The San Diego State Aztecs (5-4, 3-2 Mountain West) won their homecoming game by a score of 35-21 against a well prepared Idaho Vandals team at Qualcomm Stadium. Idaho gave the Aztecs all they could handle as the two teams played even for first 30 minutes. In the second half the Aztecs made some adjustments and eventually pulled away from the feisty Vandals. The non-conference win was an important one for San Diego State as it inched closer to a potential bowl bid with just three games remaining, all of which will be tough battles: at Boise State, home against Air Force and home against San Jose State.
Senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler had one of his best games this season completing 14 of 22 passes for 249 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Kaehler showed pretty good pocket patience in spite of being sacked four times. The timing and crispness of his throws were better than they've been in many games. Only a couple of times did it appear as if he forced passes too quickly. This game should serve as a great confidence builder for Kaehler heading into the final three games of the season.
Running Backs: A
Sophomore Donnel Pumphrey had yet another strong performance for the Aztecs carrying the ball 26 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. His elusiveness continues to be a nightmare for defensives. Junior Chase Price only carried the ball six times but he made them all count. He totaled 33 yards and a scored on a gritty 5-yard touchdown run. Both Pumphrey and Price averaged an impressive 5.5 yards per carry. The running back duo continues to show a toughness and a desire to win that has become the heart of the offense this season.
Wide Receivers: B+
The return of senior standout Ezell Ruffin has provided a big lift to the receiving game. Ruffin draws a lot of attention and stretches the defense just enough to create opportunities for other targets. For his part, Ruffin caught four balls for 86 yards and two touchdowns. He has an extraordinary ability to stretch and reach back for balls, and to adjust his route to compensate for balls thrown off target. Eric Judge also had a big game, catching four passes for 107 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown. Judge and Kaehler hooked up on a short inside slant route and then Judge simply outran the defense.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line did a nice job overall but at times allowed a free pass to the quarterback. Senior Terry Poole and junior Darrell Greene continued to anchor a line that played well by creating gaps for the running game and protecting Kaehler. The Idaho defensive front four was aggressive, but the more physical Aztec line held their ground and won the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game.
Defensive Line: B-
Sophomore defensive lineman Alex Barrett continues to make big plays this season, but perhaps none bigger than his fourth-quarter forced fumble in the red zone on a key third-down play that shifted the momentum back to the Aztecs. The defensive line struggled at times, especially in the first half, while applying pressure on the elusive Vandal quarterback, Chad Chalich. Chalich who ended up with a lot of time in the pocket, often nearly 10 seconds to determine whether to pass or run.
Senior Josh Gavert led the defense with a sack and a fumble recovery to go along with his nine tackles. Senior Cody Galea also had a big day with six tackles, including a few behind the line of scrimmage, one being a sack. Junior Jake Fely's aggressive play almost got him thrown out of the game with a "targeting the quarterback" call, but the referees ultimately got it right by correctly reversing the call. Fely's style of play is exactly what the defense needs. His pursuit of the ball carrier helps make him one of the premier linebackers in the conference. Fely did suffer a pinched nerve in the game but coach Rocky Long said he should be fine for the next game at Boise State.
Sophomore Na'Im McGee was involved in nine tackles and the secondary as a whole played just okay. The challenge was defending a passing game when the quarterback has so much time in the pocket. On those plays, the defensive backs struggled with deciding whether to attack the line or drop out of zone coverage into man coverage.
Special Teams: C+
The special teams had a very average day. There were no huge returns or long field goals made. The coverage team did a good job all day. Junior Donny Hageman converterd all five extra points but barely missed a 36-yard field goal attempt wide right. Kickoff specialist Seamus McMorrow had a nice day with six long kickoffs including two touchbacks. None of his kicks were returned for long yardage.
Stars of the game:
Wide receiver Ezell Ruffin, linebacker Josh Gavert and kickoff specialist Seamus McMorrow earn my offensive, defensive and special teams stars of the game, respectively.