San Diego State showing signs of pre-season brilliance in 34-10 thrashing of New Mexico.
Before the season started, the Aztecs were cautiously optimistic about their opportunities in this football season. While they lost a few key players to the NFL, they had adequate replacements to step in. In addition, the transfer of quarterback Braxton Burmiester from West Virginia seemed to put that controversy to rest. There was much talk that the Aztecs would compete for the Mountain West title and a national ranking. The game against Arizona and the resulting 38-20 loss caused a total team reset and a reality check. After three games the Aztecs were 1-2, suffering two losses against Pac-12 teams. Two games later they were 2-3, on the heels of a complete meltdown against Boise State. Action was required. Coach Brady Hoke fired Offensive Coordinator Jeff Hecklinski and assigned Jeff Horton to the position. He also moved safety Jalen Mayden, a former high school quarterback out of Texas, to quarterback. He also hired former Aztec great Ryan Lindley to handle his new quarterback. Never has so much been expected and did Hoke deliver on his decisions. Since that time, the Aztecs are 5-1, the only blemish a last minute breakdown against western division leaders Fresno State. The Aztecs have taken this newly honed success and run wild through their schedule. New Mexico is merely the latest victim in the Aztecs road to bowling.
The Aztecs merely put up consistent numbers. 459 yards in total offense, 282 passing and 177 rushing. They finally got their 100 yard rusher in Kenon Christon. Mayden threw for 280 of those yards on 15/25 passing and 2 TD’s. Mekhi Shaw making his case for his newly acquired scholarship led the Aztecs with 120 receiving yards and 2 scores. The Aztecs held the Lobos to 209 yards of offense and 0-11 on third-down conversions. They also obliterated in the time of possession, 34:38 to 25:22. The Lobos even started freshman quarterback CJ Montes in the hopes to try and get some sort of offensive breakthrough that his predecessors were unable to achieve. He wound up 15/23 for 112 yards and one interception. The only real highlight was running back Nicholas Jones with 68 yards on 8 carries, a respectable 8.5 yards. For New Mexico, currently 2-9 and playing their final game of the season against Colorado State, it’s wait til next year. It’s difficult to sustain success in Albuquerque, but Coach Danny Gonzales is the best person to develop the team over time. Right now, it’s the Aztecs looking in to the MWC championship game featuring two of the teams they lost to, Boise State and Fresno State. One bounce going their way against the Bulldogs and it’s the Aztecs in the finals. What they need to do now is to take care of business against Air Force.
Air Force Falcons (8-3, 4-3 Conf., 2-3 division) vs San Diego State Aztecs (7-4, 5-2 Conf., 3-1 division)
Location: Snap Dragon Stadium, (35,000), San Diego, California
Line: Air Force -1.5 (Provided by DraftKingsSportsbooks) Over/Under 43.5 points. The Falcons are a slight favorite according to the Oddsmakers. The score projection appears to be a 23-21 Falcon win. The Falcons only losses were against their in division foes, Wyoming, Utah State and Boise State and have dominated their western division foes Nevada and UNLV. They are coming off of a 24-12 victory against Colorado State.
Date/Time: Saturday, November 26 at 6:00 PM PST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: San Diego Sports 760
History: This is the 38th meeting between the two teams with the Falcons holding a 19-18 edge. The Aztecs have won nine in a row including last year’s 20-14 game in Colorado Springs. The teams first met in 1980 with a 13-10 Aztec win. San Diego State has averaged 24 points during this stretch.
Aztecs face off against Air Force
The Air Force offense is rooted more in an offensive assault than an aerial bombardment. They lead the country in rushing with nearly 3,700 yards, an average of 340 yards per game. Who needs to throw when you have one of the top rushers in Brad Roberts with over 1,400 yards on the year. The Falcons have won the Commanders-in-Chief’s trophy, defeating both Navy and Army as well as having in-state bragging rights, having beaten both Colorado and Colorado State. With these accomplishments, one would think Air Force would be sitting pretty in the conference race. The three losses to their in-division rivals have left a feather-stuffing taste in their mouth. The Falcons seem to have risen above their early-season letdowns and are on a meteoric rise, similar to the Aztec's late-season climb. In addition to their rushing prowess, they obviously own the game clock averaging 36 minutes of ball control. Roberts has all the accolades, but it is managed by senior quarterback Haazig Daniels. He adds an additional 584 yards and 7 TD’s in a leadership role. When not handing off the ball to Roberts, Daniels is feeding it to either John Lee Eldridge III (648 yards, 4 TD’s) or any other of more than a dozen backs. Obviously, the rush is the key for the Aztec defense, but one must not fall into a false sense of security. On occasion, Daniels will throw and has added 719 yards through the air with six touchdowns. The Falcons offense is potent and will require a disciplined approach to manage their triple-option. The Aztecs cannot sit back on their laurels though. They will be hard pressed on offense to maintain consistency as the Falcons hold teams to 14 points a game and less than 265 yards of total offense.
The emergence of Mekhi Shaw has led Coach Hoke to put him on a much deserved scholarship. This was well deserved and expected and during a team meeting today Shaw received it. The Aztec offense has been clicking behind Mayden’s leadership. They will need to try to flip the ball control in their favor and keep the Falcons off balance with a deft selection of rush and pass. Shaw, Jesse Matthews have both stepped up as go to receivers and have a tendency to get open when Mayden has dropped back to throw. Can Christon keep the momentum after a breakout rushing game? On defense, anytime a team faces Air Force, they need to play a different brand of ball. Discipline and assignments are at a premium in order to contain the Air Force ground game. It starts with the dive, then the quarterback option. Defenders will need to execute based on their keys and try not to over-pursue. A key to watch is if the outside backer or corner can contain the pitchman and force him back inside. The Aztecs have proven formidable against the run this year and will be pushed one more time to achieve. An Aztec victory would make them 8-4 and looking strong for a bowl selection. Several opportunities exist including the Potato Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl, the Arizona Bowl. There might be a few other bowl tie ins, which will emerge as the season finishes. During the pre-season, I had predicted an Aztec 32-28 victory. I think it will be a little less scoring, putting the Aztecs at 28-24. I’ve just seen the Aztecs make the right decisions and execute well with key players stepping up. I expect Mayden to have his consistent game again. Look for Tyrell Shavers to find a long touchdown pass as he did against San Jose State. A resurgent Aztec team looks to finish strong, giving the fans on Mesa several bright spots heading into the offseason.