Cougars Set to Prowl Again On Aztecs’ Home Field
They’re at home seeking their 10th win in a season for the first time since 1977, and facing a former rival. But when the 9-3 San Diego State Aztecs become reacquainted with their old adversaries the now-independent Cougars (7-5) on Thursday, past history will be looming over this matchup.
BYU is 27-7-1 all-time against San Diego State and and have won nine of the last 10 head-to-head meetings dating back to the days when both belonged to the Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference before that. The Cougars are also 5-2 in bowl games under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. For their part, the Aztecs are playing in their second Poinsettia Bowl in the last three years: they beat the Navy Midshipmen in the 2010 edition 35-14 at Qualcomm Stadium.
While he claims he hasn’t been with S.D. State long enough to know if this is a “big rivalry or not,” head coach Rocky Long is obviously trying to downplay any tension. After all, Long himself is from Cougar country (Provo, Utah) and both his parents graduated from BYU. When Rocky was born in 1950, his dad, Rod, was playing for the Cougars as a defensive end.
Back to the present day, Long wants to see his Aztecs get their eighth straight victory in 2012. To do that, he has to out-coach Mendenhall, his old defensive coordinator for five years at New Mexico. The Cougars have had a couple of days practice at Helix High School in nearby La Mesa, and were described as looking “sharper” than in their first scrimmages.
One of the most critical decisions Mendenhall faces is at quarterback: whether to start wildly inconsistent left-hander Riley Nelson or one-game wonder James Lark, who threw for 384 yards and six touchdowns against New Mexico State in the final regular-season game. Regardless of who starts behind center, wide receiver Cody Hoffman is expected to be a big part of the attack as he’s compiled 90 catches for 1,134 yards and 11 TDs this season.
The quarterback decision BYU makes will have an impact on SDSU’s game plan. But they’ll still start two sophomores in quarterback Adam Dingwell (eight TDs/four INTs) and running back Adam Muema, who has carried for 1,355 yards and 16 rushing TDs; he is now the featured back while senior Walter Kazee deals with a knee injury.
In December games, BYU is 4-0 against the spread and 7-0 ATS versus opponents from the MWC; meanwhile, S.D. State is 6-1 ATS in their last seven overall and 4-1 ATS when facing independent teams. The Over is 4-1 in the previous five games SDSU has hosted and the home team has gone 5-2 ATS in their past seven meetings, but BYU is 10-4 ATS in the last 14 games between these two teams.
Prediction: Aztecs 37, Cougars 34.