A major reason for San Diego State’s undefeated start this season is its defense’s strong ability to stop the run.
That aspect of the 22nd-ranked Aztecs’ game will be put to a serious test on Saturday, when they try to keep surging host Air Force from recording a fifth consecutive victory in a Mountain West Conference contest in Colorado Springs, Colo.
San Diego State (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West) enters this week’s slate of action as one of 11 unbeaten teams in the FBS, but the Aztecs needed double overtime to win 19-13 at San Jose State last weekend. While the offense struggled to score at least 28 points for the first time this season, the Aztecs’ defense, which allows an average of 16, remained stout.
They did allow a season-high 117 rushing yards to the Spartans, but they still lead the nation giving up just 61.2 yards on the ground per contest. Now, San Diego State faces a potentially greater challenge against Air Force (6-1, 3-1 Mountain West), which has lost eight straight in this series but leads the nation with a triple-option rushing attack that averages a national-leading 336.4 yards.
Running back Brad Roberts enters the week ranked fifth in the nation with 818 rushing yards and has scored eight touchdowns.
“We just have to keep working,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. “We’re excited at where we are at. Air Force is very dominant at the line of scrimmage. They take care of the football. …This is definitely our biggest challenge of the year.”
In addition to the challenge San Diego State faces on the defensive side of the ball, it will have a new starting quarterback Saturday. Lucas Johnson, who began his collegiate career at Georgia Tech, has thrown for 234 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. After coming on late at San Jose State, Johnson takes over for the struggling Jordan Brookshire (47.7 completion percentage, 560 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) under center this time.
Johnson likely faces a stern task against an Air Force defense that has allowed 48 points and an average of 259.8 yards during the squad’s four-game winning streak. The Falcons gave up just 78 rushing yards during last weekend’s 24-17 win at Boise State.
San Diego State’s Greg Bell has rushed for 561 yards and five touchdowns this season, but he was held to 41 on 19 carries against San Jose State. Still, Air Force understands the overall challenge it faces this weekend in trying to stay hot and take down the top team in the Mountain West.
The Falcons have averaged 184.8 rushing yards during their eight-game losing streak to SDSU, though these teams last met in 2018.
“(San Diego State moves) exceptionally well. They’re large,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “They’re a really, really strong group. No matter what you use — any metric or just based upon the eye of the film — they are outstanding.”
The Falcons have lost four straight games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 20 Boise State in November 2016.
–Field Level Media