San Diego State went from a well oiled offensive machine last week to an old rusty bucket as they had no answers or solutions against a swarming Air Force defense.
The start of the season featured the Aztecs struggling to find an offense, a quarterback and a running game. The end of the season finds the Aztecs in a similar quandary, but now add offensive line woes. Before an announced crowd of 25,223 at Snapdragon Stadium, the Aztecs showed they still have major steps to take in finding an offensive solution. First, acknowledge Air Force, a 13-3 winner over San Diego State for the first time in ten years. The Falcons, behind a 187 yard rushing effort from Brad Roberts, dominated in most offensive categories. Except passing. Air Force doesn’t pass. They don’t need to. This game they were 1-3 for 14 yards, but where they really excel is in ground domination. They had 271 rushing yards, 66 rushing attempts and controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes compared to 20 for the Aztecs. The Aztecs were held to 188 passing yards and -1 rushing. Yes, that stat is correct. The leading rusher was Jordan Byrd with thirteen yards on six carries. No one else could even make a dent. Disappointingly, Kenan Christon only had two carries for -14. Chance Bell didn’t even play. Quarterback Jalen Mayden managed those 188 yards on 16/31 passing and two interceptions. He was under a constant rush and barely had time to set his feet before he had a Falcon defender in his face. When you can’t run, the defense can pin their ears back and put their focus on pressuring the quarterback. The Falcons managed two sacks and 7 tackles for loss. Mayden was forced to throw short to intermediate passes to his receivers, who as a unit, averaged 11.8 yards per catch. Brionne Penny led receivers with 3 catches for 63 yards. Tyrell Shavers added 3 more catches for 41 yards and Mark Redman contributed two for 34 yards. Jesse Matthews had four catches, but managed only 29 yards. To give both teams props, their defenses shone brightly. The game was all field goals outside of the first offensive series when Brad Roberts scored on a two-yard run after going off for 75 yards on 5 carries. It looked to be an offensive fireworks to start but quickly turned into a game of chess and the Sicilian defense. Both teams struggled to achieve success with any of their drives. Air Force had five punts, while the Aztecs had six. Air Force missed two field goals and the Aztecs missed one and the Aztecs had three turnovers, resulting in drive-killing status. The fourth quarter saw two interceptions by Mayen in the last two minutes, effectively killing off any opportunity for a comeback.
The first half saw a defensive field position, settling for small gains while trying to develop momentum. The Aztecs finished with three first downs and 76 total yards while the Falcons ended with 184 total yards. It also saw linebacker Zyrus Fiaseu being ejected for targeting and Cooper McDonald leaving with an injury. Fiaseu will be available for the bowl game while the status of McDonald is unclear. The second half saw a fumble on the snap which would lead to a Falcons field goal. The ensuing kickoff saw Jordan Byrd get things going with a 37 yard return and a personal foul penalty, giving the Aztecs starting position at the Falcons 40. Six plays would net them 31 yards and they would have to settle for their only points on the night, with a Jack Browning 26 yard field goal. Three punts and two picks later the Aztecs would suffer their fifth loss of the season, ending the campaign 7-5 and 5-3 in conference. They own second place by virtue of their victory over San Jose State. Michael Shawcroft led the way again on defense with 12 tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. Jonah Tavai contributed 12 more tackles and a TFL.
Both Dallas Branch and Jalen Mayden have said they will be returning for next season. There are several other key players making decisions soon as well. The Aztecs look to lose some defensive players to graduation, but also return several strategically important players. The highlight of the season was the emergence of Mayden, leading the team from the quarterback position. He wound up the season 122/197 with 7 interceptions and 10 TD’s for 1721 yards. This was in seven games and ranked 8th in the conference with a 147.2 efficiency rating. Other individual areas of accomplishment were Tyrell Shavers with 581 receiving yards and 3 TD’s, good for 12th. Jordan Byrd was 21st in the conference in rushing with 389 yards. On defense, Michael Shawcroft was 14th in tackles with 77 and 7th in tackles for loss with 12. Jonah Tavai was 3rd in sacks with 9. As a team, the offense was 7th in scoring with a 21.3 average. They were 8th in total offense with 321.8 yards per game, 5th in rushing with an 150.8 ypg avg. and 9th in passing with 170.9 ypg. These are glaring issues that should be the primary focus in the off-season. The defense side showed much stronger in the conference. They were 3rd in scoring with a 20.2 average, and sacks with 29. They were 4th in yards given up per game with 335.2, rushing yards at 128.8, and interceptions with 12. They were also 7th against the pass, giving up 206.6 yards per game. I would give Jalen Mayden my offensive player of the year and Michael Shawcroft the defensive player of the year.
There remains one more game left to play. The Aztecs are bowl eligible and there are several that will be given consideration. The LA Bowl is out of as that goes to the conference champion. The remaining are Hawaii, Potato, Arizona and New Mexico Bowls. The conference will have seven bowl-eligible teams so there will be a couple of other bowls that will be factored. These include the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, the Frisco Bowl, and the Armed Forces Bowl. The bowl-eligible teams in the conference are Boise State, Fresno State, Air Force, Wyoming, Utah State, San Jose State and San Diego State. The winner between Boise and Fresno goes to the LA Bowl. The Aztecs played in the Frisco Bowl last year against UTSA and came away with a win. Bowls try not to get the same team in back-to-back years. Where they play will eventually be up to the bowl committees, but one would have to agree that having seven bowl-eligible teams is good for the conference. Last year the Mountain West went 5-1 with two canceled games. There may be some more fun left. Be sure to follow MWC Connection for weekly updates as to bowls and where the conference teams are playing.