The San Diego State Aztecs (3-3, 2-1 Mountain West) got back on track at New Mexico Friday night with a 24-14 victory against the feisty Lobos. While not a pretty win--note the four fourth quarter turnovers and non-existent passing attack--it never appeared as if the Aztecs were in serious trouble in spite of the relatively close score throughout.
True freshman Nick Bawden struggled again in just his second career start. He completed four of his 13 passing attempts for 63 yards. Fourty-three of those yards were a result of an opening drive completion to Eric Judge that led to an eventual Donny Hageman 25-yard field goal. The Aztecs inserted senior Quinn Kaehler into the game to begin the second half in an effort to ignite the offense. Kaehler ended the day 1-3 with an interception. For good measure, former quarterback and current receiver Chase Favreau threw a pick into tight coverage on a trick play. Overall the Aztecs completed an abysmal five passes on the day. That may work against New Mexico, but it won't against the majority of the remaining schedule.
Running Backs: A
The running back combination of Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price are the biggest reason that the Aztecs won this game. The Aztecs' 397 total rushing yards was the eighth most in team history. The Lobos had no answer for the lightning-fast sophomore Pumphrey who ran for a career-high 246 yards and 2 touchdowns (from 49 and 93 yards out) on just 20 carries. He was rewarded with Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors for his effort. Junior powerback Price ran for 141 yards and a touchdown (29 yards out) on just 17 carries. When these two are going at full tilt, they are among the best running back combos in the nation. Both running backs had a fumble in the fourth quarter, which is the only reason they did not get a perfect grade this week.
Wide Receivers: C+
Aside from Judge's 43-yard completion, the Aztec passing game was dormant. It's hard to be critical when only 13 passes are attempted, but someone needs to step up and become the "go to" guy that will reestablish some confidence in SDSU's quarterbacks.
Offensive Line: A
The offensive line preformed exceptionally all day, particularly creating holes for the running game as well as protecting the pocket for the quarterbacks. Junior Lenicio Noble, sophomore Nico Siragusa, junior Pearce Slater, junior Darrell Greene and senior Terry Poole, among others, dominated the line from beginning to end.
Defensive Line: A-
Credit the coaching staff for changing up the defensive line structure to stop the highly touted New Mexico triple-option running attack. Four down lineman helped contain the Lobos to just 137 yards rushing. New Mexico came into the game with the fifth best running game in the nation with over 322 yards per game. Senior Dontrell Onuoha, junior Jon Sanchez, sophomore Alex Barrett and senior linebacker Cody Galea (who logged some defensive-line minutes) focused on controlling the line and effectively pulling off blocks to make big tackles.
The SDSU linebackers played well behind a strong effort from sophomore Calvin Munson and senior Josh Gavert. Gavert had a huge day with 11 tackles and an important fourth quarter interception. The linebackers played well filling the gaps to limit the overall impact of the triple option.
The secondary played well, holding the Lobos to just 111 yards passing on the day. It stepped up and made plays in the fourth quarter. Also noted was the lack of pass-interference penalties.
Special Teams: A-
The special teams unit continues to excel. Halfway through the season, the Aztecs have converted on 8-9 field goal attempts thanks to junior transfer placekicker Donny Hageman who tacked on a 25-yarder Friday night. Last year the Aztecs made only half of their attempts and missed their final eight. Senior punter Joel Alesi had another big night with three of his four punts landing inside the 20-yard line.
Stars of the game:
Running back Donnel Pumphrey, linebacker Josh Gavert and punter Joel Alesi earn my offensive, defensive and special teams stars of the game, respectively.