San Diego State is an interesting opponent in that they are not good enough, or at least well known enough, to warrant a whole lot of pregame attention. A lot of fans will go in to this game not being able to name a single player on their roster, and I must admit, I certainly couldn’t name any linemen off the top of my head, just a few key skill players. Yet, the Aztecs certainly aren’t bad enough to sleep on. Last year they went 8-5, including a 42-24 win over Washington State. Sure, they have lost both their starting quarterback, Ryan Lindley, and their star running back, Ronnie Hillman, but they are still a very solid program that plays competitive football in the Mountain West Conference. This is no FCS squad that the Huskies can expect to roll over.
So, I’ll point out a few important Aztecs to keep an eye on Saturday, break down what I believe will be the key elements to a Husky victory, and make a few predictions, including the final score.
Aztecs to Watch
Gavin Escobar, Junior TE
You can bet that the Huskies have been game planning with this 6’6” 255 pound pass catcher in mind. Escobar caught 51 passes for 780 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, which are terrific numbers for a wide receiver, but absolutely dominant ones for a tight end. You can also go ahead and put your hand down if you were about to ask about his level of competition, because Escobar had his biggest game, an 8 catch, 113 yard, 2 touchdown explosion, against Boise State in a 52-35 loss. The kid clearly knows how to play when the lights are brightest, and I see him as the most dangerous player on the SDSU roster.
Leon McFadden, Senior CB
This article touches on the fact that McFadden is close family friends with Keith Price, which should serve as extra motivation for the team’s most heralded defender. I won’t go so far as to say he will play better just because of his relationship with Price, as will is not the only thing that goes into playing quality football, but it is certainly a possibility. Regardless, McFadden is a talented corner with legitimate NFL aspirations, and after collecting four years of playing experience in Coach Long’s complex 3-3-5 defense, is heading into the season as the preseason Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. He deserves respect from the Washington offense.
Elements to Victory
Stopping the SDSU Pass Rush
The calling card of San Diego State’s 3-3-5 defense, which is essentially a permanent nickel package, is an intricate system of blitz packages designed to confuse the offensive line and wreak havoc on pass protection. This isn’t an ideal match for the Huskies, who feature two first time starters, Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie, at the tackle spots. How Riva and Hatchie handle their first starts against a defense that is specifically designed to manipulate and break them down will be absolutely key to the outcome of the game. No matter how talented Keith Price is, he will not be able to put up points if he spends the entire game on his back.
Dominating the Inexperienced Aztec Linemen
On the defensive side of the ball, the three SDSU linemen have only eight total starts heading into tomorrow’s game, all of them belonging to defensive end Jordan Thomas. Sophomore defensive tackle Sam Meredith played in twelve games last year as a true freshman, but having only one returning starter along your defensive line, especially one that didn’t even start every game, is not a recipe for success. Things are not much better on the offensive side of the ball, where the Aztecs are breaking in three new starters. It has long been said that football games are won and lost in the trenches. If that is the case, SDSU fans should be worried.
Numbers I’m Expecting
180: The number of rushing yards the 1a and 1b duo of Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will pick up against the Aztecs. I am confident the Husky offensive line will open up big holes against the inexperienced SDSU defensive line. If I’m correct, don’t expect massive passing numbers from Keith Price, who I believe will be more efficient than awe-inspiring, instead relying on the run game and crisp play action passing to eat up clock and keep the ball moving.
3: The number of interceptions Ryan Katz will throw in his debut as quarterback for San Diego State. If there was one thing that lost him his starting job with OSU, it was his poor decision making against quality opponents (three interceptions against UW in 2010), and with the thunderous din of CenturyLink Field in his ear, I expect him to be as erratic as ever.
4: The number of sacks the Husky offensive line will allow. If there is one thing the SDSU defense does well, it is put pressure on the quarterback, and I expect them to have moderate success against tackles Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie. I do not expect a complete breakdown, and Keith Price will be able to execute the offense, but he certainly won’t leave the game with a clean uniform.
San Diego State’s inexperience on both lines will be a deciding factor in this game, and Justin Wilcox’s new look defense will make a strong statement about the future of Husky football.
UW 38, SDSU 17