It’s officially Game Week for Arizona, which will visit San Diego State on Saturday in the opening game of 2022 for both teams.
This will be the first game played at Snapdragon Stadium, the Aztecs’ home field, which is a scaled-down version of the old Padres/Chargers stadium. That’s not all that’s different from SDSU, which beat Arizona 38-14 last season.
To get a better understanding of what the Wildcats will be up against in their first game, we reached out to Jeffrey Carter of sister site SB Nation. MWCConnection. Here are their respectful answers to our frivolous questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: San Diego State came to Tucson last season and crushed the Wildcats in Jedd Fisch’s home debut, but a fair number of that Aztec team’s top contributors are gone. How is the outlook for this team compared to the 2021 version?
Jeffrey Carter: The Aztec perspective is positive since their system is based on replacing rather than rebuilding. The defense will be strong again with leaders Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai on the line, Caden McDonald at LB and Patrick McMorris at the Aztec position. Both Tavai and McDonald have their brothers playing alongside them this year on transfers (from Hawaii and Washington, respectively).
The offense will be based on Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd at RB, Jesse Matthews, he’s from all leagues at WR. Also at WR are Tyrell Shavers and Brionne Penney. They lost TJ Sullivan to a season-ending injury.
QB Braxton Burmeister started at Virginia Tech last year and was effective. He will rely on improving his passing game and making few mistakes. He only had four selections last year.
The casual college football fan may not know Braxton Burmeister, but many UA fans do thanks to his two-time commitment here before ending up at Oregon (and then Virginia Tech, and now SDSU). How does he fit into this offense and what are the expectations for this journeyman quarterback?
He is expected to run the offense, balanced, but focused on running. Don’t make mistakes, don’t cause damage and be a consistent passer. He should thrive in the short to mid-level passing game considering the talent of his receivers.
Gone are a 1,000-yard rusher in Greg Bell, who rushed for 125 yards and a TD at Arizona, and several offensive linemen. Will the running game still be a big part of the offense and, if so, who are the key guys to watch?
Bell and Byrd should lead the running game. Several other new players should contribute, including Jaylon Armstead. The Aztecs live off the race. Stop them and you’ll force them into an awkward position.
Four Aztecs made the first team of the Mountain West preseason squad, with DB senior Patrick McMorris chosen as the co-defensive player of the year. Is that the best side of the ball for SDSU, at least heading into the season?
The Aztecs are definitely better on defense. They should be in the top ten in various categories and have some strong players contributing. They are probably the best overall defense in the league along with Boise and San Jose.
Was last year’s 12-2 record a byproduct of coach Brady Hoke benefiting from a veteran-stuffed team left behind by Rocky Long, or does his second time in San Diego appear to be better than the first? What do fans think of him?
I don’t know much about Hoke, but he’s done well. The foundation laid by Long is obvious. Last year was a special year and it would have been better without losing many players due to COVID for the league championship game. There is a huge spike in excitement for the opening of Snapdragon Stadium. The Aztecs played in LA the last two years. Expect the stadium to establish home court advantage.
Prediction time. Does Arizona screw up the first game at Snapdragon Stadium, or does SDSU eliminate another Pac-12 school? Give us a score selection.
I see a much improved Wildcat team. Coach Fisch is a great coach and has a good route plan. The Aztecs I feel are also improved and will be motivated to take down a Pac-12 team again. My score forecast is 35-21 SDSU, but the game will be pretty close. Think that the time of possession will be the key factor.