The San Diego State Aztecs get what basically amounts to a home game against their former conference foes BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl. It’s the second Poinsettia bowl appearance for SD State in three years after getting a win over Navy two years ago. BYU will be a tough opponent though dominating the series between the two teams 27-7-1. It should be a fascinating matchup in the early bowl season.
When to Watch: Thursday, December 20, 8:00 PM ET
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
What to Watch for…
When BYU has the ball: Brigham Young’s offense hasn’t been awesome, but they’ve had their good days to be sure. Those good days have resulted in five games where they’ve reached 40 points or more including three of their last four. However, in three of their five losses, they’ve scored 14 points or less and even won a game against Utah State in which they scored just six. Probably the biggest question facing Coach Bronco Mendehall is who to start at quarterback. Riley Nelson has been the starter all season but missed the regular season finale with a rib injury. Senior James Lark stepped in and only threw 384 yards and six touchdowns with no turnovers albeit against the less-than-stellar defense of the 1-11 New Mexico State Lobos. Freshman Jamaal Williams leads the Cougars rushing attack with over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns. BYU also has a 1,000-yard receiver in Junior Cody Hoffman.
The inconsistent Cougars offense will deal with an improving Aztec defense. Before their last game where they allowed 28 points to Wyoming, San Diego State had held five out of their previous six opponents under 20. In their last four games they’ve allowed just 164.0 passing yards per game. San Diego State uses the 3-3-5 defense with five defensive backs which could allow Williams to have a nice game but should keep the Cougar passing attack under wraps.
When San Diego State has the ball: There’s no doubt what the Aztecs want to do on offense. They rank 16th in the nation in rushing yards per game behind Adam Muema (1,355 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Walter Kazee (822 yards, 8 touchdowns). Muema finished the season on a high note rushing for 255 yards and four scores against Wyoming in the regular season finale. At quarterback, SD State will look for Adam Dingwell to continue his efficient success since taking over mid-season. Dingwell is undefeated as starter leading the Aztecs to five straight wins including nice wins over Nevada and then-#19 Boise State.
The BYU defense won’t be surprised by the Aztecs as Coach Mendenhall was an assistant under SDSU Coach Rocky Long. Mendenhall’s defense would seem to be well-suited to stop the Aztecs. BYU ranks second only to Alabama in rushing yards allowed per game and is fifth in scoring defense and third in total defense. They have some playmakers on the defensive side of things that will be playing on Sundays next year.
Who to Watch For-NFL Prospects
The big one (literally and figuratively) is Ezekiel Ansah-BYU-DE. Ansah projects to be a mid-to-late first round pick. His high-ceiling could land him closer to the top if he grades and measures well in the pre-draft process. He’s an elite-level pass rusher but may need to either bulk up or slim down going forward depending on the position and situation he finds himself in at the next level. Ansah is definitely a player to watch in this one especially if your NFL team may be looking for help on the defensive side of things in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
The other prospects you can catch in this one are Kyle Van Noy-BYU-OLB, Leon McFadden-SDSU-CB, and Brandon Hansen-BYU-OG. Noy could go in the second or early third, McFadden could be a third or fourth round pick, and Hansen most likely will be a sixth or seventh round pick. Cody Hoffman-BYU-WR could also be a late-round pick if he decides to declare early which according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune he is 50-50 on (click here for article).
BYU is the slight favorite in this one, but I think San Diego State has what it takes to pull the mild upset. The Aztecs have won seven in a row including some nice wins, and will have the homefield advantage provided by playing in their own city. This game reminds me a lot of the BYU game on November 17 when the Cougars went West and lost to the San Jose State Spartans. Look for San Diego State to use that as a template and gameplan their way past a tough Cougar defense.
I wouldn’t put too much confidence on this game though in Bowl Mania because it should a hard-fought, physical game that comes down to fourth-quarter execution by whichever team comes out on top.