Preview: What to expect from the Aztecs
When the Cougars take the field against San Diego State University in the Las Vegas Bowl Saturday they will be looking to start newly-hired head coach Major Applewhite’s tenure started on a high-note.
This will be no easy task as the Mountain West Conference Champion SDSU has proven that their offense is among the best in the nation. The Aztecs boast a rushing offense that ranks seventh in the nation with an impressive 273.3 yards per game.
The attack is led by senior running back Donnel Pumphrey who uses a combination of speed and elusiveness to climb to the top of nearly every rushing stat category.
Pumphrey accumulated the second best total rushing yardage mark with 2,018 rushing yards, second by only 10 yards to University of Texas running back D’Onta Foreman. The Las Vegas native has found the end zone 61 times in his career including 16 this season.
The Cougars’ second-ranked run defense — which has been inconsistent at times — will try to limit the damage done by Pumphrey.
SDSU rarely throws the ball, but it makes the most of its passes when it does.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman has completed just 143-of-237 passes for 1,866 yards. Despite the small amount of passing attempts, Chapman has thrown 16 touchdowns in 2016.
Teams have had success against the Aztecs when Chapman is forced to throw the ball.
Although solid on offense, by no stretch of the imagination are the Aztecs a one-dimensional team. The SDSU defense ranks 35th in the nation allowing opponents just 21 points per game.
The Aztecs secondary is among the most dominant in the country and is led by senior cornerback Demontae Kazee.
SDSU leads the nation with 22 interceptions while Kazee has provided seven on his own and 17 in his career. The Aztecs have eight other players with at least one interception including four interception return touchdowns.
In addition to being able to defend the pass better than anyone in the nation, SDSU has the 11th ranked run defense thanks in part to experienced defensive linemen and linebackers.
Senior linebacker Calvin Munson has been a problem for his opponents all season. Munson leads the team with 108 total tackles—10 for a loss—including 3.5 sacks.
In addition to Munson, senior defensive linemen Alex Barrett leads the team with 6.5 sacks including 11 tackles for loss.
Being able to get around Munson and Barrett in the run game will be crucial to avoiding making mistakes through the air.
The Aztecs and Cougars are similar in a sense that they have rosters chalked full of talent, but have under-performed at certain points this season.
SDSU plays an easier schedule than Houston and suffered crucial losses to the University of South Alabama early in the season and the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University on back-to-back weeks in November.
Neither team enters the game with momentum as SDSU went 1-2 in its final three games and the Cougars dropped their final game against the University of Memphis under a whirlwind of coaching rumors.
All in all, the Las Vegas Bowl is a matchup of two teams with great offenses and defenses. Whoever makes less mistakes will likely come out on top.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. (CT) from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.