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Opponent Preview: San Diego State Offense

NCAA Football: San Diego State at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s unlikely that Utah will face another offense this season that so closely matches their own when they take on San Diego State in week three. Statistically speaking, there isn’t much that separates the two run-heavy programs. Currently, the Utes rank 67th in total offense, tied with Penn State, averaging 395 yards per game, 7.12 yards per play, and tallying seven offensive touchdowns on the season. The Aztecs? They rank 69th, tallying 394.5 yards per game, 6.07 yards per play while matching Utah’s seven TDs. Utah will have a chance to create some separation this week, thanks to a likely change at quarterback.

The Aztecs have struggled to find success behind center since the start of the COVID era. Three quarterbacks tried to get things going through the air last season, including Jordon Brookshire, who started the season’s final two games before assuming the starting role to kick off the 2021 campaign. The 6’2”, 220 lb senior struggled out of the gate, completing just six of his 19 pass attempts against lowly New Mexico State. His stat line improved dramatically against Arizona in week two, completing ten of 14 attempts while finding the end zone twice for his first passing touchdowns of the season. Sadly, an apparent leg injury has his status doubtful for his date with Utah on Saturday. In his place, senior Lucas Johnson (6’3”, 215 lbs) is expected to get the start.

Johnson, who was one of the Aztec’s three starters last season, is primarily a pocket passer with the ability to run when needed. Having completed just 56% of his career passes, Utah’s secondary will have the opportunity to tally some takeaways against a passer who has struggled in what little game experience he’s been given. If Johnson can connect with senior tight end, Daniel Bellinger (6’6”, 255 lbs), who has reeled in 25% of all completed passes for the Aztec’s receiving corps, there’s a glimmer of hope for a respectable passing attack on the horizon, but that seems highly unlikely, and truthfully, highly unnecessary.

SDSU’s stable of running backs is talented enough that one might mistake them for Kentucky Derby contenders. Headlined by senior Greg Bell (6’0”, 200 lbs), the Aztec’s depth on the ground is enviable, even for Utah. Bell, averaging 143 yards per game and 7.5 yards per carry, is on pace for his first 1,000+ yard season, while senior fullback Jordan Byrd (5’9”, 170 lbs) has showcased his ability to split tackles and snap off long runs. He may not see as many snaps as Bell, but his 67 yards on just five carries makes him a dynamic threat that needs to be respected. Byrd shares co-starting duties with fellow senior Keagun Williams (5’9”, 195 lbs), who himself has 53 yards on the season through just 12 carries.

The fact that Utah was outplayed in the trenches against BYU caught many off guard, including Kyle Whittingham himself, who quipped, “I would have bet my house going into the game that we wouldn’t lose at the line of scrimmage,” following the week two loss. San Diego State provides the ultimate opportunity to prove that it was just a fluke. Improved line play against an effective run-first offense will be crucial before the schedule ramps up, and conference play begins.