Aztec football heads up to The Bay for a clash with San José


Sam Mayo

Sophomore defensive lineman Keshawn Banks (left) and senior defensive lineman Myles Cheatum (right) celebrate in the air during the Aztecs’ 26-22 win against Wyoming on Oct. 12 at SDCCU Stadium.

by Kyle Betz, Assistant Sports Editor

San Diego State will travel north to take on San José State on Oct. 19.

While the Aztecs (5-1, 2-1 Mountain West Conference) are riding a two-game winning streak, the Spartans (3-3, 1-2 MWC) are coming off a tough 41-38 loss to Nevada on Oct. 12.

The most notable opponent the Spartans have played this season is Arkansas, who resides in the Southeastern Conference.

The Sept. 21 game resulted in a 31-24 Spartan victory.

It marked SJSU’s first-ever win against an SEC school and the school’s first win against a Power Five conference school since 2006.

The team also has as many wins this season as they did in 2017 and 2018 combined.

Clearly, the Spartans are not the kind of team to back down from a challenge. But its high-powered passing offense – ranked ninth in the country with 326 passing yards per game – now has to face the ninth best total defense in SDSU (who has allowed 270 yards per contest).

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said SJSU has been efficient on offense this season.

“They’ve done a great job of protecting the quarterback, getting the ball out on time,” Arnett said. “They’re also not turning the ball over.”

SJSU senior quarterback Josh Love is the team’s leading passer with 1,823 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Those two interceptions have played a big part in the Spartans’ turnover margin, which ranks first in the country (+2).

“I’m guessing turnovers might play a big part in this one,” Arnett said.

The Spartans also include freshman quarterback Nick Nash in their offense. Nash leads the team in rushing with 255 yards on 40 attempts and three touchdowns in addition to passing for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

Through the air, the Aztecs have to worry about junior Tre Walker and senior Bailey Gaither. The upperclassmen wide receivers lead the Spartans in receiving: Walker with 31 catches for 447 yards and a touchdown and Gaither with 20 receptions for 389 yards and two touchdowns.

Last season, the Aztecs gutted out a 16-13 home victory over the Spartans.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton said the Spartans have played in close games throughout the past year.

“They’ve been in some tight battles,” Horton said. “I remember a year ago we had to fight our tail off to win by (three points). So they’ve been playing up there and they’ve had good success.”

This time around, the Aztecs have new faces leading the team.

Sophomore wide receiver Kobe Smith and redshirt freshman Jesse Matthews lead the Aztecs on offense with 631 combined receiving yards.

And against Wyoming, SDSU’s offense saw another player enter the scene.

Sophomore tight end Daniel Bellinger was the second-leading receiver against the Cowboys with two receptions for 40 yards, including the 12-yard game-winning touchdown reception.

On the other side of the ball, the Aztecs have two underclassmen starting on the defensive line.

Sophomore Keshawn Banks and redshirt freshman Cameron Thomas – alongside senior Myles Cheatum – totaled a combined 17 tackles against the Cowboys.

The unit has heavily contributed to the Aztecs’ success against the run. SDSU is fourth in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (64).

But in order to halt the Spartans’ offense, Arnett said SDSU’s defense must put pressure on Love.

“You can get (the quarterback) more concerned with the guys rushing him and get his eyes off looking downfield at routes,” Arnett said. “If you can get consistent pass rush, that allows you to do a whole host of things.”

Kyle Betz is a junior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBBetz.