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San Diego State Football: Inability to close out games was the Aztecs' undoing this season

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SDSU had several chances this season to pad its record with quality wins, but it was unable to do so because it couldn't finish games strongly.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It was a freezing cold November night in Boise, Idaho, but the San Diego State Aztecs football team was red hot.

Up 20-0 on the road in the first half against the team that would go on to win the Mountain West Conference and Vizio Fiesta Bowl.

A win would have given them a viable shot at playing for the Mountain West Conference Championship and a bowl game with more promise than the Poinsettia Bowl.

As we all know, though, that's not how this season played out.

The Aztecs squandered that 20-point lead, and went on to lose the game, a huge breaking point in the team's season.

That was how most of the games this year played out for Rocky Long and the gang, though.

One half you could be watching a team capable of beating a ranked team on the road (North Carolina), and the next half you could be watching a team that can't hold on to a 20-point lead.

Blame Long, blame Bob Toledo or blame Quinn Kaehler, but either way the Aztecs had no closer this year, and that was their undoing.

Tough to imagine a team with the third-leading rusher in the country not having a closer, but yes it was possible, and that's where Toledo is at fault.

Play-calling in the red zone, and in general, was horrendous this season, and it will up to Long to find a competent replacement for the retired Toledo.

However, Toledo thought he was dealing with a quarterback that had an touchdown to interception ratio of 19:9 from last year, not the 9:12 ratio that Kaehler put up this year.

Not to mention a defense that had been a highlight of the team all year allowed a season-high 38 points against Boise, and also had suspect performances against Nevada and Oregon State.

Sometimes that's just the way a season goes, and that seemed to be the way it rolled for the Aztecs this year.

That was even shown in the team's bowl game against Navy, where junior kicker Donny Hageman missed wide right on a potential game-winning 34-yard field goal, even though he had already made three field goals in the game, and been reliable all season.

There is hope on the horizon for SDSU, though.

On the offensive side of the ball, the team is returning four of five on its offensive line, along with running backs Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price and a plethora of talented young receivers.

The Aztecs will need to find a new answer at quarterback, but that may be a blessing in disguise.

As for the defense, a young secondary which vastly improved throughout the season will all be returning, including cornerback J.J. Whittaker.

Linebacker Calvin Munson and defensive tackle Alex Barrett will also be coming back to help anchor the front six for the Aztecs.

While this season was marred by an inability to close out games and poor play calling, the Aztecs have a chance to right their wrongs this coming season while their core nucleus of talent remains in tact.