The San Diego State Aztecs (4-3, 3-1 Mountain West) took control of the MWC-West division by manhandling the stout Warriors from Hawaii 20-10. Hawaii (2-5, 1-1 MW) had gained great respect from head coach Rocky Long after three one-score losses to top-tier opponents: Washington, Oregon State, and Colorado; and by putting 38 points on the scoreboard in its win against Wyoming in the previous game. In this Saturday night tilt at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego State dominated as the Aztecs' offense (457 total yards) outperformed the Warriors' offense (264 total yards).
Senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler resumed his starting duties after missing a game and half with a sprained right shoulder. It appears as if Kaehler, while occasionally inaccurate, has regained much of his arm strength, which is a great indication of what we might expect from him for the remaining five games of the season. Kaehler was far from perfect, but did manage to complete 13 of 24 pass attempts for 174 yards, including a pretty 26-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Lloyd Mills. It was his first touchdown pass since the season opener against Northern Arizona. Kaehler slightly improved his reads on his progressions, connecting to 10 different receivers, but work remains to be done there. With a bye week ahead, he should be near 100 percent for the Nevada game on November 1.
Running Backs: A
The running game continued to shine as Donnel Pumphrey ran for 182 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts. Pumphrey's speed and ability to make defenders miss at all levels continues to turn heads as he is among the elite rushers in the nation in terms of total yards gained (989, seventh in FBS Division I) and touchdowns (11, fourth in FBS Division I). Complementing Pumphrey were junior Chase Price, redshirt freshman Marcus Stamps, junior fullback Dakota Gordon and quarterback Kaehler who combined for 101 more yards. Entering the game, Hawaii had a good idea that San Diego State would be a run first, pass second team, but still could not stop the Aztec running attack, allowing 283 total rushing yards.
Wide Receivers: B-
The Aztecs are still looking for a couple of their talented receivers to step up and make big plays. Route running, creating separation and handling balls that are slightly off target continue to present an opportunity for improvement. Mills stepped up this week, catching four balls for 42 yards including a great catch for a 26-yard touchdown. No other receiver caught more than one pass. The Aztecs have good news on the Ezell Ruffin front. It appears as if their top receiver may be ready for the Nevada game.
Offensive Line: A-
Once again, the offensive line performed well, creating some gaping holes for the running game. Coach Long recognized that the Hawaii front seven would be particularly challenging given their size, but the Aztec offensive line won the battle and protected Kaehler throughout the game. Kaehler had plenty of time in the pocket to help him regain the confidence in his passing ability.
Defensive Line: B+
Sophomore defensive lineman Alex Barrett continues to be a nuisance to opposing offenses, recording his third sack of the season. The defensive line applied good pressure for the whole game and helped limit the Hawaii running game to less than 100 yards on the day.
The San Diego State linebackers played well behind a strong effort from sophomore Calvin Munson (seven tackles) and senior Josh Gavert (five tackles). Senior Derek Largent played well in his return after missing a couple of games due to an emergency appendectomy. Senior Cody Galea is also playing at a high level, and with redshirt-junior Jake Fely's return imminent, the linebacker crew will be in good shape for the foreseeable future.
Sophomore Na'Im McGee played what may have been his best game of the season, recording eight tackles. Sophomores Damontae Kazee and Malik Smith each had a fourth quarter interception, thwarting any chance for a Hawaii comeback. Kazee and senior J.J. Whittaker each did a nice job breaking up multiple passes without committing pass interference penalties. The Hawaii passing game was limited to 174 yards, and the Rainbow Warriors were fortunate to score at the end of the first half on a 39-yard "Hail Mary" pass that deflected off of McGee's chest into the arms of a Hawaii receiver in the end zone.
Special Teams: C+
The special teams had their first off day of the season. There was a tripping penalty on the opening kickoff return, a fumbled punt return by redshirt-freshman Billy Vaughn, Jr., and a rare miss on a 31-yard field goal attempt by junior Donny Hageman. He did, however, make field goals of 36 and 23 yards in the game. Senior punter Joel Alesi had an off night by his standards averaging only 33 yards on his four punts, with one landing inside the 20-yard line. The San Diego State kickoff coverage team allowed a 100-yard return to open the second half, but it was called back due to a Hawaii holding penalty.
Stars of the game:
Running back Donnel Pumphrey, safety Na'Im McGee and kicker Donny Hageman earn my offensive, defensive and special teams stars of the game, respectively.