(Sports Network) Riding a three-game win streak, the San Diego State Aztecs play host to the Colorado State Rams in Mountain West Conference action at Qualcomm Stadium this weekend.
If not for a pair of three-point setbacks to nationally-ranked Missouri and the BYU Cougars, the Aztecs would be one of the premier teams in the nation. As it stands, the squad has earned nine votes in the most recent AP poll and sits in third place in the MWC standings with a 3-1 mark. Already eligible for postseason play, the Aztecs had a bit of a fight on their hands last weekend against Wyoming on the road, but managed to pull out a 48-38 victory nonetheless. The 38 points allowed were the most this season by SDSU, yet the squad still captured its fourth win in five tries.
As for the Rams, a team that has just three total victories in 2010, they clashed with winless New Mexico last weekend in Fort Collins and responded with a 38-14 triumph, the second in the last three outings for the program.
Ahead in the all-time series now with a mark of 16-13, SDSU put up a 42-28 victory in their last meeting a year ago in Fort Collins.
Leonard Mason lit up the New Mexico defense last weekend for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries as he and the Rams logged their second conference win of the season. In fact, the running game was operating at full capacity for CSU as the unit generated 328 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The 328 yards were easily the most by the team this season and were a far cry from the mere 28 yards on 24 attempts produced by the Rams against Utah a week earlier. Pete Thomas also had strong numbers completing 17-of-25 passes for 256 yards and a score as well. Thomas, who has been thrown into the fire this season, has responded rather well with 67.8 percent accuracy and 223 ypg through the air, yet he has just as many interceptions (nine) as he does TDs, so there's still some work to be done in that regard. Mason has come on strong in three of the last four games for the Rams, posting three 100-yard rushing efforts and scoring a total of five touchdowns to give Thomas someone to lean on.
Taking care of the winless Lobos last weekend began with knocking out UNM starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook (shoulder injury). However, the Rams did find out that backup signal-caller Stump Godfrey was no slouch as he converted 8-of-16 passes for 82 yards and a score and also ran for a team-best 72 yards, but none of that was relevant to the final outcome. Having a huge game for the Rams on this side of the ball was Mychal Sisson who finished with 12 tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, and a pair of forced fumbles. Sisson, who is second on the team in total tackles this season with 65, is first in TFLs (11) and forced fumbles (three) and is second in sacks (2.5), trailing Guy Miller who has 6.5 sacks and nine TFLs thus far in 2010. One particular area in which the Rams have struggled this year is against the pass and at the moment the squad is last in the conference and 118th in the nation with a pass efficiency defense rating of 168.97.
Running back Brandon Sullivan carried the ball a grand total of six times against Wyoming, resulting in 15 yards, but the real end result was three touchdowns for the Aztecs in their defeat of the Pokes on the road. However, Sullivan was not the only player to grab headlines on offense for SDSU as Ryan Lindley completed 16-of-32 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns and DeMarco Sampson earned MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors by converting seven catches into 175 yards and two TDs. Ronnie Hillman, who ran for a season-low 44 yards last week, is still the primary back for the Aztecs despite the scoring burst by Sullivan. Hillman has had two games with more than 200 rushing yards and is currently ranked first in the league and 10th nationally with 113.1 ypg. The efforts of Hillman have given Lindley the ability to choose from a number of offensive options, to the point where the QB is first in the conference in total offense with 282.4 ypg.
While it may not fall directly under the umbrella of the defense, having a strong punting game certainly helps aid a defense in pinning an opponent deep in their own end, and that's exactly what happened on the one time Brian Stahovich was forced to kick away for SDSU. The junior recorded the longest punt in school history, and 89-yard effort in the second half, which also stands as the longest in FBS play this season and the second-longest in MWC history. Because of that effort, SDSU is ranked first in the league and 18th nationally with an average now of 39.4 yards per punt. Certainly that phase of the game can only enhance what the defense is able to accomplish and right now the Aztecs sport the second-best pass efficiency defense (101.73) in the league, a number that places SDSU seventh in the country overall. Getting strong pressure at the line of scrimmage this season, San Diego State is first in the MWC and 18th nationally with 7.38 TFLs per outing.
With all the aspects of the offense working together right now, to pick against the Aztecs at home would be foolish, especially against an opponent that has been so unpredictable.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: San Diego State 35, Colorado State 17