The San Diego State Aztecs (2-3, 1-1 Mountain West) suffered a difficult loss Friday night at the hands of the Fresno State Bulldogs. The two preseason picks to be at the top of the MWC West Division may still end up as the two top teams, but the Bulldogs took a big step towards being number one as they held off a depleted Aztec squad for a 24-13 victory.
True freshman Nick Bawden took the reigns for his first collegiate start replacing the injured senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler. Bawden struggled for most of the day, completing just nine of 24 passes for 84 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Bawden's inexperience showed with some of his decision making highlighted by his passing into double coverage and overthrowing his receivers on long balls. In his defense, his receivers had several drops, including two on the opening series that would have been great confidence builders. We did witness, however, the strength of Bawden's arm and his ability to run, both dimensions lacking previously. The experience he gained in this game will be critical as he will again lead the team on the road at New Mexico Friday night.
Running Backs: B
Hopes are always high for the running game, so rushing for 186 yards is now a minimum expectation. Donnel Pumphrey carried 24 times for 94 yards, but was not able to break away for more than 14 yards on any one carry as the Bulldog defense keyed on him effectively. Chase Price had seven carries for only 16 yards, a subpar performance by any standard. The highlight in the running game was 5'10", 235-pound junior fullback Dakota Gordon who ran for 42 bulldozing yards on only six carries. He also blocked well.
Wide Receivers: C
Aztec receivers had a tough day, partially due to Bawden's inexperience, but also due to some dropped balls. Junior Larry Clark, led the team with three catches for 30 yards. Fullback Adam Roberts caught a couple of passes including an early fourth quarter 5-yard touchdown pass from Bawden that brought the Aztecs within four points.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line did a pretty good job protecting Bawden, who was sacked twice on the day. The holes for the running game were not there consistently as they have been in prior games.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line played well and was led by junior USC transfer Christian Heyward and senior Dontrell Onuoha, each recording a sack. The challenge for the D-line was their inability to close gaps and apply pressure on the Bulldogs on third down. Fresno State was 9-18 on third-down attempts and 1-1 on fourth-down attempts.
The San Diego State linebackers performed well behind a strong effort from sophomore Calvin Munson, senior Josh Gavert and senior Cody Galea. Munson is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most aggressive linebackers on the roster. He had 12 tackles in the game and three tackles for loss, including a sack.
The safeties and corners have struggled overall this season in spite of their aggressiveness and high number of tackles. This game proved no different. Senior standout J.J. Whitaker is a great example of the challenges of the secondary. He can make an amazing defensive play and follow it with an impressive interception, but then commit a pass interference penalty on a key third down that ultimately sets up an opponent's score. This is a talented, often emotional group of highly athletic players. Good or bad, that's probably how they'll be remembered.
Special Teams: A
Once again the special teams proved to be the most consistent part of the Aztecs' overall play. Junior placekicker Donny Hageman was perfect on his two field goal attempts. Senior punter Joel Alesi averaged over 43 yards on his five punts with two inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Seamus McMorrow and the coverage team again did a great job on kickoffs, especially McMorrow; he recorded two in the game. Perhaps the most disturbing play of the game occurred when sophomore Daniel Brunskill tipped a punt but was ruled for running into the punter, even after the official review. That was a potential game-changing blown call.
Stars of the game:
Fullback Dakota Gordon, linebacker Calvin Munson, and punter Joel Alesi earn my offensive, defensive and special teams stars of the day, respectively.