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NCAAF: Nevada aiming for fourth straight win over No. 22 San Diego State

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If No. 22 San Diego State wins the Mountain West Conference football championship, the argument can be made that the league’s Most Valuable Player is a punter/kicker.

But Matt Araiza isn’t just any kicker, as he’s made abundantly clear while making the difference in multiple wins this year. Araiza and the Aztecs try to take control of the MWC’s West Division on Saturday night when they host Nevada in Carson, Calif.

Araiza’s footprints were literally all over last week’s 17-10 win at Hawaii. He averaged 49.6 yards on five punts, including a 79-yarder that soared over not one but two return men, and downed two punts inside the 20.

For good measure, he tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 7:41 left in the game that gave San Diego State (8-1, 4-1 MWC) a two-score lead, and boomed one kickoff so far that it struck an upright. That meant it traveled 75 yards in the air.

Little wonder that the Aztecs enjoyed an 8-yard advantage in average starting field position, no small thing when one considers how ordinary their offense has been most of the year.

“Matt again hit a punt 79 yards,” said San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. “I thought our special teams was pretty good.”

Operative word being “again.” Araiza has drilled 15 punts at least 60 yards this year and is averaging 51.9 yards per boot, nearly a yard more than the NCAA single-season record set by Texas A&M’s Braden Mann in 2018.

Araiza’s thunderous left leg is a prime reason why the Aztecs’ defense has been so stout. Opponents are frequently forced to play long fields against a good unit and simply can’t go 80 yards or more with consistency. San Diego State ranks in the top 10 nationally in several different categories, including sixth in rushing defense at 91.2 yards per game.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack (7-2, 4-1) are aiming for their fourth straight win over the Aztecs, one that would all but clinch a spot in the MWC title game. They are coming off a 27-24 win last week over San Jose State, courtesy of Brandon Talton’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

Nevada owns the conference’s top scoring offense at 36.4 points per game, but its defense may have made the difference last week. The Wolfpack got touchdowns from linebacker Daiyan Henley and defensive back Berdale Robins, marking the second straight game that the defense has scored twice.

“The offense was struggling in the first half and the defense just said, ‘We got you, we got you and we’re going to be fine,'” Nevada coach Jay Norvell said to the Reno Gazette Journal. “I don’t know that our team would have done that last year. This showed a lot of character, a lot of class.”

The Wolfpack have forced 18 turnovers, 10th most in FBS. But their identity remains one of a passing team, thanks to quarterback Carson Strong. He’s fourth in the country with 3,197 passing yards and is ranked 10th nationally in completion percentage at 70.5.

Despite Nevada’s recent success in head-to-head matchups, the Aztecs lead the all-time series 7-6.

–Field Level Media

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