Aztecs struggle all game against a vastly superior UCLA team. Big Bruin plays and a grounded running game, doom SDSU.
Hope was high at Snapdragon Stadium Saturday with 32,017 announced fans in attendance, hoping that their Aztecs would somehow be able to provide a signature win against UCLA. San Diego State had pre-season thoughts of being 3-0 at this stage. After two underwhelming victories, the Aztecs were shown what it was like to play with the big boys. UCLA dominated every aspect of the game, controlling the Aztecs like they were the little players on an old electric football game, 35-10. Next week is on the road against an even better nationally ranked Oregon State squad, which many say may play for the Pac-12 title game. The Beavers have beaten both San Jose State and UC Davis handily. Bruins quarterback Dante Moore showed his five-star status and why he is one of the top new talents. He was 17/27 passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters. The freshman from Detroit Michigan may well be the Bruins star of the future, as he played exceedingly well beyond his 18 years.
The Aztecs started slow, its running game looking for any kind of momentum. At half, they had only accounted for 39 yards on the ground on 20 carries. Those averages would relegate anyone to the minor leagues. Despite the Aztecs holding the edge in time of possession, 34:55 to 25:05, it was the Bruin's quick-strike ability that didn’t require controlling the clock. Midway through the first quarter, Moore threw to a wide-open Josiah Norwood who had slipped behind the safety and he sprinted 81 yards for the opening score. The Aztecs were able to mount a drive, covering 75 yards in 9 plays with a nifty 21-yard catch and run by Mehki Shaw. The Bruins followed up with bruising back Carson Steele going turbo for 13 yards and a score to start the second quarter. The Bruins followed this with Bruin speedster running back T.J. Harden ripping through the ‘Aztecs' defense untouched for a 59-yard score. With the Bruins now up 21-7, it was desperation time for SDSU. Aztecs receiver Josh Nicholson failed to catch a potential touchdown pass and had to settle for a 44-yard Jack Browning field goal. Once again, the Aztec defense was unable to contain the Bruins as they marched downfield and a 20-yard TD pass from Moore to Logan Loya sealed the game as both teams went into halftime with the Bruins up 28-10.
Aztecs lost opportunity
The Aztecs showed the futility of the day, as early in the third period as they recovered a fumble near the Bruins goal-line. Aztec linebacker Zyrus Fiaseu forced the ball out and it was recovered by Trey White. The play was initially signaled a touchdown for the Aztecs but upon replay review, the ball was ruled down on the 1-yard line. A first down run resulted in no gain. Predictably a second down run resulted in the same no gain. The Aztecs were trying to play power football, but the power cord was not plugged in. On third down, what looked like a nifty little screen pass at the goal line went off the hands of running back Martin Blake and into the waiting arms of Bruins linebacker Darius Muasau. Interception in the endzone and a touchback. Twelve plays later the Bruins were in the promise land again on a 6-yard Moore to Carsen Ryan touchdown. 35-10 Bruins. Stick a sacrificial knife in the Aztecs. They were done.
Aztecs Offense with many questions
The Aztecs continued their typical script of starting slow and expecting their defense to carry the show. It wasn’t too bad in the first quarter, but it became quickly apparent that the offense would not arrive on time at the train station. Jaylen Mayden finished up the day 19/37 for 196 yards with one TD pass, but three interceptions. The Aztecs managed only 63 yards rushing on 33 carries. That is a comatose 1.9-yard average. The backs were smothered all day. Mayden was forced to scramble, all for a measly 18 yards. Mekhi Shaw contributed five receptions for 54 yards and Tight End Mark Redman added 32 more on 5 catches. Mayden was pressured all day, receivers struggled to find open spaces and when a catch was made, they were immediately tackled by a smothering Bruin defense. No player has stepped up for the Aztecs. Instead so far this season, they have won close games as a team, and they have lost convincingly as a team. Next week they travel to Corvallis Oregon to take on the Oregon State Beavers. They have shown early season dominance on both offense and defense behind transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, running back Damien Martinez, and arguably the best offensive line on the West Coast. They score and they dominate on defense. Oregon State will have typical Pac-12 roadblocks, but USC is not on their schedule. It is a good possibility that those two teams might meet in the conference championship game.
The Bruins covered the spread of giving 13 points and the under 49 points won with only 45 points scored. I expect the opening line to be somewhere near 20 points in the Beavers favor. The Aztecs will need to improve upon their 3.64 yards per play average against the Bruins. From there it doesn’t get any easier as the Aztecs return home to host Boise State on Friday, September 22. The Broncos are 0-2 heading into this weekends matchup against North Dakota, who is no slouch. Following that is the Air Force Academy who actually does boast a strong running game. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to expect the Aztecs could wind up 2-3 and wondering where the season went. Linebacker New Zealand Williams and WR Phillippe Wesley II made their season premiers with Williams adding three tackles and Wesley with two catches for 25 yards. Realistically, the Aztecs are where they were projected to be, 2-1 after three games. But it’s how they got there that is disappointing. A season can turn on a few plays. The Aztecs let those slip through their hands. Let’s hope they find a way to get charged and control the gameboard from here on out.