Aztecs dominate rebuilding Wolfpack 23-7. Mayden continues to be an efficient offensive leader
The Aztecs came to Reno with the goal in mind to play their brand of ball control offense and leave with a victory. On a chilly October evening they left with a win and a new found realization that they may actually have a balanced offense to compliment their dominating defense. With a perfectly scaled offensive performance of 161 rushing yards and 156 passing yards, the Aztecs were able to control the narrative and the Wolfpack in a fairly blue collar type of game, 23-7. On the second play from scrimmage the Aztecs would let the Wolfpack know this was not going to be their day. Nevada running back Cross Patton took a handoff and was hit by Michael Shawcroft and fumbled which was picked up by Patrick McMorris who sprinted 30 yards down the sidelines for an Aztec score. 7-0 less than a minute into the game. One always hopes to be able to score first, but this was better than any possible script. This helped to set the tone for the rest of the evening as the defensive continued their stalwart efforts. With the defensive score, the offense was set to play without unrealistic expectations. The Aztecs were content to run the clock and settle for two Jack Browning field goals in the first half and take a 13-7 halftime lead.
All Jalen Mayden needed to do was what coach Hoke had been hoping for all season, manage the game, execute good decisions and avoid turnovers. In that regard, Mayden is an apt pupil who seems to know his limits. He doesn’t do what will get him in trouble and he takes care of the ball. He makes good decisions and it was amazing to see him run when he made the decision to escape the pocket in the third quarter. He dropped back, scanned the field, checked down his receivers and when he saw no one open, took off up the middle then to the sidelines and outraced all of the Wolfpack defenders on the way to a backbreaking 32 yard touchdown rumble. He runs with the speed and ease of a gazelle yet with the power of a lion. One knew as soon as he took off he was not going to be denied. His run basically sealed the game making the score 23-7. This ended the scoring for the Aztecs having bookended three Jack Browning field goals around the two touchdowns. The decision to move Jeff Horton to offensive coordinator and hiring Ryan Lindsay to coach quarterbacks has put the Aztecs in a position they could have only dreamed about three weeks ago.
Mayden manages offense with precision and short passing game
Coach Horton knows what his man can and cannot do. He doesn’t ask him to do something that is high risk. The coordinator position is based on risk and reward. The Aztecs choose to play the low risk and steady rewards game. They can do this knowing the defense has their backs. They being said, Horton has Mayden playing the low risk game. Make good handoffs, be sure of your passing reads and throw short. There were a few long balls, but they were strategically executed to keep Nevada defenders from cheating too close. Play pitch and catch and let the receivers get yards after catch. The long pass of the day was to Brionne Penny for 22 yards, but Mayden was content to settle for an average of 13 yards per completion. He wound up a sub .500 passing at 12/25 and was also sacked twice. The Wokfpack did their best to try and cover Aztec defenders while making sure to thwart their running game. Their leading tacklers were both defensive backs. Bentlee Sanders with nine tackles and Tyriq Mack with 8. Sanders came into the game with 5 interceptions but Mayden would remain turnover free. Nevada meanwhile, switched out ineffective starter Nate Cox who would go 2/8 passing for 11 yards with Shane Illingworth in the second quarter. He would be much more effective, throwing for 181 yards on 21/33 passing and 1 score and 1 interception. His touchdown pass to Spencer Curtis would go for 20 yards with 48 seconds left in the half. This would stop the Aztec string of three games holding their opponents scoreless in the first half. On the Wolfpack first drive of the second half, Illingworth would be picked off by Justus Tavai giving the Aztecs good field position at the 25. Jack. Browning would convert a field goal giving the Aztecs a 16-7 lead. Hard working Wolfpack back Toa Taua finished with 43 yards on 12 carries.
With Mayden entrenched as the quarterback, what do the Aztecs have on the horizon?
With the continued development by Jalen Mayden, does this help to solidify the Aztecs and their quarterback situation? The next up is Braxton Burmeister followed by Liu Aumavae. Either of these players is one play away from stepping up. The glaring issue is that the Aztecs lack depth at this position. Kyle Crum is out for in all likelihood the remainder of the year. Aumavae has taken very few snaps and has not completed a pass in seven attempts. Crum is 5/17 passing. DJ Ralph is relegated to the practice squad. Coach Horton is wise in his play selection, making sure that he does not lose his best commodity in Mayden. The question must be asked is if this is enough to win out the rest of the season. the answer is that it has to. Burmeister has shown that he cannot be the number-one quarterback alone. Mayden's health and continued growth and development are key to the remainder of the Aztec season and their eventual success. It appears most of the Aztecs are healthy for the second half push. The coaches will probably be courting a few quarterbacks for next season and beyond.
Michael Shawcroft was back from injury and his presence was felt early with his hit causing a fumble which was returned for a touchdown. He would finish with 7 tackles in the game. It also appears he may have found a barber as his previous massive mane seemed not to show from his helmet. This writer is a bit envious! Chance Bell continues his play time but just quite doesn’t seem to be back 100 % as he carried 12 times for 55 yards including a long of 24 yards. He seems a bit tentative and doesn’t appear to have the quick cuts and power running seen previously. The Wolfpack seemed to key on Jordan Bell as he was held to 30 yards on 10 carries. Braxton Burmeister showed his athletic prowess as well as his unselfishness as he made a 19 yard reception on a crossing route in the first quarter. He looks to be a natural and is a bit safer while playing at slot receiver. The long play of the day was Maydens 32 yard scamper for a score. Coach Horton is focusing on the short and mid range passing to help Mayden and his game control. So far so good as the only turnover was a Jesse Matthews fumble in the fourth quarter. No interceptions, 50 yards rushing, one touchdown, 156 yards passing seem mediocre, but it is a marked improvement from the first five games of the season. The Aztecs look to have gelled at the right time as they head to Fresno State for a showdown with the Bulldogs on Saturday in Fresno. The winner will have the track for first place in an ever-evolving race to the top in the West Division. If the remaining teams win out, there could be a mammoth game on November 12 against San Jose State at Snapdragon which might be the deciding game. The Aztecs look to have answered many of their questions and while the games are not pretty and they won’t win any beauty contests, they are effective and that’s what counts.