Gary Andersen is 0-1 against SDSU. … Aggies have won each of their last eight games following a bye week since 2011.
About SDSU » Returns 12 starters from last year’s team. … Since coach Rocky Long arrived eight seasons ago, the team is 74-35 and has appeared in eight consecutive bowl games. … Aztecs have won three Mountain West championships in the last seven years (co-champs in 2012). … Team has gone 3-0 three times in the last four seasons.