Get to know the foe, San Diego State football

Ryan Loberger

This year, Colorado State football will host San Diego State in their first matchup since 2016. Over the weekend, we caught up with sports editor and Aztec football reporter Aaron Tolentino of The Daily Aztec for a Q&A. We asked Tolentino about the upcoming game and how the Aztecs have looked this season prior to making the trip to Fort Collins.

Q: Both teams had a down year last season. Do you think the Aztecs entered camp with a chip on their shoulder, similar to CSU?

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A: Definitely, that’s all you’ll hear from all the players. Everyone talked about it at the end of the year, that (they) didn’t play as a team and (everyone) started pointing the finger.

I think a lot of that had to do with the O-line just because at San Diego State, they run the ball a lot. Obviously, if you have a bad O-line, I don’t care how good your running back is, it isn’t going to work. … That trickled down to everything else the players kept talking about. This is a bounce-back season. They’re not used to 7-6. They’re used to 11 wins, and they want to get back to that level.

Q: SDSU is off to a 3-1 start. Many experts picked you guys to battle with Fresno State for the Mountain West division crown. How has the team looked thus far in your eyes, and do you think they’ll live up to the expectations?

A: I would definitely say so. Their defense is really good. Through the first three games, they only gave up (an average) eight points per game and only 23 (points) to Utah State, which is pretty good considering they were averaging (41) points per game before that, and seven of those points were on a pick-six.

So the defense has only really given up 16 points, 10 points, 14 points and zero points. With what the other contenders in the Western Division are, … Fresno is going to be a little bit weaker this year, so I don’t think they’re going to go 12-2. And Nevada is still going to be tough, but I think the Western Division is wide open, and San Diego State is at the top of that mix.

Q: Aztecs rank in the top 25 in total defense among FBS teams, holding opponents to near 280 yards per game. What about the defense is so suffocating?

A: It’s weird because you usually say with a defense that it starts up front. That’s probably the weakest part of their defenses coming back because they had everyone graduate. … The defense is really anchored by the linebacker core. Guys like Kyahva Tezino are big players in that, and the secondary has been a strong suit.

Tariq Thompson is probably their best guy in the secondary. He’s a guy who can tackle, make plays on the ball and get (interceptions). Dwayne Johnson (Jr.) plays a hybrid position like a safety and a linebacker and can make all those hard hits and tackles.

Then there are guys like Darren Hall who’s a little bit smaller but a very athletic guy getting interceptions, making plays on the ball, breaking up passes. (He) had two forced fumbles against New Mexico State. The (Aztecs) have a plethora of guys in the secondary and at linebacker.

Q: The team’s offense has been overshadowed by the defensive unit. What can you tell me about the offense and how they’ve performed running a new offense?

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A: I think the biggest thing for the offense is this is the first year they’re switching to the spread (offense). Historically, San Diego State has always been pro-style, I-formation, run the ball down your throat. This is the first year they’re in the spread, so all the coaches have been talking about “We didn’t expect them to nail down the spread the first couple games,” and it showed.

Honestly, it was ugly to watch the offense against Weber State. Weber State is no Alabama, and the (Aztecs) were able to put up no touchdowns and two field goals against Weber State.

Q: What kind of update can you give on Juwan Washington’s ankle injury, and can we expect him in the SDSU backfield this weekend?

A: The other big thing about the offense as to why (they’re) not (the) strong suit compared to the defense is that Juwan Washington has been hurt pretty much all year. He started one game and kinda hobbled into the UCLA game and then didn’t play against New Mexico or Utah State.

Obviously, when you have the main running back who’s projected to rush for 2,000 yards not in your lineup, that changes some things. … He’s still nursing (an ankle injury). He should be able to play Saturday given the bye week.

Q: This game has SDSU defense vs. CSU offense written all over it. Who’s your X-factor for this game on defense for the Aztecs?

A: If (Marvin Kinsey Jr. or another running back) is on fire and if he gets a good amount of carries, then it’s going to be dependent on guys like Kyahva Tezino at the linebackers core because he’s in the middle spying on whatever Kinsey’s doing, whether he’s gonna run the ball straight down their throat or get a sweep to the outside or maybe a screen pass. … Look for (Tezino) to be that guy if they’re able to slow down the Colorado State offense.

Q: Last time these two teams met, CSU came away victorious with a 63-31 win in San Diego. Who you got winning the game this Saturday?

A: The editorial board had a prediction at the beginning of the year before the season even started of what the games were going to be like, and I’m going to stick to it. Despite being a tough road game at elevation, I had (SDSU) losing to Utah State, which they did, (and I predict) the Aztecs bounce back and beat Colorado State in a tough, grind-it-out game 20-13.

Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.