The Aztecs opened up Mountain West Conference play with a convincing win over UNLV at Qualcomm Stadium. The 34-17 victory featured a whole lot of Donnel Pumphrey and a very effective San Diego State offense, and an overall solid performance by the defense.
Senior quarterback Quinn Kaehler didn't post huge numbers, but perhaps more importantly is what he did do. He managed a great game and was capable of leading the team down the field fairly easily. Equally important, he didn't throw any interceptions. Kaehler proved once again that he is a very smart quarterback, knowing when to get rid of the ball under pressure, and how to take advantage of what the defense gives him. Kaehler was 16/27 for 209 yards and showed great poise throughout. Kaehler landed awkwardly on his shoulder late in the game resulting in a right shoulder sprain that will keep him out of Fresno State game.
Running Backs: A
This was the Pumphrey show. The Rebels had no answer all night for Pumphrey. He had some stellar spin moves to avoid would-be tacklers and showed off his great speed running around and away from defenders. Twenty-two carries,167 yards, four touchdowns. And all of those TDs came in the first half. That should scare most MWC defenses. His first carry of the game resulted in a 71 yard score in which he outran the UNLV secondary. Chase Price had 13 carries for only 35 yards, but those carries were really important as it gave a wrinkle to the running game. Price is a power runner with moves, so the more touches he gets, the more some big plays will unfold for him. And just for fun, the Aztecs ran Lloyd Mills on a reverse for the third time this young season. All three have been successful, with this one counting for 36 yards.
Wide Receivers: B+
Aztecs fan can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the passing game will exist this season even without the injured senior standout Ezell Ruffin. Kaehler spread the ball out to eight different receivers Saturday night. Most impressive was junior Larry Clark, who caught four passes for 71 yards including a dramatic one-handed grab down the right sideline. Freshman Mikah Holder, who hails from Oceanside High School (a source of much SDSU talent lately) caught three balls for 33 yards. Junior Jemond Hazely caught three balls for 27 yards and is quickly becoming one of Kaehler's favorite targets.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line turned in a very impressive performance, overpowering the Rebels all day. The holes they created were more than adequate for Pumphrey to perform his magic. The protection for Kaehler was consistent allowing him to return to form. The O-line regained the respect it deserves. It was the best performance since the game-one blowout of Northern Arizona.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line played well and was led by Sophomore Alex Barrett, who is having a nice season with his aggressive style of play. Barrett recorded two sacks on the day and helped his D-line teammates limit UNLV's primary rushers to 72 yards on the day. UNLV quarterback Blake Decker added 68 rushing yards.
The San Diego State linebackers performed well behind a strong effort from senior Josh Gavert, sophomore Calvin Munson and senior Cody Galea. Gavert led the defense with 11 tackles on the day, while Munson recorded his second key interception of the young season.
The safeties and corners continue to mature and struggled to perform well on some long balls. This allowed Decker to throw for 346 yards and almost 20 years per completion. Pass interference calls continue to plague the secondary but did not factor into this game's outcome. Redshirt freshman Billy Vaughn Jr. had a key interception on a Decker pass in the end zone that would have given the Rebels the lead midway through the second quarter.
Special Teams: A
Punter Joel Alesi, kicker Seamus McMorrow and the coverage teams did a great job limiting the Rebels' return game and pinning them deep for much of the day. Placekicker Donny Hageman was 2-2 on field goal attempts.
Stars of the game:
Pumhrey, Gavert, and Alesi earn my offensive, defensive, and special teams stars of the day respectively. Pumphrey and Alesi were also named MWC Players of the Week along with Air Force defensive back Weston Steelhammer.