San Diego State vs Houston Las Vegas Bowl Recap

BY Fansided and Zach Bigalke/FanSided via Saturday Blitz • December 17, 2016

On a record-breaking day for Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State came back to defeat Houston. Here is what we learned from the Las Vegas Bowl.

The opening day of the 2016-2017 college football postseason provided plenty of interest. Few games offered more intrigue than the matchup between Mountain West champions San Diego State and AAC West heavyweights Houston. The matchup was bound to be one of the best games featuring Group of Five schools, and it did not disappoint.

The game pitted a Cougars team that had just lost head coach Tom Herman to the Texas gig against an Aztecs team whose star running back entered the game with a chance to set the all-time NCAA FBS rushing record. Houston took an early lead in the first quarter, but San Diego State surged back to reach 11 wins for the second straight season thanks to 34 unanswered points in the 34-10 win.

It is always tricky trying to use bowl games to project too much into a team’s season. But let’s try anyway, as we look at three things we learned from today’s Las Vegas Bowl.

Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey (19) carries the ball against the Houston Cougars during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Pumphrey Sets All-Time FBS Rushing Mark

My colleague already covered Pumphrey’s record-breaking day in detail, but let’s look at exactly what needed to happen to make history today. Here are the yards he gained or lost on each carry:

    He was held up four times behind the line of scrimmage, and yet Pumphrey still managed to break 100 yards for the 11th time this season. He added another 26-yard reception, meaning that Pumphrey accounted for more than 55 percent of his team’s total offense in Vegas.

    It wasn’t guaranteed that Pumphrey would claim the record, especially after a late-season swoon where he went two straight games without reaching triple digits. But as he prepares to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, the man who just passed Ron Dayne for the all-time FBS rushing record bolstered his draft stock with a strong performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Ryan Agnew (9) is pressured by Houston Cougars linebacker Steven Taylor (41) in the second quarter during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    2. Houston’s Defense is Fearsome and Only Getting Better

    The Aztecs might have walked away from the Las Vegas Bowl with a 34-10 victory, but they needed an historic day from Donnel Pumphrey to do so against one of the best defenses in the country. But that only came after Pumphrey was held to negative yardage in the first quarter, and the Cougars also managed to bottle up speedy change-of-pace back Rashaad Penny. Penny was held to a season-low 10 yards on nine carries.

    Thus Pumphrey was about the only thing that worked on offense for the Aztecs. Led by freshman defensive lineman Ed Oliver, Houston recorded two sacks and seven tackles for loss on the day. Aztecs quarterback Christian Chapman completed 10 of his 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, and Juwan Washington ran in a late touchdown to extend the margin of victory. But San Diego State was held 200 yards under their season average for total offense, finishing the day with just 255 total yards.

    Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) throws the ball as San Diego State Aztecs defensive lineman Jay Henderson (46) defends during the first quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

    2. Aztecs Defense Won the Las Vegas Bowl

    As mentioned in the previous slide, San Diego State finished with just 255 total yards of offense against a ferocious Houston defense. But the Aztecs stifled a dynamic Cougars offense as well and played a pivotal role in the victory. Kameron Kelly intercepted two Greg Ward Jr. passes, while Calvin Munson had another pick and Ron Smith returned a fourth 54 yards for a touchdown. Ward was never able to get comfortable, throwing for 229 yards but unable to make anything happen with his legs.

      The Aztecs front seven dominated Houston’s offensive line. Duke Catalon gained just 18 yards on 14 carries, while the Cougars as a team managed only 25 total rushing yards and gained less than a yard per carry. Houston was held three times on fourth-down tries, a far cry from enjoying the seventh-best conversion rate during the regular season. After taking an early lead on two long first-quarter scoring drives, the defense turned things around by giving the SDSU offense several short fields to work with.

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