Aztecs continue with their offensive struggles while Oregon State shows dominance on both sides of the ball.
Not much was expected as the enigma known as the San Diego State Aztecs football team rolled into Reser Stadium on Saturday. Their hour and a half bus ride gave the team plenty of time to prepare mentally and review assignments in anticipation of their clash against 16th ranked Oregon State. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. The Aztecs played tough, hanging close to the Beavers for the first half.
Despite being 24 1⁄2 point favorites, The Aztecs managed to keep the score respectable, but the game was rarely in doubt. With a sellout crowd of 35,591 being egged on by the sound of the woodchipper, the Beavers showed their team is real. Meanwhile, the script remains similar for the Aztecs this season. Act 1 starts with a slow offense, struggling to find some kind of progress and it ends in Act 5 with more questions than answers, leaving fans scratching their heads, perhaps waiting for the next iteration of Aztec football.
Aztecs looking for answers to their offensive malaise
The Aztecs continued to struggle on offense. This version highlighted a strong inability to protect quarterback Jaylen Mayden. He was constantly being hurried, trying to evade defenders who were in the backfield so often, one could mistake them for running backs. Mayden did not help his case with overthrows and several key dropped passes. Offensive drives, while showing some sparks of excitement, continued to struggle with consistency. Four of their first five drives in the first half crossed into Beaver territory, but only a 52 yard field goal by Jack Browning put points on the board. He would wind up one out of three on the day.
The Beavers opened the scoring on a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter by the winner of the cool name of the day award, Atticus Sappington. He followed this up with a 44-yarder in the second quarter. This was followed by the offensive trick play of the day. The Beavers lined up on the Aztec three-yard line. Beaver quarterback DJ Uiagalelei took the snap and rolled right, pulling the entire defense with him. Left tackle Joshua Gray showed block, then peeled left and took a backward pass at the ten-yard line. Technically this will show as a run for this reason. He made the catch and was escorted by several linemen easily into the endzone. The play was well executed but also showed the lack of discipline on backside support. The defender away from the play needed to stay home, but instead decided to pursue with the rest of the team. The two-point conversion ended with Uiagalelei being tackled just short of the goal line. The score remained 12-0 until Browning hit his 52-yard field goal with 44 seconds left in the first half.
The Aztecs were trailing by two scores most of the day. The third quarter saw Uiagalelei score on a one-yard run. The Aztecs had the ball to begin the 4th quarter and put together their only touchdown drive. 9 plays for 57 yards featured four runs by Jaylon Armstead, two passes by Mayden, and a 15-yard face-mask penalty on Oregon State. With the ball on the 6, Armstead took the handoff and reached paydirt. The 2-point conversion attempt was stopped with tight end Jay Rudolph stopped inches away from the goal line.
Showing some life and only down 19-9, the Aztecs kicked off to the Beavers. A defensive stand could result in an Aztec ball with time still left. Uiagalelei and company had other ideas. Starting on their 25, wide receiver Anthony Gould, split the Aztec safeties and easily hauled in a pass from his quarterback and sprinted untouched into the endzone. It was quite the party, as he was accompanied by three of his own players, even behind the chasing Aztec defenders. The extra point was good and the scoring was done for the day. Mayden finished up the day 20/32 for 256 yards and an interception. Armstead managed 48 yards on 11 carries and Mark Redman and Brionne Penny both accounted for 77 yards each receiving,.
Defense brought a knife to a gunfight but still got a few licks in
The defense showed better than they had against UCLA the previous week. They were able to snag two interceptions and control the time of possession, but Oregon State had too many weapons to effectively shut down for long. Uiagalelei threw for 284 yards on 14/30 passes. That’s a 20-yard average. The Aztecs were unable to sack him on the day. Running back Damien Martinez managed 102 yards on 15 carries. This included a long of 43 yards. That means he accounted for 59 yards on 14 carries. That is a decent day of containment. All day the long passes killed the Aztecs. Anthony Gould burned the secondary for the 75 yard score and Jack Velling, Silas Bolden and Rweha Munyagi Jr. all had long plays over 30 yards. The Aztec defense continues to struggle to control the line of scrimmage and disrupt the backfield. Only three tackles for loss signaled a lack of defensive line penetration. Zyrus Fiaseu led the way with seven tackles followed by Marcus Ratcliffe with six and Devaughn Celestine and Cody Moon rounding out the team leaders with five each. Cedarius Barfield and Noah Tumblin both contributed with interceptions. Summarizing the Aztecs efforts, Coach Hoke was quoted as saying, “We had opportunities to win the game...we didn’t make plays...they had too many big plays... we’ve got to be better.” Never have truer words been spoken.
Aztec Post Script:
The Aztecs covered the spread, losing by 17 against a 24 1⁄2 point line. Next Friday the Aztecs return home to host Boise State. The Broncos secured a 42-18 win against North Dakota. The Bronco's defense held the Fighting Hawks to 183 yards of total offense and only 41 rushing yards. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, it looks like the Broncos appear to be on an upward trajectory. Expect the Broncos to be favored by 10-12. San Diego State will need to figure out what ails them, because once the Bronco offense gains momentum, it could be a long day. Wide receiver Mekhi Shaw did not make the trip, suffering from an undisclosed injury. This is bad news as the Aztecs need his playmaking ability because they lack any depth at the receiver position. Looking ahead the Aztecs will travel to the Air Force Academy who are currently 3-0 and along with Fresno State, look to be the conference front runners. After the Falcons, the Aztecs travel to Hawaii and host Nevada in two winnable games. As a conference, Fresno State is at the top, having defeated two power 5 programs. Wyoming showed strong with a close loss against #3 ranked Texas. Colorado State finally showed up this year, taking heavily favored Colorado to double overtime before falling in Prime Time. If it weren’t for their penalties, they would have won the game. UNLV is the surprise so far having beaten Vanderbilt. It appears that Fresno, Air Force, Boise, UNLV, Wyoming and San Diego State have the early path towards bowl eligibility. The remaining teams have not shown much consistency and disappointment is riding high among the other teams. At least the Aztecs have that going for them in this ongoing drama called college football. If the Aztecs can find solutions, and finish strong, they may be able to say that all’s well that ends well.