If good defense and lots of running plays get you all hot and bothered, cancel your plans for Friday night. Mountain West rivals Utah State and San Diego State should put on a defensive showcase with low tempo and a lot of handoffs. That might be a little bit of a spoiler alert, but this is an interesting game, with the Aggies coming off of a huge win against Boise State, a team that beats them with regularity, and the Aztecs are riding a three game winning streak against the dregs of the conference.
Utah State at San Diego State
Date/Time: Friday, October 23 10:30 pm ET
College Football Betting Favorite: Utah State -5
After last week’s Utah State game flew over the total, as in they covered it by themselves, a return to status quo is expected for this one as the betting market has bet down the opening number in the 47 range by about a field goal. Bettors haven’t given much of an indication as to which side they like as this game sits in the “dead zone” between four and six. Opening line money hit Utah State from -4 to as high as -5.5.
In a 52-26 game, Utah State outgained Boise State by one yard. The Aggies took advantage of approximately 74 turnovers (it was actually seven) to build a 45-10 lead at halftime that included a pick six and 35 total points off of turnovers. Utah State’s first TD drive was a nine-play, 71-yard effort, but their next scoring drives were lengths of 26 yards, 11 yards, 15 yards, 46 yards, 21 yards, and then a pick six to end the half. To be fair, the Aggies did run for 4.1 yards per carry on 43 attempts, as Devante Mays and quarterback Kent Myers each ran for 63 yards and a score. Myers was efficient as a passer, throwing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Hunter Sharp, suspended earlier in the season, caught two of those touchdown tosses. Fueled by turnovers, Utah State has scored 141 points in the last three games.
Those turnovers, 18 of them to be exact over the last four games, have been a big help to a Utah State defense that really doesn’t need the assistance. The Aggies held Utah to 24 points on the road in Salt Lake City and they are 31st in the country with 20.3 points allowed per game. Matt Wells had to work two new coordinators into the fold, including familiar face Kevin Clune, who returned as the defensive coordinator after a stint as a linebackers coach under Gary Andersen. Everything for Utah State started slow, including the defense, but everything is on track now. Kyler Fackrell is a player to watch on this defense as a potential high draft pick after the season. Utah State is 20th in total defense with just 303.3 yards allowed per game.
San Diego State
Rocky Long continues to have success in a very tough area to recruit. Overshadowed by much bigger SoCal programs like UCLA and USC, not to mention other Pac-12 regional programs like Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, and Oregon, it’s hard to find game-changing talent. It’s why Long recruited transfer Maxwell Smith from Kentucky to be the quarterback after disastrous play from Quinn Kaehler and Nick Bawden last season. The star of this unit is junior running back Donnel Pumphrey. After a slow start to the season, Pumphrey has 424 yards on 73 carries over the last three weeks and has found paydirt five times on the ground and once through the air. Smith’s job is to refrain from turning the ball over. He’s only thrown two picks against seven touchdowns thus far.
Long’s unique 3-3-5 defense is capable of giving the opposition a lot of different looks. With eight returning starters entering the season, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the Aztecs are tied for 13th in total defense with 296 yards allowed per game and 27th in scoring defense with 19.6 points allowed per game. The Aztecs are proving that last year’s group that allowed 19.8 points and 332 yards per game was no fluke. Damontae Kazee and JJ Whittaker are the stars of this group at the cornerback positions. It’s hard to find two better run-stopping corners in the Mountain West than these two.
Utah State Aggies vs. San Diego State Aztecs Free Pick: San Diego State +5
There are two strong plays in this game, with the under and the Aztecs. Low-scoring games normally benefit the underdog because points are at a premium. This isn’t in correlated parlay range by any means, but this line reeks of recency bias. The Aggies offense hasn’t been all that great. They’ve just taken advantage of a lot of turnovers. The Aztecs don’t turn the ball over a whole lot, which will force Utah State to drive long fields. That means lots of runs, lots of defense, and a rare defensive struggle in the MWC.
Since 2010, $1,000 per game bettors are up $143,200 on my plays. Want a premium pick free of charge ($35 value)? Just sign up for my free pick newsletter here and I’ll send one over to you. Also subscribe to my new podcast on iTunes or subscribe on Stitcher.