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Grading SDSU’s Offensive Units

Prior to the start of the 2020 season we take a peak at each of the Aztecs offensive units.

San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Carson Baker (3) rolls out to pass against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first quarter at SDCCU Stadium. Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In the first week of July we took a look at the Aztecs defense and graded each of their units. This week, we go over the offensive units and examine which are the best and which are the worst. Grades are given on a Standard A, B, C, D and F (except for one position group) academic scale with pluses and minuses added when I believe it is deserved.

Quarterback: Incomplete

By far the biggest question mark on the offense and the entire team is quarterback. Ryan Agnew locked down the position over the past two seasons and played well. With his departure comes the Aztecs quest for their next signal-caller. First up is redshirt sophomore Carson Baker he did see some playing time in 2019. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He has flashed his arm talent but it is just not enough tape to bank on.

The other option is Georgia Tech graduate transfer Lucas Johnson. The redshirt senior will battle for starting reps this offseason and potentially the starting QB for the 2020 season. He is far more athletic than Baker and adds an element to the run game the Aztecs are not used to. He has been limited by injuries since reaching the college level and has not been able to truly showcase his ability because of it.

I can’t give the position group a grade since neither player has any extensive experience under their belt so we will go with an incomplete here.

Running Back: B

Juwan Washington has received 100+ carries over the past three seasons for SDSU. With him now graduating, there will be plenty of attempts to go around next season. Chance Bell, Chase Jasmin and Jordan Byrd are all returning in 2020, each of whom had 70 or more carries a year ago. All of them averaged more than four yards per carry and were great rotation pieces. San Diego State will likely keep their running back by committee approach in next season but there is one RB in particular that Aztecs fans should keep an eye on.

Jordan Byrd is entering his true junior season after a solid sophomore campaign. In 2019, he took his 78 attempts for 355 yards and one score while also adding 16 receptions for 64 yards. Not only did he contribute on the offense, but on special teams as well. Byrd netted 321 yards on 15 kick returns and 95 more on 12 punt returns. With stellar athleticism and versatility, expect Jordan’s role to expand in 2020 and therefore his production.

The running back stable is solid and Byrd is a player to watch, but there is no special lead back so they receive a straightforward ‘B’.

Wide Receiver: B+

The duo of redshirt sophomore Jesse Matthews and junior Kobe Smith are returning to the Aztecs receiving corps in 2020. They account for 106 of the school’s 253 receptions last season, as both proved to be dependable receiving threats. Smith hauled in the most catches on the roster with 58, taking them for 691 yards and four touchdowns. Matthews’ 48 receptions were second and he was able to rack up 633 yards and two touchdowns.

While both receivers put together strong numbers in a run-heavy offense last year, Matthews was superior in the hands department, not dropping a single pass all season. Kobe, on the other hand, dropped quite a few passes. Neither is all that deadly after the catch, but Smith was able to force a handful of missed tackles more than Matthews.

Whoever the next San Diego State QB is, they will be met with two very capable wideouts to target. Considering no other receiver broke the 20 reception mark, they will be the only two I will take into account for the position’s grade. That being said, a ‘B+’ seems fitting as neither athlete is among the best in the nation but both are good enough to hold their own in the Mountain West.

Tight End: A-

Last season, the tight end position was spearheaded by Parker Houston and Daniel Bellinger. Both players hauled in 15+ receptions bu Bellinger was much more effective. On 15 grabs he generated 201 yards and three touchdowns, where as Houston had 18 catches for 154 yards but no scores. Daniel’s play in limited action earned him a place on 2020’s preseason John Mackey Award Watch List. He has immense potential as a receiver in the middle of the field with great hands and a large 6’6” and 250-pound frame.

The other tight end that will see playing time is Nolan Givan, a graduate transfer from Ball State. He saw increasingly less targets over the past three seasons with the Cardinals, concluding in 2019 with just 12 receptions for 92 yards and no touchdowns. He does not offer much in the receiving game but has shown to be an above-average pass and run-blocker.

I really want to give the group an ‘A’ simply due to Bellinger’s potential for his third season but we will play it a bit safer with an ‘A-’.

Offensive Line: B+

Center Keith Ishmael and guard Daishawn Dixon are taking their talents to the NFL, but SDSU will still be bringing back starters William Dunkle (OG), Kyle Spalding (OT), Zachary Thomas (OT) and rotational piece Jacob Capra (OT). Thomas and Dunkle are the most complete lineman in that they can both excel in pass protection and creating holes for their RBs to run through.

Capra is stellar as a pass-blocker but struggles some in the run game as he does not have the power to bully defenders off the ball. Spalding is the exact opposite, he has no issue as a run-blocker but when it comes to protecting his QB he struggles to set his feet and stave off pass-rushers. Center is an open competition currently but with so much talent surrounding them, they should have a pretty easy job next season.

With one hole on the o-line and a couple players who are only exceptional in one aspect of the position, I could not give them more than a ‘B+’ heading into 2020.

Overall: B+

The offense is a lot more formidable than most suspect as the 2020 season grows near. Outside of quarterback and a missing center, there really is no holes or question marks to be seen. Three, basically four, returning starters across the offensive line, a stable of capable running backs, two studs at wide receiver and a promising prospect at tight end, what more could a QB ask for?

Whether it is Carson Baker or Lucas Johnson, they will be stepping into an offensive situation that would make many others jealous. That is not even mentioning they will be handing the ball off at one of the highest rates in the country. In his first season as the Aztecs head coach, Brady Hoke is not only inheriting an elite defense but he has also stumbled upon a rock solid offense that is a competent QB away from being among the best in the Mountain West.