SAN DIEGO STATE (8-4) vs
NEW ORLEANS BOWL | NEW ORLEANS LA
Sat. December 17 | 7:00 pm MT | ESPN
Despite losing the coach that got them bowling for the first time in 12 years, the San Diego State Aztecs posted another 8-4 regular season under new coach Rocky Long. It was a good barometer year for San Diego State. The Aztecs won every team a good team should win, with the exception of losing to Wyoming at home -- a game that had SDSU finishing 4th in the Mountain West. But the Aztecs won in a battle at Army and dispatched of Washington State and Air Force handily. After coming out flat against Fresno State, the Aztecs rallied for a win. While not quite ready to be elite (with the defense playing well, the offense squandered a legitimate shot at an upset at Michigan), San Diego State followed up nicely to its banner 2010 season.
The 8-4 record was matched despite losing two excellent receivers to the draft. While senior quarterback Ryan Lindley has struggled without them, posting his lowest completion percentage in his four years on the Mesa, he did throw for 20 touchdowns and make enough plays to make the passing game viable. Colin Lockett has been Lindley's big play threat, (17 yards per reception, 5 touchdowns) while tight end Gavin Escobar has been just as reliable (710 yards, 7 touchdowns).
Of course, the Aztec offense ticks on the churning of Ronnie Hillman's legs. At 1,656 rushing yards, Hillman has already surpassed last year's freshman total by 124 yards with one game left. He also had only three carries in the loss to Boise State, being held out by an injury. At third in the nation with 138 rushing yards per game, Hillman has scored 19 touchdowns and is one of the most reliable runners in the country.
Defensively, Louisiana-Lafayette is middle of the road in defending the run (145 yards per game allowed, ranked 55th). But statistically, San Diego State is the best rushing team the Ragin' Cajuns have faced, including Bobby Rainey and Western Kentucky. Louisana-Lafayette's pass defense leaves much to be desired at 92nd in the country, which means Lindley could throw at a clip higher than his season's average.
Louisiana-Lafayette is in its first bowl game in program history, and Cajuns fans are excited. With the game just two hours away from the school in New Orleans, reports are that the school has already sold up to 18,000 tickets to the game. First-year coach Mark Hudspeth has the Cajun faithful feeling good.
The Ragin' Cajuns are led on offense by their passing attack and quarterback Blaine Gautier. The junior quarterback has completed 63% of his passes and thrown only five interceptions in 304 attempts, making their passing offense ranked 40th in the country. Gautier's main targets have been Javone Lawson (54 rec, 899 yards, 6 TD) and Harry Peoples (53 rec, 647 yards), while tight end Ladarius Green has been a redzone staple for the Cajuns, pulling in a team-leading seven touchdown receptions. The run game is complementary, but below average, with Alonzo Harris leading all rushers at 638 yards on the season. Gautier's 464 yards on the ground is second on the team.
San Diego State's defensive strengths match Louisiana-Lafayette's strengths -- the Aztecs are better at stopping the pass (31st nationally) than they are at stopping the run (81st nationally).
ZACH: San Diego State
DJ: San Diego State
BRADFORD: San Diego State