Aztecs Football: Rashaad Penny a Threat for Stanford Cardinal

Rashaad Penny (20) breaks around UC Davis (31) Desmond Lewis (DB) during the NCAA Football game between UC Davis Aggies and San Diego State University Aztecs on Sept. 2, 2017 at San Diego Stadium in San Diego California. (Photo by Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire)

The San Diego State football team host the No. 19 Stanford Cardinal on Saturday at San Diego Stadium, its first ranked opponent this season. It’s the first time the two teams met since 1988 when Stanford won 31-10.

The game has implications for both teams. An Aztec win means Stanford will drop out of the top-25 ranking and San Diego State will get recognized on a national stage. It also means that senior running back Rashaad Penny will be in contention for the Heisman Trophy.

Penny will be a threat for Stanford. In the loss against USC, the Cardinal allowed the Trojans to rack up 309 rushing yards. The Cardinal is looking to limit Penny, who is first nationally in rushing average per carry, first in kickoff returns for touchdown, second in kick return average and ninth in all-purpose yards.

In the win the against Arizona State Sun Devils, Penny had a career-high 216 yards and finished with 353 all-purpose yards.

“He breaks a lot of tackles,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “He’s a north and south runner, and when you give him a crease, he’s got the speed to take it the distance.”

Aztec coach Rocky Long, however, played down the importance of the game.

“Last time I looked, they (Stanford) are ranked 19th in the country so if you play well against the 19th ranked team in the country you ought to get some national exposure,” he said. “I don’t want to seem like I don’t understand the situation but all it will mean if we beat them is we’re 3-0, that’s all it’ll mean.”

Both Stanford and San Diego State run a similar style offense, but Long doesn’t think that will be an advantage for either team. The Cardinal has scored at least 24 points in eight straight games.

“We do a little scrimmaging against our own offense but we don’t put a game plan in specifically for that offense. I would assume they’re the same way,” he said. “So for the two defenses, it’s a normal week trying to put a game plan in for what they do on offense and only have three days of practice to do it.”

Despite SDSU’s unranked status, Shaw is not taking the program lightly. The Aztecs are good at creating turnovers and are among the national leaders in interceptions the last two seasons. So far this season, the Aztec defense has forced five fumbles and recovered two.

“It’s a very unique, structured defense,” Shaw said. “They essentially have three safeties and two corners. There’s late rotation, and a lot of different types of blitzes. They’ve been able to attack people’s protections and put quarterbacks under duress and make inaccurate throws.”

San Diego will be a homecoming of sorts for Shaw and slew of Cardinal players. Shaw was born in San Diego and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from SDSU. Free safety Frank Buncom,  linebackers Casey Toohill, Jordan Perez, Caleb Philips, kicker Collin Riccitelli, punter Jake Bailey and cornerback Alijah Holder are all local products.

For Holder, the game will be extra special. He will be facing off against his identical twin brother, Mikah, who is a wide receiver for the Aztecs.

“I’ve had mixed feelings about it,” Alijah said. “I’ve never competed against my brother, seriously, so it’s something very new to me. At the same time, this is going to be an incredible experience. What a stage to do it back home.”

Not that the pair hasn’t had experience facing off against each other — there are dented furniture and injuries to prove it.

“When we were growing up, we fought a lot and were very competitive,” Alijah said.

No one, however, is more excited about the matchup than their mother.

She’s loving it,” Alijah said. “She’s telling everybody to come to the game.”

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be carried live on CBS.