The San Diego State Aztecs’ defense may be something of a mystery going into Saturday’s game?Are they really that good? Their previous opponent, Weber State, was shut out last week, or are the Wildcats just that bad? SDSU only allowed 35 rushing yards. So they completely shut down the Weber State run game. According to the Mountain West Connection, the Aztec defense is one to be reckoned with but is also plagued with inconsistencies. Fans accused the defense of causing five of their six losses last year and the defense was unable to score a single touchdown off ten interceptions in 2018.
The Aztecs run an interesting 3-3-5 defensive scheme. So, the Bruin offense is really going to have to step up their game to beat this unit. The scheme has its roots in Canadian Football and goes back 20 years to Rocky Long’s early days as a coach at New Mexico. This “Fire Ant” defense, as it as been called, is usually new to Aztec opponents and can really work to their advantage, but don’t forget what it looks like. UCLA will likely see it again when they play Arizona State.
Statistically speaking, San Diego State is actually tied for third with Penn State on first down defense, but those numbers might be a bit inflated due to their week one opponent.
The Mountain West Connection says that the defensive line is the bright spot of this side of the ball. They only allowed an average of 103 yards per game and three yards per carry. In 2018, the defensive line only allowed their opponents to score a total of 16 touchdowns on the ground. So, it’s clear that UCLA can’t take this group lightly.
Redshirt freshman Cameron Thomas should be lining up at nose, so the youth of this player might be a spot to capitalize on. Alongside Thomas will be defensive ends Myles Cheatum, a redshirt senior with plenty of experience, and sophomore Keshawn Banks. This group accounted for four tackles for a loss of 14 yards, but the Weber State offense was not the opponent that the UCLA Bruins will be on Saturday.
Of note, Brady Hoke has been added this year to the staff as defensive line coach after the questionable departure of previous defensive line coach Ernie Lawson.
Seniors Kyahva Tezino and Troy Cassidy will lead this group along with redshirt sophomore Caden McDonald. Tezino, who lines up in the Mike position, was selected for the 2018 First Team All-Mountain West and was also an All-America and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Cassidy has slowly worked his way up the depth chart in the Will spot, and also sees time on special teams.
Not only is this five-man secondary unique, but it is stacked with upperclassmen. Senior cornerback Luq Barcoo and safety Tariq Thompson will be players to watch, especially since Thompson ended 2018 ranked third nationally in interceptions at .27 per game and was already able to snag one last weekend. Thompson’s position is also referred to as the “Field Warrior” in this scheme. Junior Dwayne Johnson Jr. is also starting this year at safety, but mainly saw time on special teams in 2018.
Additionally, senior Kyree Woods and redshirt sophomore Darren Hall will start for the secondary. Hall is the other starting corner for this unit and Woods will fill in at safety/Field Warrior. Hall is a ball hawk and Woods is excellent at stopping the run and has good coverage skills.
While the Aztec defense stacks up really well against other Mountain West teams, it just doesn’t seem possible that UCLA could tank this one. Taking both offenses into account, I think the Bruins have this one.