Aztecs, Toledo Game Summary
On a beautiful and warm afternoon from Snapdragon Stadium, located in America's finest city, the Aztecs and Rockets hooked up in a game that many said was a defensive struggle. Others just said boring. Either way, Sleeping Beauty woke up just in time to deliver a heart-stopping finish as the Aztecs pulled away 17-14 against a very good Toledo Rockets team. An announced sun-drenched crowd of 27,108 witnessed a strong Aztec rushing game offset a passing game on life support. Jordan Byrd, the fleet-footed running back/returner, took the ball in from one yard out with less than a minute to play. Byrd would end up with 115 yards rushing on 16 carries and two scores. The overall sigh of relief could be heard over the roar of the Blue Angels flying nearby as the Aztecs evened their season mark at 2-2 as they prepare for next Fridays conference opener at Boise State.
After Toledo scored to take the lead 14-10 with a bit more than 3 minutes remaining, the Aztec began a drive that had a promise from the start. Starting at their own 33, Braxton Burmeister, (13-24 passing for 65 yards and interception) showed why he really came to San Diego State by taking off for an 18 yard scramble. He then completed a string of 3 straight completions to Mekhi Shaw, Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers and two first downs. This moved the Aztecs all the way to the Rockets 24 yard line. After a Toledo timeout and a Burmeister incompletion, he ran again for 13 yards and a first down at the 11. Kenan Christon ran 5 to the 6 and the Aztecs were knocking on the door. The next two plays reflected much of the ultimate frustration about the Aztecs offense this year as they were flagged on back to back plays for false starts. Instead of 2nd and 5 from the 6, they now faced a 2nd and 15 from the 16. The Aztecs wisely decided to call a time out and regroup their beleaguered unit. Burmeister then showed great field sense with a run to the Toledo 1-yard line. Toledo quickly called timeout to preserve some time. Jordan Byrd scored on the next play and with the PAT by Jack Browning, the Aztecs were back up 17-14, but the game was not over just yet. Toledo returned the kickoff to their 19 with 34 seconds left. Toledo Quarterback Dequan Finn, more about him later, failed to see linebacker Caden McDonald and he threw an ill-advised pass into his waiting arms. Game over. Aztec coach Brady Hoke commented on the last drive, “The offense came alive... and I think overall we just competed.”
Toledo's offense a challenge for the Aztecs
The Rockets came into the game behind phenom quarterback Dequann Finn. The previous week in a 77-21 loss against Ohio State, Finn accounted for 223 yards and 3 scores through the air and rushing. He provides the Rockets with offensive excitement and potential but lacks a supporting cast that would make this Toledo team even better. Finn would overcome a leg injury in the third quarter and finish 21/34 passing for 240 yards, a score but 3 interceptions and 11 carries for 44 yards and a score on the ground. He provided the spark for the Rockets in the last quarter as he led them on a 12-play, 73-yard drive to make the score 10-7, and then after an Aztec punt, an 8-play 93-yard potential backbreaker of a drive. The big play in that series was a 36-yard toss to DeMeer Blankumsee to the Aztec 15. This culminated in a Finn run for a yard and a 14-10 Rockets lead.
Toledo tallied 122 yards on 34 carries with Finn accounting for 44 yards and Jacquez Stuart 54 yards on 14 carries. Finn threw the ball around to six different receivers. Blankumsee caught 8 for 112 yards to lead the Rockets, while Devin Maddox, Peny Boone and Micah Kelly provided most of the remainder of the offensive production. On defense, Safety Maxen Hook lead the Rockets with 10 tackles and a sack and cornerback Chris McDonald provided an interception. Toledo returns to action next Saturday for a conference game against Central Michigan.
Aztecs struggling to find offensive production
Even though the Aztecs managed to put together an efficient drive to win the game, there remain serious questions about how their offense will improve for the remainder of the year. Jordan Byrd was outstanding with 115 yards and a 7.2 yard per carry average. He was solely responsible for the Aztecs first score with 2 carries for 80 yards and the touchdown. His breakaway skills continue to shine. Jaylon Armstead chipped in 30 yards on 3 carries and Kenan Christon contributing 27 more on 5 carries. Chance Bell was out of the game and his status continues to remain uncertain. While there looks to be reasons for optimism for the run game, it is the passing game that brought out some boos among the Snapdragon fans. While 13/24 passing is not that bad, one would expect to have more than 65 yards. the 2.7 yards per average is a ridiculous number. The objective early seemed to be making short and even behind-the-line passes. Burmeister seemed to struggle to find intermediate to long routes and settled for the easy dink and go throws. His one attempt throwing long resulted in his interception. The list of receptions reads like a team truly struggling to throw the ball. Mekhi Shaw 2 receptions for 21 yards, Tight End Mark Redman 4 catches for 19 yards. Tyrell Shavers 1 catch for 13 yards, Jesse Matthews 3 for 11, Cam Davis 1 for 4 and Kenan Christan 2 for -3 yards. A bright spot out of these performances is the inclusion of Tight End Mark Redman. The highly anticipated transfer from Washington previously had only 2 receptions, but finally had some targets. He was mostly used on short crossing routes. It would be effective to try and run him on some play-action seam routes to try and exploit defenses. The Aztecs are near the bottom in average passing yards per game, managing only 73.7 yards. Finally, the Aztecs must find a way to improve their third down conversions as they were a meager 1-for-12. How the Aztecs will prepare for Boise remains to be seen. The Broncos are struggling themselves, having lost to UTEP on Friday and firing their offensive coordinator the next day. With both teams struggling mightily, the over/under for the game might be somewhere near 21 points. Let’s hope the Aztecs find ways to develop some consistency in the passing attack.
Aztec defense continues to play tough
The Aztecs came out early and often dominated the Rockets offense. The 7-0 Aztec lead was the first time that Toledo had been shutout in a half since 2019. Jonah Tavai and Garrett Fountain both got into the action early on with back-to-back sacks. Patrick McMorris was out of this game after missing practice this week and his backup, Kyron White was flagged on a targeting call on Finn and ejected. Things could have gone bad, but the Aztecs proved their resilience and depth by making big plays when they needed to. They forced one fumble and picked off three passes, timely ending Rocket drives. Punter Jack Browning proved to be the man with the busy leg and he had to punt 9 times for a 40.4-yard average. He is not booming kicks like previous kickers, but his consistency in dropping kicks inside opponents’ 20-yard lines, provides a boost for the Aztec's defense. The Aztecs are comfortable playing in tight games and generally know how to seal the deal, having won 27 straight games when leading after three quarters. Defense wins games and that seems to be the Aztec's ulterior motive for the season. Combine with strong special teams play and the Aztecs will probably be in more game than not. Now if they could just find that elusive offensive component. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Hecklinski is open to any and all options to try and solve the rubric cube puzzle that is the San Diego State Aztec offense.