Behind Enemy Lines: San Diego State football beat writer Kirk Kenney discusses New Mexico Bowl
Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with San Diego State beat writer Kirk Kenney from The San Diego Union-Tribune to preview Central Michigan's 2 p.m. Dec. 21 game in the New Mexico Bowl against the Aztecs at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque.
San Diego State is 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference, losing to Utah State (23-17), Nevada (17-13) and Hawaii (14-11).
The Chippewas and Aztecs have never played.
Kenney discussed San Diego State's bowl history, the ability defend with authority, strengths, weaknesses and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.
What is there to know about San Diego State entering the bowl game?
This is the school-record 10th straight bowl game for the Aztecs, who can reach double-digit victories for the fourth time in five seasons with a victory. Only nine schools in the nation — Alabama, Appalachian State, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — can make such a claim.
Are there any injuries to be aware of? Any guys that are on the fence to play? Anyone that's decided to sit out?
Senior quarterback Ryan Agnew is coming off a left calf injury that prevented him from playing in the regular season finale against BYU. Agnew may not be 100 percent against Central Michigan, but he is expected to start. If he is re-injured or struggles at all, expect to see redshirt freshman backup Carson Baker, who guided SDSU to a 13-3 win over BYU in his first collegiate start.
Senior running back Juwan Washington, who has been hobbled by an ankle injury since the season opener, is not expected to play. That leaves the carries to several backups, led by junior Chase Jasmin.
Evaluating the regular season, what were you able to take away?
SDSU switched from the I formation to the spread this season in an effort to boost the offensive out, but still averaged only 19 points a game this season. Had the offense been more productive, the Aztecs could have realistically been undefeated. Their three losses came by a total of 13 points and would have been wins if they had scored 24, 18 and 15 points in the respective losses.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of San Diego State?
Simply put: Strength - defense. Weakness - offense.
What makes the defense as good as it is?
Former head coach Brady Hoke, who returned this season as the team's defensive line coach, has coached up a young group that has brought enough pressure up front to create opportunities for a veteran secondary to make plays, led by All-American senior cornerback Luq Barcoo's eight interceptions. In the middle of it all is senior linebacker Kyahva Tezino, whose high energy makes him the most disruptive force on the field.
If there's an underrated aspect of San Diego State, what would it be?
The kicking game. Redshirt freshman kicker Matt Araiza has kicked 20 field goals, one off the school's single-season record, and consistently puts his kickoffs out the back of the end zone. Senior punter Brandon Heicklen has a penchant for pinning opponents deep in their territory. Of his last 15 punts, 12 have been downed inside the 20-yard line, seven inside the 10 and four inside the 5.
If Central Michigan wants to pull off a win, how are the Chippewas going to beat San Diego State?
Central Michigan needs to force turnovers and control the clock to have its best chance of winning. The Aztecs protect the ball better than almost anyone in the nation. They have turned it over just seven times (five interceptions, two fumbles). They rank tied for third in the nation in turnover margin (+1.25) with 22 takeaways and seven giveaways. SDSU also is among the national leaders in time of possession, ranking eighth at 33:29.
SDSU 21, Central Michigan 17