San Diego State University (1-2)
Location: San Diego, CA
Home Stadium: Qualcomm Stadium
Head Coach: Rocky Long (5th season, 33-20)
None! Penn State and San Diego State will meet for the first time on Saturday.
Last Season (7-6, 5-3 MWC)
Despite a monster season from running back Donnel "D.J." Pumphrey - over 2,000 yards from scrimmage - the Aztecs couldn't hit the eight-win mark they had set in the three seasons prior to 2014. A narrow loss to Navy in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (come on, that's your home county credit union's poinsettia bowl!) ensured Rocky Long would finish with his worst record as SDSU boss, but his incredibly young squad showed signs of promise.
Young teams can win in conferences like the Mountain West provided they're more talented than their opponents, and that sustainability is what Long's tenure has been all about. The Aztecs have signed a top-3 MWC recruiting class every year since 2011, Long's first, and though San Jose State nipped in to take the second spot in 247's composite rankings in 2015 they secured two four-star recruits in LB Kyahva Tezino and WR Desean Holmes. Of course, it helps when those star recruits, y'know, actually show up for school. Holmes, a former USC commit, went silent on his coaches until early August and left school shortly into the academic year.
Speaking of exiting players, quarterback Max Kaehler left his post lots of room for improvement. The senior failed to take advantage of the fantastic run game he was provided and threw eight more picks than touchdowns. A 55% completion percentage and 6.2 yards per attempt ratio weren't so hot either. Can't get any worse than that in 2015, right? (Spoiler alert: it can).
No shame in losing to the mighty USA there, Aztecs.
Spoiler revealed: Kaehler's replacement, Kentucky transfer Maxwell Smith, has been pretty Kaehlerian through three games: 31-66 (47%), 394 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs. I suppose Smith can be forgiven for failing to shine against Cal, but going 12-26 against South Alabama won't really put the fear of god in Bob Shoop.
Perhaps as a result of the passing game's ineffectiveness, Pumphrey has found the early sledding rather difficult. The junior star is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry in three games after averaging nearly double that over the course of an entire season in 2014. The receiving corps is finding its way as well. Last season's leader, Eric Judge, has but six catches in 2015.
So this San Diego State defense, which gave up 142 yards to South Alabama's redshirt freshman running back Xavier Johnson and 400 total yards over their last two games, is now tasked with containing Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley. It's a little surprising that it's come to this for SDSU, because as Bill Connelly writes, defense has been an overall positive during Long's tenure:
SDSU ranked 51st in Adj. Line Yards and 72nd in Adj. Sack Rate last season. The Aztecs struggled in short-yardage situations (98th in Power Success Rate), which isn't surprising considering a 3-3-5 alignment will sacrifice some size for speed and deception. But the down-to-down run defense was good, and the Aztecs were able to confuse passers enough to record one of the best standard downs sack rates in the country.
The secondary's metrics haven't been stellar either, but not a lot of teams look very good against Jared Goff. But if Penn State's two-headed monster can open up the play action, this might just be Christian Hackenberg's breakout week.
Mountain West Connection, whose utilization of the 'Breaking News' banner is something I admire greatly. They've got you covered on everything MWC.