SDSU hosts Nevada looking for perfection, hoping for Air Force slip-up

by Anthony Reclusado, Senior Staff Writer

There was little time to celebrate after securing their first Mountain West Championship game in program history last week, as the San Diego State Aztecs prepare to host the University of Nevada and attempt to finish out a historic, perfect season in conference play.

The Aztecs (8-3, 7-0 MW) will look to be the first undefeated team in MW play since 2011 and the first in school history with an unblemished conference record since 1974 when that squad went 4-0 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association.

Emotions will be escalated further Saturday as SDSU celebrates Senior Night for a class that has propelled this program to this historic level.

A 15-man senior class, including cornerback J.J. Whittaker, linebacker Jake Fely, offensive linemen Pearce Slater and Darrell Green, and countless others will play their final regular season home game within the concrete confines of Qualcomm Stadium.

However, there is more on the line than a historic perfect conference record or a storybook ending for the team’s veterans. A win will keep the possibility of hosting the MW Championship game alive for SDSU.

The highest-ranked divisional champion earns the right of hosting the MW Championship game and currently Air Force Academy leads SDSU in the composite rankings. With the distance in the rankings the Aztecs will also need the Falcons to lose to University of New Mexico on the road if they want a chance to play for their 20th conference championship at home.

Even with the history and multiple scenarios floating around this game, the ever-prudent SDSU head coach Rocky Long knows there is only one thing that matters: Nevada.

It’s nice to be winning, but we have another tough game this week,” Long said. “I think the talent level is equal.”

Just for clarification, Long has stated that every conference opponent the Aztecs have faced were on equal footing as his squad and every week his team has won by at least 14 points, including the last five straight games by at least 23 points.

But Nevada will try to give SDSU a taste of its own medicine as the Wolf Pack prides itself on the same tenants as the Aztecs: running the ball and playing defense.

Nevada implements a successful two-back system similar to SDSU, with senior Don Jackson and sophomore James Butler. Combined, the duo has tallied over 2,100 rushing yards and accounted for 17 touchdowns.

“They’re going to run it,” Long said. “It doesn’t matter how we line up on defense. They’re going to run it.”

Despite the heavy reliance on the run the Wolf Pack may look to test the Aztec secondary early as SDSU will play the first half without junior safety Na’im McGee, who was ejected last week against UNLV for a targeting call.

Junior Trey Lomax and freshman Parker Baldwin have been splitting time at the Aztec safety position during practice with a gametime decision on who starts.

SDSU will not try to reinvent the wheel it has perfected over its seven-game winning streak and lean on junior running back Donnel Pumphrey and senior running back Chase Price.

The Aztec backs will have to face an experienced front seven of Nevada that sports six seniors, including defensive tackle Rykeem Yates.

But as SDSU has proven on a weekly basis, turnovers will decide this game and there is no one better in the nation in forcing miscues and taking care of the ball. The Aztecs are No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced (28) and turnover margin (plus-17).