Needing a win to right the proverbial ship, the Aztecs rallied from ten points down in the fourth quarter only to lose in second overtime.
With the first quarter scoreless, the Aztecs (3-6, 1-4 MWC) had the Aggies (4-5, 2-3 MWC) right where they wanted them. With a 7-3 halftime lead, things were going exactly how Coach Hoke was hoping. The defense was dominating and the Aztecs were building momentum. 23,096 fans at Snapdragon were witnessing routine and familiarity in their ‘no-offense, all-defense’ Aztecs. Knowing the offense needed to perform and produce, Offensive Coordinator Ryan Lindley dialed up a pass-first-game strategy. The thought would be to open the field and get the Aggies on their heels which might open up an eventual running game. The first two series featured seven passes and four runs, resulting in a punt and a missed 42 yard field goal attempt by Jake Browning. Coach Hoke must have felt that the Aggies were playing pass as he unleashed Lucky Sutton on three straight run plays of 6,3 and 62 yards, the latter being the longest run of the year. The first quarter would end tied at zero, but the Aztecs were knocking at the door. Three plays later quarterback Jalen Mayden would find tight end Mark Redman for a 9 yard score and the Aztecs were in the lead 7-0. It appeared the Aztecs were going back to the drawing board in an attempt to keep Utah State trying to guess what was coming next. A balanced offense along with the usual stingy defense might just be what was needed to turn the page on the Aztecs season. Shortly after the Aztec score, Utah State would manage a 24 yard field goal from William Testa. This followed a 13 play, 68 yard drive that saw Aggies running back Davon Booth finding his stride with four carries for 38 yards.
Not much offense, but a 7-3 lead at halftime was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick
The Aztecs, desperately needing to find support for Mayden, may finally have found their running back in Lucky Sutton. He accounted for 86 yards on 11 carries including a long of 62 yards. Of course if one were to back out those yards, he would be looking at 24 yards on 10 carries. Not super star numbers, but finally achieving a breakaway run is something. The other Aztec running back stable of Kenan Christon, Jaylon Armstead and Cam Davis could only muster 41 yards on 13 carries. Mayden, generally a constant in the running game, was only credited with one rush for minus-5 yards. instead of leaning on Mayden to carry the show both on the ground and through the air, Coaches Hoke and Lindley relied on him as a passer. His stats were an impressive 25/39 for 265 yards, 3 TD’s and one interception. One might question why there weren’t more designed quarterback runs. Perhaps because that was predictable, based on the years' performance. This game was all about the Aztecs finding an improved way to play, that entailed throwing out some of the old and emphasizing new players stepping up in perhaps different roles. It, unfortunately, included a few breakdowns as Utah State scored on a 50-yard pass from Cooper Legas to Jalen Royals for an Aggie lead. They would keep that lead until Jack Browning tied the game at the end of regulation sending the teams into overtime. The fourth quarter saw Utah State expanding their lead to 17-7 with a 19 yard run from Davon Booth, who would finish the game with 77 yards on 13 carries and the one score. With 7 minutes left in the game, the Aztecs went on a 9 play, 79 yard drive culminating in a Jalen Mayden to Kenan Christon 10 yard score. Christon ran a wheel route and hit paydirt untouched. The drive included Mayden finding Mekhi Shaw twice for 43 yards. The Aztecs and Aggies traded punts and 3 and outs until the Aztecs generated a frantic two minute drill. Mayden found wide receiver Josh Nicholson for 8 yards, and following an incompletion, Christon broke free for 25 yards to the Utah State 22. A completion to Mark Redman for 9 yards and a couple of runs found the Aztecs at the Utah State 6 yard-line facing fourth down. With overtime pending, Jack Browning calmly kicked a 23 yard field goal to tie and take the game to overtime.
In the first OT, Brionne Penny took a 27-yard pass from Mayden and put the Aztecs up 24-17. Utah State responded in kind with an 18-yard pass from Legas to Terrell Vaughn. In the second overtime, Utah State struck with a 20-yard run by Robert Briggs Jr. and had to go for two, successfully completed by a pass to Broc Lane. The Aztecs came out but Mayden found himself under pressure and he threw into traffic and was intercepted by safety Ike Larsen who made an attempt to return the interception but was forced out of bounds before scoring. The game had already been decided with the takeaway and the Aztecs were left to wonder what comes next.
Utah State making case for strong middle of the conference finish
The Aggies, meanwhile, were coming off of a sound defeat two weeks prior against San Jose State. They showed breakaway and big play potential with their talented running backs and wide-outs. In addition to Booth, Robert Briggs Jr added 59 yards and a score. The receiving group was headed by Terrell Vaughn with eight catches for 91 yards and a score and Jalen Royals with 87 yards on eight catches and a score. Of ongoing concern, or not, was the entrance of Cooper Legas replacing starter McCae Hillstead. Legas came in during the third period when Hillstead departed with an injury. His day included a 12/16 passing for 62 yards as well as 14 yards on the ground. Legas provided the spark for the Aggies passing for 11/15 and 167 yards and two scores. The Aggies have two very capable quarterbacks and it remains to be seen how they will be utilized moving forward. The Aggies are now 4-5 on the year, needing two more wins to be bowl-eligible. They face Nevada next week at home, followed by Boise State at home, and finish out the season at New Mexico. Winning two more is certainly a reachable goal for the Aggies, which might lead to the conference having up to seven bowl-eligible teams.
Utah State covered the 2 1⁄2 point spread, winning by 8 points. The over/under was 56 1⁄2 points and 56 total points were scored including overtime, resulting in the under just barely winning. The Aggies were the odds-on favorites to win the game outright and they accomplished that. The Aztecs pulled out a few stops in the game including a fake punt and a fake field goal, neither of which succeeded. The Aztecs incorporated passes to the backs as well as a game-long pass play to Martin Blake. What is to come is anyone's guess, but I would think they will try to establish more passing to set up the run. Expect Mayden to get more RPO’s to allow him to run. That was missing in this game. On defense, the continued presence of Cody Moon with 13 total tackles, led the Aztecs. Zyrus Fiaseu contributed three sacks. So what’s next for San Diego State? They are on the road to Fort Collins to play Colorado State, themselves a 24-15 loser to Wyoming. They will be fighting for bowl consideration as well with two winnable games after San Diego State with Nevada and Hawaii. By running the table, they become bowl-eligible. This is a must-win for the Rams. Following this game, the Aztecs are on the road to San Jose to take on the Spartans. They have come on strong as of late and depending upon their outcome against Fresno State this weekend, could shed some light on the potential bowl ramifications. Regardless, the Spartans will have revenge on their mind as the Aztecs took them to the woodshed last year in San Diego. The Aztecs finish the season on November 25 at home against Fresno State. This game had huge implications at the start of the season, but not so much now. It will be a matter of pride. In all likelihood, the Aztecs will be staying home after this game, pondering the next season and wondering what really happened this year.