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August 31, 2012
San Diego St. @ Washington, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 1
Offense: The Aztecs will return six starters from the 8-5 squad that made the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, where they lost to Louisiana-Lafayette. However, the biggest name is one who is not a returning starter.
Husky fans will be familiar with quarterback Ryan Katz, formerly of Oregon State. After spending three years as a Beaver, including one as the full-time starter, Katz transferred to San Diego State after last season, and is eligible to play as a senior this year. He leads an Aztecs offense that will rely heavily on the passing game, with three starting wide receivers returning. Colin Lockett caught eight touchdowns from Ryan Lindley last year, and Gavin Escobar caught seven.
Two offensive linemen return, but there will be some consistency issues with three starters. Last year, running back Adam Muema ran for six yards a carry as backup to the now-graduated Ronnie Hillman. He could be a difference maker for the Aztecs offense.
Defense: Only three starters return on an Aztecs defense that gave up just under 400 yards a game in total defense in 2011. San Diego State runs a 3-3-5, with three safeties listed as starters. The depth chart does not feature a single returning starter on the defensive line, and two of the listed starters are sophomores.
The bigger Huskies should be able to push around the Aztecs' line. Only one starting linebacker returns, sophomore MLB Jake Fely, who had 58 tackles last season. But the strength of the Aztecs' defense is it's secondary, which returns safety Nat Berhe, who had 67 tackles in 2011, and cornerback Leon McFadden. All five listed starters are juniors or seniors, and, in addition to the two returning starters, two others listed on the two-deep started last season.
The defense will struggle to put pressure on the quarterbacks, but the secondary will keep it afloat.
Special Teams: A lot has been made of head coach Rocky Long's comments that he would not punt as often as is normal this season. Ultimately, this is probably just a coach talking, but the Huskies' defense will have to be ready for some special teams gimmicks, because the Aztecs are not experienced at any special teams position.
They bring in a new kicker and a new punter, but both the punt returner and kick returner are back. McFadden handles punt return duties, and Lockett returned 31 kicks last season, including one for a score against Cal Poly. The Huskies might have a difficult time containing the Aztecs return game, which could spell field position trouble.
Verdict: Rocky Long's club could give the Huskies trouble. Washington has a talented but somewhat unproven secondary, and the Aztecs have a good passing game. In addition, the Aztecs could do damage in the return game. While the Huskies should win this game, it's not an easy matchup for the UW. Still, the Aztecs are not experienced enough on defense to hold off a star-studded Huskies offense.
Prediction: Washington 38, San Diego State 17
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