LOGAN – Things started to turn around for the Utah State football team Saturday night. Fans and players are hoping it continues that way.
The Utah State football team finally picked up a conference win after starting Mountain West play 0-3. Losses to Air Force, Boise State and Colorado State put USU in a hole and fans in a panic. The win against Fresno State lessened the pain and calmed nerves, but a much bigger test comes into Maverik Stadium Friday night.
“Hopefully we’ve learned from that and we gained some confidence through that because we are certainly going to need it down the stretch,” head coach Matt Wells said of the Fresno State win. “It was a good team win and I’m happy for those guys in that locker room.”
<h2><em><strong>Dangerous, dominant Aztecs</strong></em></h2>
San Diego State is 6-1 so far this year. But the string of wins stretch back into last season.
On top of that, SDSU has 14 straight Mountain West wins, the longest conference win streak of any team in the country, outscoring those opponents 469-148. Since the beginning of October 2015, SDSU is 16-1. That is a better record than every school not named Alabama or Clemson.
“This is a program that has won a lot of games since those early losses to California, South Alabama and Penn State last year,” Wells said. “They have been a roll since then and when you go on a roll and you win games in different ways that they’ve won them, you gain a lot of confidence. Those guys in the San Diego State locker room have that right now and they’re very confident in what they’re doing.”
The Aztecs have outscored its three opponents 85-13 in conference play, the defense hasn’t allowed a single touchdown during that time either. UNLV was able to score a touchdown, but did it on a fumble returned 20 yards into the endzone.
The defense ranks first overall in the Mountain West in preventing the rush and third overall in stopping the pass. It also ranks first in red zone defense, which could be a mismatch for USU, which ranks last in red zone offense.
USU running back Tonny Lindsey said that SDSU’s defense is just good all around.
“They’re very physical up front,” he said. “They have five defensive backs, so their safeties come up short.”
Just like the defense, the offense is loaded with talent.
It is led by one of the top running backs in the country. Donnel Pumphrey has accumulated 1,246 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games this year.
“The amount of carries he’s had and the amount of yards he’s had over his career is incredible,” Wells said. “He’s very durable and he’s very tough, and you see him run through tackles and accelerate through tackles. They fly him out of the backfield and use him in pass routes. He can catch a football.”
The Aggies know how scary he can be when he’s having a good game. Pumphrey ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-14 win against the Aggies in San Diego a year ago.
“They ran it down out throat,” Wells said of the last meeting. “We couldn’t stop the run and we couldn’t run the ball on offense, which is two bad combinations.”
SDSU’s passer Christian Chapman is overshadowed by the dominant run game, but is still capable. His pass efficiency rating ranks second in the conference behind Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien. He averages 164 yards through the air per game.
<h2><em><strong>Still a shot at conference?</strong></em></h2>
After 1-3 start to conference, the chance of USU even competing in the conference championship game is a long shot. In order to win the Mountain Division, both Boise State and Wyoming would need three more losses, Colorado State and New Mexico would need a few more, and the Aggies would have to win out.
But Wells said he isn’t so sure his team is out quite yet.
“I’ve seen crazier things happen,” he said. “We’re not talking about it, we’re talking one game at a time. Our next challenge is San Diego State back here on Friday night. It’s a really good team coming in here for another national television game. That’s all we’re worried about.”