San Diego State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Aztecs, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About San Diego State’s Offense
The formula worked. Hand the ball off, don’t make any big mistakes, make sure the passing game is efficient, and let the defense take care of the rest. There were plenty of big pass plays and there weren’t a ton of picks, but this is a relatively simple philosophical attack: here’s the curveball, can you hit it? Donnel Pumphrey is one of the nation’s quickest and most productive backs returning to work behind a line that gets back three starters. The passing game might be along for the ride, but it averaged more than 14 yards per completion last season and gets back most of the key weapons. The quarterback play is fine, needing Christian Chapman to become a steady option who can run a little, too.
Key To The San Diego State Offense
Can the passing game open it up just a wee bit? A massive problem over the first half of the season, the Aztecs didn’t hit more than half their passes in any of the first five games, losing three of them. But all of a sudden, things changed and there were more midrange throws that didn’t push it too much – relying on Donnel Pumphrey and the ground game to do the heavy lifting.
The result was a night-and-day improvement in accuracy, while going the final 12 games of the season without throwing an interception. The other key was simply not throwing so much, with no more than 19 attempts over the final ten games after winging it around a bit too much over the first month. If the Aztecs can keep finding that happy medium – with a few more big plays – the offense should blow things wide open.
What You Need To Know About San Diego State’s Defense
The defense that finished fifth in the nation, seventh against the run and seventh in scoring allowed gets back enough to be just as good, if not better, with eight starters returning. Two starters are back up front in the 3-3-5, starting with Alex Barrett on the nose, while the linebacking corps should be terrific despite the loss of Jake Fely on the outside. The defensive backs are special, led by one of the nation’s best corners, Damontae Kazee, and safeties – Warriors in the Aztec terminology – Malik Smith and Kameron Kelly. This is an unrelenting, aggressive, attacking group D that now has proven depth, too.
Key To The San Diego State Defense
Can the D continue to be a takeaway machine? It came up with six in the opener against San Diego – with five picks – and then it was a bit rocky with just two in the next three games and none against South Alabama, partly contributing to the loss in all three games. There weren’t any takeaways in the Mountain West title game, either, and Air Force almost pulled off the upset.
But when the SDSU defense was making big plays, game over. Eight times the Aztecs generated two or more takeaways, and all eight games were blowouts by 14 points or more. It’s how the system works – force mistakes, let the conservative offense capitalize, win the game.
San Diego State Football Will Be Far Better If …
It doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. Again, it’s all connected. The Aztecs rock and roll when they’re on the right side of the mistake game, and that includes last year when they were hit with 11 flags against Hawaii and struggled in a game that should’ve been an ugly blowout, and were hit 12 times in the 35-7 loss to Cal. Penalties weren’t all that big a problem overall, but when there were a few too many sins, and the Aztecs were on the wrong side of the turnover margin, there were problems. Be on the right side of both, and they almost always win in dominant fashion.
Best Offensive Player
RB Donnel Pumphrey – Chase Price ran for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns last season and Rashaad Penney took off for 368 yards and four scores, and they still didn’t match the production of the diminutive All-American. Pumphrey might not be all that big at 5-9 and 180 pounds, but the Las Vegas native can handle the work just fine touching the ball almost 340 times and cranking out 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns. Everyone has tried to key on him for three years, and it hasn’t mattered. He produces no matter what.
Best Defensive Player
CB Damontae Kazee – Throw a dart at the starting 11 on the defensive depth chart and, given the day, you might have San Diego State’s best player on. Nose tackle Alex Barrett is a machine on the inside who can get into the backfield, Calvin Munson should be among the Mountain West’s best linebackers, and Malik Smith is a special safety. Yet it’s Kazee who should be the star of the show on a weekly basis. The All-American is a good hitter who’s tough in the open field, but he’s at his best when the ball is in the air picking of eight passes last season. He erases one side of the field, and the rest of the Aztec defense is more than good enough to take care of the rest.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Christian Chapman – There might be other options to play around with, but Chapman is the veteran who has to be the part of the puzzle who needs to fit. Everything else is in place to repeat as Mountain West champs, but can the offense go another year with just three interceptions? Can the passing game finish 36th in efficiency again? If it’s close to that, then it’ll be another special season putting the pressure squarely on Chapman to be outstanding.
San Diego State’s Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the Mountain West title again and becomes a fringe player to crash the College Football Playoff. There isn’t a game on the schedule the Aztecs can’t win. They have to get off to a hot start, but if they can beat Cal in San Diego and get by Northern Illinois in DeKalb, they’ll be favorites to win almost every other game the rest of the way by double digits. There’s no Boise State to face in the regular season, and there’s no Air Force. Going to Utah State and Nevada won’t be layups, but if SDSU is really that good, those shouldn’t be a problem.
Sept. 10 vs. California. The Bears are rebuilding, but they’re still going to be okay and they’re still a Pac-12 game that could bring plenty of attention. Last year Cal won in a 35-7 breather, and this time around it’s the only game against a Power 5 team. This is getting ten steps ahead of the game, but if San Diego State really is able to roll through its slate, this will be the one resume game everyone will point to.
Fun Stats From 2015
– First Quarter Scoring: San Diego State 136 – Opponents 34
– Interceptions Thrown: Opponents 23 – San Diego State 3
– Fourth Down Conversions: San Diego State 8-of-10 (80%) – Opponents 11-of-21 (52%)