For the first time ever, the San Diego State Aztecs (7-5) and the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (7-5) will meet on the field for the 2022 Hawaii Bowl. The Hawaii Bowl isn’t time for vacation for either team as both teams will try for their eighth win.
San Diego State is 1-0 in the Hawaii Bowl with the win coming in 2015. It was a dominant 42-7 win over Cincinnati. Middle Tennessee State is 0-1 with the loss coming in the following season 52-35 to the home team, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
The Blue Raiders surpassed expectations to become a bowl-eligible team for the second consecutive season. The highlight of 2022 came with the 45-31 road victory over #25 Miami and the three-game win streak at the end of the season. San Diego State battled through a brutal Mountain West Conference with close losses to Fresno State and Air Force. MTSU and SDSU came into the season with limited starters returning from last season.
The Blue Raiders and the Aztecs will look to get a jump start to rebuild and contend for next season with a solid win in the Hawaii Bowl. Middle Tennessee State comes into this game with its RPO-spread offense going against the highly efficient defense of the Aztecs. That will be a portion of the game to focus on. The real battle will be the Aztecs’ offense, which has gone through significant changes, to the Blue Raiders’ defense, which has declined this season compared to last year.
Where: Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, Honolulu, Hawaii
When: Saturday, December 24th, 8 pm Eastern
Line: San Diego State -7
2022 Hawaii Bowl Preview: MTSU vs. SDSU
MSTU’s RPO offense takes on a tough SDSU defense
It will be MTSU vs SDSU in the 2022 Hawaii Bowl. Middle Tennessee State comes into this game with a more dynamic and efficient offense. What makes the Blue Raiders’ 60th scoring offense (29.2 points per game) productive is the efficiency and decision-making of the passing offense. Blue Raiders senior quarterback Chase Cunningham is an efficient RPO-scheme playmaker as he can make accurate short-to-mid-range throws and make defenders miss by keeping the ball. Cunningham has completed 283 out of 420 passes (67.4%) for 2,920 yards, 19 touchdowns, nine interceptions, a quarterback rating of 136.4, and rushed for six touchdowns. The Blue Raiders have three pass-catchers that have accounted for at least 48 receptions.
The Aztecs come into this game with a stout defense that ranks 22th in the nation in points allowed per game (20.2). They have high-caliber playmakers throughout the defensive side of the field. Defensive lineman Jonah Tavai, linebacker Caden McDonald, and defensive back Patrick McMorris are all named first-team All-MWC. Linebacker Michael Shawcroft was named a second-team All-MWC. The Aztecs are 34th in passing defense (189.9) and 35th in rush defense (128.6). Their defense is 27th in total yards allowed per game (318.8). They are a smart and disciplined set of players who can win matchups. This is a big edge going against the RPO offense of the Blue Raiders.
If San Diego State can get into the backfield and create chaos, it will throw Middle Tennessee’s rhythm. MTSU gave up 30 sacks this season while SDSU’s Tavai and Shawcroft combined for 22.5 tackles for loss this season.
Do the Blue Raiders have some tricks up their sleeve on defense?
The Blue Raiders are not good at defending the passing game as they rank 125th in pass defense (271.2). They have talented defenders who create pressure in the backfield, especially with defensive end Jordan Ferguson. Through 12 games this season, Ferguson has accounted for 63 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and nine sacks. He is the biggest reason why the Blue Raiders have the 26th-ranked rush defense (122.9).
Middle Tennessee’s defense loses often against the deep passing game. This is something that San Diego State is not efficient in this season. The Aztecs have the 117th passing offense in the nation (160.2). Its offense was so bad the Aztecs fired Offensive Coordinator Jeff Hecklinski after five games this season. The decision for a new offensive coordinator came after the 35-13 road loss to Boise State. With Jeff Horton in as the offensive coordinator, the Aztecs went from averaging 19 points per game in the first five games to 23 points per game in the last seven games. It isn’t a huge difference, but the offense has been able to utilize the proper skill level of their players.
The Aztecs possess the 68th-best rushing offense (150.6) with a multiple-back system to keep the running game fresh. It does help the offense that they have a highly efficient offensive line, led by first-team All-MWC senior center Alama Uluave. This portion of the game between San Diego State’s offense and the defense of Middle Tennessee State will be won at the line of scrimmage.
Hawaii Bowl Predictions between MTSU and SDSU:
This is a game where the defense will be the deciding factor. San Diego State has a serious edge because they are complete throughout the entire field. Middle Tennessee State is likely to keep the offense of the Aztecs suppressed for a while, especially if they are able to shut down the run game and pressure Aztecs quarterback Jalen Mayden. A big difference maker could be Aztecs’ wide receiver Tyrell Shavers, a first-team All-MWC. If Mayden is able to find Shavers and get the ball out fast, he could make some serious damage to the defense of Middle Tennessee State.
San Diego State 27-21
Last Word On College has complete coverage of the bowl games this season.