Photo: Nathan Rourke (12) & Joe Lowery (65)
Source: Tim Bradbury/Getty Image North America

Aztecs from the Mountain West and Bobcats from the MAC tangle for the first time in Frisco

The DXL Frisco Bowl will showcase two teams from opposite ends of the country with San Diego State and Ohio set to face off for the first time. Both teams will look to use this game as a springboard for a successful 2019 season.

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San Diego State (7-5, 4-4 MW) comes into the Frisco Bowl in a bit of a slump, as the Aztecs have lost four of their last five games. This is still a team that should not be taken lightly, as SDSU’s season includes an upset of Arizona State and a 6-1 start. But the end of October and November were not kind to Rocky Long’s team, which lost close conference games on the road to Nevada (28-24), UNLV (27-24) and Fresno State (23-14) and finished things out with a one-point loss in overtime at home to Hawaii (31-30).

Ohio (8-4, 6-2 MAC) kind of followed the opposite path, starting out 3-3 with non-conference road losses to fellow bowl participants Virginia and Cincinnati. But the Bobcats were strong down the stretch, winning five of their final six MAC games, including a 52-17 rout of eventual East division champ Buffalo.

These two teams are certainly no strangers the postseason. San Diego State is making its eighth straight bowl appearance in as many seasons under head coach Rocky Long. It’s four in a row and nine of the last 10 years for Ohio under longtime head coach Frank Solich. This will be the first-ever meeting between these two schools whose campuses are separated by 2,300 miles.

DXL Frisco Bowl: San Diego State (7-5) vs. Ohio (8-4)

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)


Spread: Ohio -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Ohio ‘s running game vs. San Diego State’s rush defense

The Bobcats lead the MAC in rushing with an average of nearly 262 yards per game. Senior running back A.J. Ouellette leads the way with 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound back averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry and also has two touchdown catches. Fellow RB Maleek Irons (831 yards, 8 TDs) and quarterback Nathan Rourke (816, 13) give Ohio multiple options to run the ball with, and the Bobcats will need those going up against the nation’s fourth-stingiest run defense. The Aztecs are surrendering 94.5 yards per game on the ground. They gave up a total of 386 rushing yards to the six bowl teams – Arizona State, Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and Stanford – they faced in the regular season.

2. San Diego State LB Kyahva Tezino vs. Ohio’s offensive line

Tezino enters this game third in the Mountain West in sacks with 8.5 The junior also leads the Aztecs with 120 tackles (fourth in the conference) and 14.5 tackles for a loss (third). He really came on strong in November, recording 5.5 of his sacks in four games. Whether he can be as effective against Ohio remains to be seen. The Bobcats have given up a total of 19 sacks thus far, a number that’s helped by the running game as well as Rourke’s mobility in and outside of the pocket. So will the first-team All-Mountain West selection be able to add to his totals down in Texas? Or can Ohio keep San Diego State’s best defender from making plays behind the line of scrimmage?

3. San Diego State RB Juwan Washington vs. Ohio’s rush defense

A productive as the Bobcats’ running game has been, the Aztecs’ reputation for churning out productive running backs is well documented. Under head coach Rocky Long that’s a legacy that includes NFL players Rashaad Penny, Donnel Pumphrey and Ronnie Hillman. The current starter is Washington who has dealt with injuries this season and has still managed to compile 870 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games. Washington isn’t the biggest (5-7, 190) back but he has more than enough speed to break off long gains. San Diego State makes a living out of the running the ball, so Ohio’s defense will focus on containing Washington. The Bobcats are No. 2 in the MAC against run, allowing 135.8 rushing yards per game.

Final Analysis

San Diego State slumped towards the end of the season, but the Aztecs’ last four losses have come by a total of 13 points. Ohio started off slow but really got things going in MAC play. Both teams have found success running the football, so this game will likely hinge on the team that does that better. It should be an entertaining game in Toyota Stadium, but the edge goes to the team from the MAC.

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1. SMU will face Louisiana Tech in the inaugural Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 with a new coach. Sonny Dykes, whose first head coaching job was at Louisiana Tech in 2010, will coach the Mustangs at the bowl game formerly known as the Miami Beach Bowl before being moved to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, in the offseason. Chad Morris, who led SMU to its first bowl game since 2012, was hired at Arkansas on Dec. 6 after building a 14-22 record in three seasons with the Mustangs.

2. The Bulldogs won their final two games to become bowl eligible and earn their fourth straight postseason bid under coach Skip Holtz. Louisiana Tech is one of nine programs in the country that enters the postseason with three straight bowl wins. The Bulldogs are playing their third bowl in the past four years in North Texas after winning the Heat of Dallas Bowl in 2014 and the Armed Forces Bowl in Forth Worth last year.

3. SMU and Oklahoma State are the only FBS teams with a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers, so it should come as no surprise that the Mustangs averaged 40.2 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Ben Hicks threw for 3,442 yards and 32 touchdowns while Trey Quinn and Courtland Sutton each caught 12 touchdowns. It will be a big test for a Bulldogs defense that ranked near the middle of Conference USA in opponents’ points (26.7) and passing yards (215.1).

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ABOUT LOUISIANA TECH (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA): Sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith threw for 2,758 yards and 13 touchdowns, including five scores to Conference USA co-newcomer of the year Teddy Veal (69 catches, 832 yards). Junior defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (26.5 career sacks) had a team-high six sacks while senior safety Secdrick Cooper had 63 stops and two interceptions. Freshman cornerback Amik Robertson led the team with four interceptions to go with 58 tackles and two sacks.

ABOUT SMU (7-5, 4-4 American Athletic): Quinn (106 catches, 1,191 yards) leads the country with 8.8 receptions per game, needs six catches to tie the single-season school record and is tied with Sutton (62 catches, 1,017 yards) for second place in single-season touchdown catches. Senior defensive end Justin Lawler joined Quinn and Sutton as first-team All-AAC picks after blocking three kicks and leading the Mustangs with 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The Mustangs’ defense allowed at least 31 points in its final five games, which included three straight losses before a last-second goal-line stand in the finale snapped the skid.

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