San Diego State rolls into Salt Lake City on a one game winning streak and a 1-0 conference record. They're currently 2-3 on the season, with their wins coming against Portland State and Colorado State last week. The Aztecs, under second year head coach Chuck Long, are still searching for that program defining win and they will have a great opportunity this Saturday against the Utes.
The Aztecs bring to Utah a rather questionable offense, one that is averaging 25.8 points per game and 414 total offensive yards a game. While better than Utah, it still isn't that impressive and against every tough opponent they have faced this season, San Diego State has struggled. In all three of their losses, they are averaging just 18 points per game. And while that has come against stout competition, they have no quality wins to hang their hat on just yet. That means their offensive numbers are inflated by the fact they played a really bad D1-A team and an even worse D1-AA team.
That offense is led by quarterback Kevin O'Connell. O'Connell has had a pretty decent start this season, having a completion rate of 61% with 7 touchdowns and only two interceptions so far. He also has averages 266 yards through the air per game and will prove to be a test for the Utah defense. But while O'Connell is also a formable passer, he will provide some issues on the ground, as well. On the season, O'Connell is the third leading rusher for the Aztecs, going for 89 yards in five games.
O'Connell's favorite target is receiver Brett Swain, who has caught 23 passes for 505 yards this season. That amounts to about 101 yards per game for the senior. He also has 3 touchdowns on the season and could give Utah's defense some problems. I expect both him and O'Connell to connect quite a bit Saturday and it will be up to Utah's defense to weather storm.
San Diego State's ground game has been a pretty big weakness this season, however. Brandon Bornes is their leading rusher, with only 260 yards on the year. The Aztecs rank 8th in the Mountain West in both rushing yards on the season and rushing yards per game. Lynell Hamilton, who went out against Cincinnati, is expected to be back for the Utah game. Yet he has struggled over the past two years with injuries and hasn't bested his 2005 season, where he had 819 yards that year in 11 games.
On defense, it's an entirely different story for the Aztecs. They have given up 33 points per game this year, which is the worst of any Mountain West team. They also give up, on average, 493 yards per game, again worst in the conference. Their secondary has been blitzed by opposing quarterbacks, allowing 1,597 yards through the air, once more, the worst in the conference. Their running defense isn't that much better, as they give up on average 173 yards per game on the ground, that's the second worst in the Mountain West (Utah's dead last).
With San Diego State having a not so terrible offense and an extremely weak defense, I expect Utah to score a lot of points, much like they did Friday. And since the Aztecs' offense can't match that of Louisville, Utah should win. Should and will, though, are two completely different words. In a world where talent dicated score, the Utes would probably win 42-21. In a world where coaching has a role, Utah very well could lose 42-21. But since I think the coaching staff has learned its lesson since the UNLV debacle, I think Utah defeats the Aztecs rather easily, though I'm not 100% certain, since I still haven't forgotten the 2005 loss.