Up until the BYU Cougars went independent last season, it had shared a conference with the San Diego State Aztecs since 1978. That kind of familiarity breeds plenty of contempt, and the two schools developed a heated rivalry that spanned across both the WAC and Mountain West Conference. They will get to renew their old rivalry on Thursday night when they face off in the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium.
The showdown will essentially be a home game for the Aztecs as they return to the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in three years. The last time they were here, they roughed up the Navy Midshipmen 35-14. The familiar surroundings give them a sense of comfort that they’ll try and use to come out ahead of BYU.
The Cougars have struggled on the road this season, which doesn’t bode well for them coming into SDSU’s back yard for this bowl game. On the season, the team is just 2-4 outside of Provo, though three of those losses were to the No. 19 Boise State Broncos, No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and No. 24 San Jose State Spartans. They’ve been tested by very good teams when they travel, even though they’ve come up short more times than not.
Against the Aztecs, BYU has dominated the series going 27-7-1 all time and 9-1 in the last 10 meetings. Their last matchup came in 2010 when the Cougars prevailed 24-21 and then broke off the series when they went independent. San Diego State is hoping to reverse the trend and get a rare win against BYU to take back a little pride in this rivalry.
They will turn to their running game to try and get it done, which has carried the team to its 9-3 record and helped them win a share of the Mountain West Conference title. Adam Muema will lead the rushing attack after accumulating 1,355 yards rushing this season on 211 carries with 16 touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore is coming off a career best 255-yard, four-touchdown performance in the regular season finale against the Wyoming Cowboys.
He’ll have his work cut out for him to produce an encore performance, however. BYU ranks third in FBS in overall defense allowing just 266.3 yards per game and second against the run, allowing only 84.3 yards per game on the ground. The Cougar defense is allowing just 14.7 points per game, the fifth best total in college football this season.
The key for the Aztecs in this game will be to open up the passing game and try to loosen up the stout BYU defense. Sophomore Adam Dingwell has come on in relief of senior Andy Katz, who suffered an ankle injury, and kept SDSU’s season on track. He came on in relief against the Nevada Wolfpack before going on to win all four of his starts this season.That includes a 21-19 upset at Boise State on November 3.
However, he’s been acting as more of game manager, asked only not to make a big mistake, rather than going out and winning games. In the four-plus games he’s been in, he’s completing over 63 percent of his passes for 767 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. That’s an average of 153 yards per game since taking over October 20 in the overtime win over Nevada. He will need to pick up more of the offensive slack in this game if the Aztecs hope to come out on top.
For BYU, they will need to just find offense from anybody. The Cougars have had trouble scoring points this season, averaging under 30 points per game and have scored 14 points of less four times this season (once in a win). They have leaned on their stellar defense all season long, but will need to score a couple of points to continue their dominance over the Aztecs.
So it comes down to strength versus strength in the Poinsettia Bowl. The rushing attack of San Diego State against the defensive front seven of the BYU. Whichever team can win this battle, or have another part of their team step up (SDSU passing game or BYU offense), will come out ahead.