No. 21 San Diego State is off to its best start in 46 years and one of nine unbeaten teams left in the FBS.
Yet, the Aztecs don’t have much breathing room atop the standings of the Mountain West Conference’s West Division.
The Aztecs look to distance themselves from their closest division pursuer on Saturday night when they host Fresno State in Carson, Calif.
San Diego State (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West) is trying to open with eight straight victories for the first time since 1975. The Aztecs are in position to do so thanks to a defensive group that enters the week ranked seventh in the country in points allowed at 15.7 per game and fourth in opponents’ rushing average at 2.5 yards per carry.
The Aztecs flexed their collective defensive muscle by holding Air Force’s national-leading rushing attack to 192 yards — well below its 318.4 average rushing yards — in a 20-14 road victory last Saturday. It was the third time this season a San Diego State game was decided by six or fewer points, and the second straight contest in which the Aztecs failed to score more than 20 points.
Listening to San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, his squad will be in for another stiff test against Fresno State (6-2, 3-1). The Aztecs lost five of seven matchups with the Bulldogs before winning 17-7 at San Diego in the most recent meeting in 2019.
Fresno State features quarterback Jake Haener, a Washington transfer, who enters the week third in the country with 2,582 passing yards. He’s also among the national leaders with 22 touchdowns and a 159.8 passer rating.
On defense, the Bulldogs have allowed 30 or more points four times in 2021 but have recorded a pair of shutouts, too.
“Offensively and defensively, (Fresno State) plays so well together,” Hoke told XTRA 1360-AM. “This is the best football team we’ll play, I can tell you right now.”
The Bulldogs outlasted Nevada, also in the mix for the West Division title, 34-32 last weekend for their second straight win after falling at Hawaii. Fresno State is also no stranger to tight games, going 3-2 this season in games decided by eight or fewer points.
“The momentum again, that’s going,” Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer said. “We had a little blip on the radar (at Hawaii) a couple weeks ago. Other than that, I thought we’ve been doing a pretty good job stringing things along and continue to get better.”
Fresno State aims to be the latest opponent to contain San Diego State running back Greg Bell. The senior averaged 129 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns in the first four games against FBS opponent this season, but he has totaled only 83 yards on 29 carries without a score in the Aztecs’ last two against San Jose State and Air Force.
However, teammate Chance Bell recorded 50 yards on eight rushes last weekend, and has run for a touchdown in three consecutive games.
The Bulldogs allow an average of 118.8 rushing yards, but they yielded just 47 against Nevada last week.
Fresno State has won three of its past four games against ranked opponents.