Aztecs find offense, but turnovers and miscues lead to a disappointing 34-31 home loss against Boise State.
On an evening when an announced crowd of 23,374 came to see how the Aztecs would match up against Boise State, most were pleasantly surprised that the Aztecs discovered some offense. The Aztecs accounted for 439 yards, 31 points, and 273 yards passing. Quite a few things were going nicely for the Aztecs when they had the ball. Quarterback Jalen Mayden was Superman, throwing for 241 yards on 16/22 passing and 85 yards rushing on 16 carries. The problem was the football was his kryptonite as he fumbled twice, one lost into the endzone negating a score and the other leading to a Boise State score. Those two sequences of events might have altered the score in the Aztecs favor. Alas, the dramatic disappointments denied San Diego State the opportunity to win their conference opener. Mayden was not alone in miscues. Placekicker Jack Browning missed a 40-yard field goal that would have given the Aztecs a lead early in the third period. In addition, the defense, usually stout and unforgiving, yielded several long plays and struggled to find their typical consistent tackling. On quite a few plays, Boise State players broke tackles for big gains. Leading that charge was the Broncos' real superman, Ashton Jeanty. He was virtually unstoppable, as he sliced and diced his way through the Aztec defense on the way to rushing for 205 yards on 23 carries, including a thrilling thrilling 58 yard score inwhich he broke three Aztec tacklers. He also accounted for 49 yards on 4 receptions, scored three times and recovered an onside kick to thwart the Aztecs last offensive threat. Jeanty could easily be the player of the week in the conference and is well on his way to being strongly considered the conference player of the year. The sophomore from Jacksonville, FL struggled with two fumbles last week against North Dakota, but he showed no such symptoms this week.
Aztecs breakout on offense
Fortunately, the Aztecs found some good outcomes in their offensive production. Besides the aforementioned Mayden, freshman wide receiver, Baylin Brooks, making his season debut, was a breakout star with 117 yards and 5 receptions for a 23 yard average and a score. He opened the Aztec scoring, taking a sideline pass from Mayden 34 yards to paydirt. He looks to be the deep threat the Aztecs have been lacking. In addition, fellow wideout Brionne Penny had 5 catches for 97 yards. What had been seriously deficient, finally has an identity. Offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley pulled a trick play out of his bag in the second quarter with a half-back pass from Martin Blake to Brionne Penny for 32 yards. This would lead to an Aztetc touchdown. Jaylon Armstead would contribute two scores as well as his 35 yards on 10 carries. Kebnan Christon would add 44 more yards on the ground on 12 carries. There is not yet an Aztec stepping up to be the lead ground gainer. They cannot rely on Mayden to carry the rushing game week in week out. The receiving conundrum might be on the way to being solved, but the running concern looks to continue.
An exciting game to open conference play
Boise State (2-2, 1-0) came into the game winners of 24 straight conference openers, including 13 in a row in the Mountain West. While the Broncos are not nearly as highly regarded as previous teams, they showed they have the talent and depth to be one of the top teams in the conference. The Aztecs (2-3, 0-1) were 6 1/2 point underdogs so they slightly exceeded expectations. The 65 points easily eclipsed the 46 point over/under. The Aztecs started the game with special teams excitement. Christon Kenan took the opening kickoff several yards deep in the endzone and ran it back 71 yards. Special teams would also contribute on a 36-yard punt return by Dez Malone. The Aztec special teams amassed a total of 165 return yards for the game. Broncos wide-out stellar receiver Eric McAlister caught 5 passes for 90 yards including a 25-yard reception to start the Broncos scoring in the second quarter. The Aztecs showed they came to play with the entertaining first half deadlocked at 17. To start the second half, the Broncos had a 27 yd. field goal from Jonah Dalmas and a Taylen Green 10-yard run. The Aztecs were down 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Armstead would break the drought with his own 10-yard score. The Broncos countered with Jeanty’s 3rd score of the day, a 6 yard run with 2:02 on the clock and a 34-24 lead. Mayden would move the Aztecs 72 yards in 7 plays in only 1:15 and he would finish the scoring on a 10-yard run. The following onside attempt would fail and the Broncos would run out the clock. For the first time this season, the Aztecs failed to get an interception. Boise State was perfect in turnovers while the Aztecs had the two fumbles. The Aztec defense was led by Eric Butler with 8 tackles, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Cooper McDonald added 6 more tackles and Zyrus Fiaseu had 5 and one tackle for loss. Cody Moon only had one tackle on limited action. One interesting stat was the Aztecs had 5 tackles for loss showing they were able to break the line of scrimmage with some regularity.
The Aztecs covered the spread, losing by 3 against a 6 1⁄2 point line. Next Saturday the Aztecs travel to Colorado Springs to take on the Air Force Academy. The Falcons are fresh off a dominant win against San Jose State 45-20, a game in which they rushed for 400 yards. They lead the country in rushing yards. The Falcons controlled the time of possession and dominated the Spartans in all facets of the game except passing. But hey, who needs to pass when you can rush for 400 yards. The Aztecs will have a week to prepare for the triple option. Discipline and assignment integrity are going to be key for the Aztecs during practice week. Wide receiver Mekhi Shaw did not make the trip, suffering from undisclosed injuries. HIs status remains uncertain heading into next week's game. The bright side is the discovery of Baylin Brooks, but Shaw and his leadership is badly needed if the Aztecs are to compete for the league title. As for the conference situation, the path looks to go through either Air Force, Boise State or Fresno State. The Aztecs will play all three of them and will certainly need to win their remaining contests. Finally, an interesting discussion is being had about conference realignment and mergers with the Pac (fill in the blank) The most recent is called relegation. Simply put, the two conferences would merge and have two leagues, the Pac and the MWC. 8 teams would reside in each league. Two teams will be promoted from the MWC and two will be relegated from the PAC. This is a model that the English Premier Soccer League uses. This is the most intriguing concept I’ve seen as it should also keep money and revenues with the conference. Details are still being thrown around like candy at a birthday party, but this scenario bears watching.