SAN DIEGO (AP) — It’s been a long time since San Diego State has played a game this meaningful.
Beating Stanford and Arizona State of the Pac-12 in consecutive weeks was a nice accomplishment.
Beating Boise State on Saturday night would be much bigger for the No. 19 Aztecs, the two-time defending Mountain West Conference champions who would love to grab the Group of Five’s automatic bid to the New Year’s Six bowl games.
The Aztecs (6-0, 2-0) of the West Division haven’t played Boise State (3-2, 1-0) of the Mountain Division since 2014. The Broncos didn’t make it to the conference championship game when the Aztecs won it the last two years, so this will give SDSU a chance to see how it measures up against the conference’s most recognizable team.
“We’re taking this game like it’s the championship game because it’s big for us,” SDSU star running back Rashaad Penny said.
Penny said the Aztecs didn’t want each other wearing any blue or orange during the week.
“No disrespect to them; they’re a great team and all. But we’ve been wanting them for so long. And now that we’re getting a shot to get them I think we have to take advantage of it. We have to come out hard and fast just to prove a point that we’re the leader of the Group of Five and we’re here to take the Mountain West as we did the last two years. It’s going to be exciting.”
Here are some things to look for when the undefeated Aztecs host the Broncos:
HISTORY: The Aztecs are looking to go 7-0 for the first time since 1975, when they won their first eight before losing their last three.
SDSU is 20-2 in its last 22 games against MWC teams.
RIVALRY?: This is the fifth meeting between the schools and the series is tied 2-2. While SDSU’s players are stoked to play the Broncos, coach Rocky Long isn’t getting caught up in the hype.
“I don’t think the two schools have played each other enough to have developed a rivalry to this point,” Long said. “I mean, to develop a rival, you have to play each other a lot of times and I think we’ve played each other four times total. That’s a long way from being a rivalry. I would say our rivals are Fresno State.”
Bryan Harsin was in his first season as BSU’s coach when the Broncos rallied from a 20-0 second-quarter deficit to beat San Diego State 38-29 in Boise in 2014.
“I think every week’s rivalry week for us,” Harsin said. “That’s just the mindset. You’re going to get everybody’s best. I hope we give our best every single time we play. San Diego State’s a good football team. When we go out there and do what we’re capable of doing, we’re a good football team.”
PENNY: The senior is second nationally in rushing yards with 993 and third in rushing yards per game at 165.5. Penny had a highlight-reel play last Saturday night when he lowered his shoulder and slammed into UNLV’s Tim Hough, knocking the cornerback to the ground on his way to a 25-yard gain in a 41-10 win.
Noting that Penny has more rushing yards by himself than nearly two-thirds of Division I teams, Harsin said: “We’ve got to wrap up, we’ve got to get two to three guys to him and you’ve got to be physical at the point of attack with him.”
BSU’s QBs: Brett Rypien is getting back on track after leading the Broncos to a 24-7 win at BYU. The Broncos also have Montell Cozart, a graduate transfer from Kansas who is a dual threat.
“It makes it more difficult to get ready to play them because both quarterbacks are very good players and both quarterbacks have a little different expertise,” Long said. “So when they alternate them and bring them in, it’s not an entirely different offense but what they emphasize on offense is different depending on which quarterback is in there. Basically, you’re getting ready for two teams in the same week.”
HARSIN’S TAKE: Harsin recalls how physical the Broncos were in rallying to beat SDSU in 2014 and knows it will be a big key Saturday night.
“This is a well-rounded football team. This is not just Rashaad Penny and the offense,” said Harsin, who noted that SDSU has 17 sacks, eight interceptions and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. “It’s a really good opportunity for us. They’re really good at what they do. We have to be really good at what we do when we play them.”