Geico Las Vegas Bowl Preview – Houston Cougars vs San Diego State Aztecs

Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)

  • Start Time: 2:30 PM CST. Saturday, December 17
  • Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • TV: ABC
  • Streaming: WatchESPN
  • Live Stats: Here.
  • Line: Houston -4.5. O/U: 51.5.

Of the many interesting matchups this bowl season, this may be right at the top. This is a matchup of two teams that got the majority of the press clippings heading into the season. A few games for both teams did not go according to plan, ending their chances of a NY6 bowl and opening the door for a meeting in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Who to watch for Houston:

  • Ed Oliver, Defensive Tackle: It is all too common to see a highly touted high school player struggle to adapt to the college game. They are facing a quicker, stronger, and more talented group of individuals than at the high school level and rightfully struggle. Those players were not named Ed Oliver. The freshman defensive tackle has stepped in as the highest rated G5 signee ever and put together a First Team All-American season as a true freshman. No, not freshman All-American. He was named to the national All-American squad, a rarity for any G5 player and almost unheard of for a true freshman. 61 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, nine pass break ups, and three forced fumbles will earn quite a few accolades.
  • Greg Ward Jr., Quarterback: The senior quarterback did not have the dream season he was hoping for this year, but he still put together a very impressive campaign. Ward is much different from any quarterback San Diego State has seen with his ability to run and pass equally well. The only knock against Ward is his tendency to make devastating mistakes at the worst time versus good competition.
  • Linell Bonner, Wide Receiver: Bonner was one of those players that did all the dirty work for the Cougars. Players like Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar make the deep catches and can blow open the top of a defense, but all Bonner does is catch passes. He ended the season with 93 catches, 37 more than any other player on the team. When Ward passes the ball, it is likely going to Bonner.

Who to watch for San Diego State:

  • Donnel Pumphrey, Running Back: You have heard the stories, you know all about him, you know he is on a collision course with the NCAA all-time rushing record. Pumphrey is one of the best players in the nation despite being ranked behind Dalvin Cook on many awards lists. Cook had a good season, but struggled when the Seminoles needed him the most. Pumphrey is the opposite and puts together some of his best performances when they team needs him the most. The only thing keeping Pumphrey from more carries this season is an embarrassment of riches in the backfield. Also, Pumphrey is a Las Vegas native, so this game is a homecoming of sorts.
  • Nico Siragusa, Offensive Line: It is rare that we get the chance to talk about the big uglies in the trenches. Siragusa is one of the best in the nation, earning first to third team All-American honors via multiple publications after another stellar season. Siragusa is a four-year starter that has turned the Aztecs into one of the top G5 powerhouses.
  • The Entire Aztec Defense: I could pick any number of players as a player to watch on the SDSU defense, but this entire group deserves some attention. From linebacker Calvin Munson (108 tkl, 10.0 tfl) to Damontae Kazee (60 tkl, 7 INT), to Alex Barrett (11.0 tfl, 6.5 sacks), there is so much talent on the Aztec defense. Watching Kazee match up versus Bonner and company should be a fun time.

How Houston wins:

Force the Aztecs to throw the ball. It is no secret that SDSU loves to run the ball with Pumphrey and Penny. They are among the best in the nation and have two ball carriers that can take it to the house on any play. Houston has to play disciplined defense and put SDSU in second or third and long situations. Christian Chapman will not be able to win this game if Houston stops the Aztec passing game.

How San Diego State wins:

Hold on to the ball. When the Houston defense is at its best, it is forcing turnovers and flipping the field on a regular basis. They were able to dominate the turnover battle in wins over Oklahoma and Louisville. Teams that have been successful versus Houston have forced them to drive the length of the field on a regular basis. If Houston has to go 80+ yards consistently versus the Aztec defense, they will struggle.


Rashaad Penny, SDSU, RB/KR: While Pumphrey gets the majority of the carries for the Aztec offense, Penny is a hell of a backup. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry, scored 11 rushing touchdowns, and ended the season with 995 yards on the ground. But that isn’t even where he is most dangerous. Penny has taken two kickoffs to the house and averages over 31 yards per return despite only getting the opportunity to return 18 kicks on the season. If Houston kicks to Penny, they could be in big trouble.


Houston is one of the toughest teams in the nation to predict. Just when we think they figured things out, they lay an egg versus Memphis.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come out and completely boatrace the Aztecs, but it also would not surprise me if they laid an egg and got dominated in this game. That being said, Houston tends to thrive on national television.

Houston 31, San Diego State 21.

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