In a lot of ways, the Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and San Diego State doesn’t really feel like a bowl game at all.
Bowl games are typically about different settings, new opponents and unfamiliar schemes.
This Poinsettia Bowl features none of that. It’s a virtual home game for San Diego State, even though it’s technically listed as a “neutral-site game.” These two schools used to compete in the Mountain West and, before that, the WAC, with BYU taking the last five meetings and owning a 27-7-1 series advantage. Plus, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and San Diego State coach Rocky Long are good friends.
Better than good friends, perhaps. Mendenhall was once Long’s defensive coordinator at New Mexico, where the pair teamed together to develop the blitz-heavy 3-3-5 scheme that many still use today. But for as similar as these programs and coaches are, they’ve been at opposite ends of the spectrum in both the postseason and head-to-head meetings.
Mendenhall is one of the best bowl-game coaches out there, owning a 5-2 overall record and 5-1 ATS mark; Long is one of the worst (1-5 in both categories). The Cougars are 5-1 against San Diego State under Mendenhall, and they were 4-0 against the New Mexico teams coached by Long.
Can Long get over the hump in the Poinsettia Bowl? Let’s take a closer look.
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CURRENT LINE: BYU -2.5 | OPEN: BYU -3 | | OVER/UNDER: 47.5 | TV: ESPN
ATS record: 6-6
Hot or not? Neither. Never won or lost more than 2 games in a row this season.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall in bowls: 5-2 overall, 5-1 ATS
Offensive yards per play: 5.0 (94th)
Defensive yards per play: 4.4 (8th)
Strength of schedule: 55th
The skinny: For just the second time in the past seven years, BYU won’t reach double-digit wins. The Cougars might have the most under-the-radar great defense in the country, and it’s a good thing, because the offense has been so riddled with injuries it’s been impossible to be consistent. BYU was held to 14 points or less four times and topped 40 points five times. Scrolling through the college football injury report, the Cougars have 19 players dinged up, 12 of whom are “out for season” or “out indefinitely.” One of those injured players is quarterback Riley Nelson, whom Mendenhall identified as “still not 100 percent” and may not get the start even if he is. Mendenhall recently hinted that both quarterbacks—Nelson and senior James Lark—will see playing time. Lark is coming off a 384-yard, 6-TD explosion in BYU’s final game, a 50-14 stomping of New Mexico State.
Coach quote: “The defense is still his (Rocky Long’s), and he learned it from Joe Lee Dunn, so that’s what we ran when I first came to BYU. We’ve diverted and really don’t run anything similar now, but the ideas are still ingrained, and I think Rocky is the master of that particular scheme.”
SAN DIEGO STATE (9-3)
ATS record: 8-4
Hot or not? Hot. Won 7 straight and covered in 6 of 7 to close the regular season.
Coach Rocky Long in bowls: 1-5 overall, 1-5 ATS
Offensive yards per play: 5.5 (58th)
Defensive yards per play: 5.0 (28th)
Strength of schedule: 91st
The skinny: There aren’t many teams hotter than the Aztecs, who won seven straight to close the year and are in search of their first 10-win season since 1977. The signature wins came at Nevada and at Boise State, both of which were after backup QB Adam Dingwell (sophomore, 795 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT) took over the starting job. If San Diego State hopes to move the ball consistently, they’ll need Dingwell to provide them with some timely throws. BYU’s defense ranks second against the run and 13th against the pass, so it’s unlikely we’ll see the Aztecs in a ton of third-and-short situations. San Diego State—which was 6-1 in this stadium this year—normally relies on its 18th-rated rushing offense led by sophomore Adam Muema, who totaled 1,355 yards and is coming off a 255-yard, 4-touchdown performance in a win over Wyoming. This will be the best defense the Aztecs have faced, so will the long layoff disrupt their momentum too much to keep rolling?
Coach quote: “When you see the left-handed quarterback (Nelson) go in, some of our blitzes come from our right side. When it’s the right-handed quarterback (Lark), the blitzes come from the other side. The dingbat that’s calling the defense had better understand that, which happens to be me. You can’t have a different game plan for both because there’s not enough time for that.”
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Edge: It’s tempting to go with BYU here, but their question marks on offense make it tough to lay any amount of points. There’s been an informative discussion on this game taking place in the BTB Sports Betting Forum, and the consensus there appears to have landed on the ‘under,’ so we’ll side with them and root for a defensive struggle between two defense-oriented coaches. (Although the first-half or first-quarter unders might end up being better plays.)