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Opponent Preview: San Diego State Defense

NCAA Football: Utah at San Diego State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Looking to avenge last season’s upset in Carson, CA, Utah’s offense needs to be as elite as it was against Southern Utah in order to keep their lofty expectations for the season alive. Thankfully, this isn’t the same San Diego State defense that tormented opposing offenses in 2021.

Defensive end and SDSU sack leader, Cameron Thomas, is off to the NFL, which resulted in a collective sigh of relief for the Mountain West conference by and large. The third round draft pick has been replaced by senior Jonah Tavai (6’0”, 290) who is noticably slower off the edge than the former Mountain West defensive player of the year and has only recorded five tackles (three solo) as a starter in 2022.

In fact, SDSU’s defense as a whole looks a bit off compared to last year. Through two games, the Aztecs rank 92nd nationally in total defense. By the end of last season, Brady Hoke’s squad had ranked 17th, allowing just 19.8 points per game. Despite only scoring seven points, even lowly Idaho State was able to gain 338 yards of total offense against SDSU, converting just 6 of 19 third down attempts.

With questions surrounding the lack of targets to wide receivers, Utah will be gifted a golden opportunity to get the likes of Devaugn Vele and Soloman Enis more involved in the passing game, as the Aztec secondary is giving up 12.1 yards per completion and ranks 111th in total pass defesne. Even if the WR see a similar target count as they have through the first two games of the season, this should bode well for Utah’s stable of tight ends and pass-catching running backs.

SDSU’s defensive leader, senior safety Patrick McMorris (6’0”, 210 lbs), has recorded just one pass deflection this season, but is responsible for 16 total tackles, putting him on pace to surpass his carrer best 90 total tackles in 2021. McMorris played well against Utah until a targeting call saw the projected future fourth round draft pick ejected from the game. The Aztec secondary will need him to stay on the field for the full four quarters if they hope to keep things as competitive as they did last season.

Kyle Whittingham and Andy Ludwig didn’t hesitate to throw up style points against an FCS opponent last week (a local one, at that), something that Whittingham has generally refrained from doing historically. With revenge on the menu and a CFP spot still potentially at play, the Aztecs could become another victim of Utah’s incredibly talented offense in week three.