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5 Things to Watch: Nevada at Aztecs

Egberi Odiri Mackson

Nov. 09, 2019

San Diego State offense has opportunity to put up some points against struggling Wolf Pack defense
Being off last week afforded San Diego State’s coaching staff the opportunity to study every game Nevada, this weekend’s Mountain West opponent, has played this season.
Which game was studied most intently?
“When they beat San Jose (State),” said SDSU head coach Rocky Long, referencing Nevada’s 41-38 win last month over the Spartans. “We had watched a lot of San Jose and San Jose’s one of those teams that is getting better and better and better, and Nevada beat San Jose.
“So you look at the games where they played well, obviously, because you expect them to play well against you. They played well against us last year and beat us (28-24 in Reno).”
Oddsmakers don’t expect Nevada to play too well against SDSU, which is a 17-point favorite in the game. That’s quite a spread, especially considering the Aztecs don’t average much more than 17 points a game.
A win would move SDSU (7-1, 4-1 MW) within a victory of the conference’s West Division title, which would qualify the Aztecs for the Mountain West championship game.
Nevada (5-4, 2-3) may be motivated by the prospect of becoming bowl eligible for the second straight season with a victory.
Here’s five things to watch:
1. Getting offensive
Points have been at a premium this season for SDSU’s offense, which ranks 110th in the nation (out of 130 FBS teams) with 21.8 points a game.
If there is an antidote for the Aztecs, it could come from the Nevada defense, which allows 34.6 points a game. Only 14 teams in the country give up more.
Nevada has especially struggled defending the pass, with opponents averaging 268.2 yards a game. Only 17 teams in the country allow more.
Will that be the encouragement needed to unleash a passing barrage by quarterback Ryan Agnew? Can wide receivers Kobe Smith or Jesse Matthews, Agnew’s top two targets, expect a dozen passes apiece aimed their way?
That might be a bit optimistic, especially since SDSU still prefers to run the ball as much as possible. That the Aztecs are averaging only 178.4 yards a game passing (108th in the nation) is due as much — or more — to ball control/ball protection than struggles in the passing game.
If SDSU gets a two-touchdown lead, Agnew is going to be doing a lot more handing the ball off than throwing it up in the air.
2. About that running game
SDSU running back Juwan Washington returned to practice after resting during the Aztecs’ week off.
A right ankle injury that has hobbled Washington most of the season and that he aggravated two weeks ago at UNLV still appears to be slowing him.
Washington simply doesn’t have the same spring in his step jogging out to the practice field. And the cuts and moves that make him one of the top players in the Mountain West aren’t likely to re-appear against the Wolf Pack.
With Washington at less than 100 percent, expect SDSU to lean on his understudies, junior Chase Jasmin and sophomore Chance Bell, to shoulder more of the load.
Complicating matters is that sophomore running back/kick returner Jordan Byrd also has been slowed by a leg injury.
3. Rattling Nevada QB’s cage
Expect the SDSU defense to get after Nevada quarterback Carson Strong early in an effort to disrupt the redshirt freshman, who has been inconsistent this season.
Strong (134 of 214 passing, 1,281 yards, 6 TDs/5 INTs) had a strong start in a season-opening win over Purdue, but was replaced in midseason before returning two weeks ago. He went seven games between touchdown passes.
Unlike several QBs the Aztecs have faced this season, Strong does not present a running threat. That will put the focus on what kind of pass protection Nevada can provide. The Wolf Pack O-line has done well in that regard to this point, allowing 14 sacks.
4. Takeaways and giveaways
SDSU head coach Rocky Long frequently points to turnover margin as a predictor for success.
Long has a point. A strong one.
SDSU is 30-1 over the past 31 games in which it has won the turnover battle.
The Aztecs rank sixth in the nation in turnover margin this season (14 takeaways/4 giveaways), mostly because the offense has been so good at ball security. Agnew has thrown just three interceptions and SDSU has lost only one fumble, that coming on a botched snap on a field goal attempt.
Nevada’s 15 takeaways (9 interceptions/6 fumbles) is one more than SDSU’s defense has produced, but the Wolf Pack offense has had its struggles holding onto the ball with 19 giveaways (12 interceptions/7 fumbles).
5. Red alert
The game has been designated a “Red Out,” with fans encouraged to wear red in the stands.
(It’s probably implied that those watching at home on ESPN2 wear red, too)
The theme will carry over to the red rally towels that will be given free to the first 10,000 fans who come through the gates, which open two hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
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