After San Jose State (6-3, 4-2 MW) finally got off to a fast offensive start and a 14-0 lead over San Diego State (6-4, 4-2 MW) in the first quarter, the Spartans went to sleep in a 43-27 loss.
It’s the most points the Spartans have given up this year.
Spartan QB Chevan Cordiero led two opening drives with a touchdown throw and a rushing touchdown.
In between that early scoring, freshman Spartan cornerback Michael Dansby intercepted the big dual-threat Aztec QB Jalen Mayden that led to Cordiero’s rushing score.
And for the first eight minutes of the game, the Spartans quieted 28,406 at Snapdragon Stadium.
That is until the Spartan special teams gave up a 95-yard kickoff return to Aztec Jordan Byrd with five minutes left in the first quarter.
And then what happened to the Spartans?
Following the momentum-killing Aztec kickoff return, San Diego State started to play more efficiently & completely on both sides of the ball.
With the Spartans unable to consistently pressure Mayden, the Aztecs attacked with 24 unanswered points and a 24-14 lead at the half.
And 38 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter until Cordiero found tight-end Skylar Loving-Black for a 32-yard touchdown reception.
Mayden’s darting, accurate throws found seven receivers throughout the game. Mayden was 17 of 28 for 268 yards, 3 passing TDs, one INT and 61 yards rushing in only his fifth start at quarterback.
“He’s a good player. Obviously, he was a safety before and a real good athlete,” said Spartan linebacker Kyle Harmon. “He did a good job putting the ball into space, but I thought our matchups upfront were still in our favor. Hats off to them. They deserved to win tonight.”
Meanwhile, after the fast start, San Jose was stuck in neutral in the first-half with four straight three-and-outs and four punts that looked close to getting blocked each time.
After the Aztecs slow start, they ended with 425 yards of total offense.
“I have to give that guy a ton of credit,” said SJS head coach Brent Brennan on Mayden. “He threw the ball so much more accurately than previous games. That’s happened to us a couple times this year when we’ve played a quarterback with only a few games under his belt and then he settles in.”
“This is by far the best he played,” Brennan continued on Mayden. “We knew he was athletic with a strong arm, but I was impressed by his accuracy and timing.”
Why the Spartans could not regain the momentum
The Spartans flailed in the first-half with only 122 yards of total offense until Cordiero tried to will SJS back. Cordiero still managed respectable numbers going 19 of 33 for 195 yards, three TD tosses and one INT, but it was clear the Spartans could not flip the momentum as in previous games.
“It’s not hard if you just make a play,” said an animated Brennan on the struggle. “It’s not hard if you just get a stop. It’s not hard if you make a catch or pop a run, but to San Diego State’s credit, they were good. They made the plays.”
Coming out of the half, whatever the Spartans adjustments were, they were to no avail.
The Aztecs started the half right away with a nine play, 74-yard drive and another Mayden TD dart; a 20-yard pass to Aztec Jesse Matthews and a 31-14 lead that kept San Diego State even more firmly in control.
The Aztecs looked to have made successful adjustments. On the Spartans first drive of the second-half, San Diego sacked Cordiero for the second time and completely stopped any Spartan rushing game (28 yards total for the game with 21 yards in the first two scoring drives). SJS also had zero second-half yards on the ground.
“During half-time, we tried to follow what we’ve done like in other games,” said Cordiero. “And having the mindset of coming out strong and finishing the game.”
Cordiero added, “Give props to San Diego State. They brought it today.”
Indicative throughout the year and with no run game, Cordiero was sacked five times and consistently flushed out of the pocket into a speedy defense that could track Cordiero well.
In all, it led to the Aztec offense with almost twice the time of possession (39:30) to the Spartans (20:30).
The Spartans continued to stagger with one more Cordiero-led score that found Isaiah Hamilton for a 21-yard reception in the end zone. Hamilton’s first TD of the year.
“I’m fortunate to be here,” said Harmon overall on the game and taking in his final season. “It’s kind of been a slow year for me, but it doesn’t really matter, because we’re still playing good football and I’m still happy with the success we’ve had this year.”
Next week in cold Logan, Utah, the Spartans face another equally tough road game, where nothing gets any easier in the quest to best position themselves for a bowl game.