San Diego State is undefeated, despite having already had to start two different quarterbacks due to injury and having really no passing game to speak of. The Aztecs are 125th in the nation in passing offense (keep in mind there are just 130 FBS programs).
Their saving grace has been a tremendous rushing attack (14th in the country) and, perhaps most important, a defensive front that has quietly become one of the best in college football. SDSU is getting into opponents’ backfields A LOT and doing it in a way that not many teams can.
“We’re trying to just rush four as much as we can, just from different angles and different alignments,” says Aztecs defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix.
Against Utah, a Pac-12 team that’s supposed to be bigger, stronger and faster than a Mountain West program, the Aztecs made a boatload of plays in the Utes backfield. They had three sacks and eight tackles for loss, and nearly all of it came from their defensive front.
“We’re trying to disguise some things, put more people on the line of scrimmage, rush people unconventionally, and making them account for (those players),” says Mattix.
This has become the 2021 Aztecs defense’s calling card. San Diego State is 6th in the nation in tackles for loss and tied for 10th in sacks. The pressure up front means they don’t have to bring extra pass rushers from the back end and that’s extremely important. SDSU lost three starters from last year’s secondary to the NFL so they’re breaking in some younger guys.
The disruptive defensive line and edge rushers have made a massive difference in what they’re asked to do.
“If we’re rushing and getting home with four then let’s play as much zone, or best coverage that we can within zone, multiple types of zones and stuff,” says Mattix.
Mattix says the chaos caused up front was vital to beating Utah because it allowed them time to figure out the best way to defend a talented Utes passing game.
“We went into that game not knowing if we could even play man (coverage) against them, to be honest with you. As the game went on, talking to the secondary on the sideline they said hey coach, we’re good. So, that opened up the doors for a couple other things as the game went on and that’s sort of our approach each week: can we cover these guys? We want to say we can but the reality is (we have to ask honestly) can we cover them to be able to play man and put another guy in the pass rush?”
They call that “complementary football” and in the first quarter of the Aztecs season their defense has done it just about as well as anyone in the nation. The Aztecs should run their record to 4-0 this weekend when they face Towson, an FCS school that’s off to a 1-2 start, in a 12:30 pm kickoff in Carson.