After a long and anticipated off-season, your San Diego State Aztecs opened the season with a win, beating the New Mexico State Aggies 28-10. The “Sons of Montezuma” were slow in getting things going in front of the sparse crowd that made the trek up to the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. And when they did show a spark, that spark was snuffed out often by penalties.
This was a tough pill to swallow since New Mexico State didn’t play a down of FBS caliber football in over a year and a half due to COVID restrictions. It wasn’t until last weekends 30-3 drubbing at the hand of regional foe UTEP that New Mexico State’s 43 players that are new to the team this season got some action together.
But when the Aztecs got going, they didn’t stop.
Senior RB Greg Bell was his normal shifty self, racking up 161 yards on 21 carries (averaging 7.6 yards per carry) and scoring a touchdown. Senior QB Jordon Brookshire put up 115 yards on 7/20 passing and had a 10-yard touchdown run. Senior WR Kobe Smith added two receptions for 63 yards. Senior RB Jordan Byrd added 48 yards rushing on 3 carries, including a shifty 43 yard touchdown in the second half.
In the first half, New Mexico State gave the Aztec defense more than it could handle, putting up 10 unanswered points. The secondary struggled to defend the Aggie passing attack, allowing 214 passing yards. The offense attempted to even the score, but went into halftime with a goose egg.
Special teams lead by outstanding Kicker/Punter Matt ‘El Jefe’ Araiza, continually pinned the Aggies deep inside their 20 on his booming punts, but the defense wasn’t able to stop them from marching down the field and putting a touchdown and a field goal on the board, respectively.
The Aztecs accumulated 139 yards of offense and Bell seemed to be the only bright spot, accounting for most of those yards, in spite of a fumble lost in the red zone.
The second half Aztecs looked like a completely different team. They came out guns blazing in the third quarter. The offense scored on the first drive when Bell took the ball 23 yards to the end zone for the first Aztec touchdown of the game and of SDSU’s new season.
Wait…let’s see that again!
Then two plays later, the defense gets a takeaway on deflected pass interception. Senior stand out defensive lineman Keyshawn Banks wisely read the quarterbacks eyes looking for running back out of the backfield. He made his move between the passing lane and swiped up at the ball causing it to sail into the air.
That’s when Junior linebacker and Helix High’s own Michael Shawcroft showed tremendous instinct jumping in front of an Aggie receiver and snatched it out of the air. No doubt that tipped pass could’ve easily still been caught for a positive gain had Shawcroft not been on alert.
But immediately the Aztecs would give the ball right back when Brookshire threw into triple coverage, resulting in an Aggie interception. The Aztecs defense was able to stop the Aggies offense however, forcing a punt. But on the return, the punt was dropped and the Aggies recovered.
Both teams traded drives that resulted in punts. But at the 5 minute mark in the third quarter with SDSU still trialing 10-7, Senior CB Tayler Hawkins came up with a huge interception along the sideline. Much has been in question of Hawkins ability to be a cover corner and this play no doubt was one to showcase his skills. Running stride for stride with the Aggie receiver in man coverage. The ball was placed perfectly, but so was Taylor.
On the ensuing drive, Brookshire threw a strike to BJ Busby who made a big catch for 29 yards. Bell added a few excellent runs and Brookshire capped off the drive on a quarterback keeper out pacing the defense around the edge and dove for the pylon to take the lead, going up 14-10.
On New Mexico State’s next drive, defense put heavy pressure on the Aggie QB Jonah Johnson, forcing a less-than-ideal throw. Senior LB Andrew Aleki was there to take it out of the air and run it in for his first pick 6 of the season. This extended the Aztec lead to 11, going up 21-10.
Jordan Byrd ran 43 yards on a jet sweep to score the Aztecs’ 4th and final touchdown of the game. The defense played stout the entire second half, shutting the Aggie offense completely down.
There is no such thing as a bad win in football, but there is a lot to pay attention to as the season wears on:
• Is the win enough to keep Jordon Brookshire as the starting QB or will Coach Brady Hoke make a change?
• The offense and defense must find their rhythm and establish themselves much sooner versus the next two Pac12 opponents
• For as much of a game changer as Byrd is for the team, the special teams has to reduce/eliminate mistakes on punt and kickoff returns
• Will Billy Dunkle be able to harness and channel his bully mentality in a way that leads the O-Line, but without costly penalties
All of this remains to be seen for a team that has a lot of expectations and respect to be earned. Which may prove to be quite the challenge in perhaps the toughest Western Division lineup since the formation of the league’s two division setup. Stay tuned, a Pac12 showdown in the desert is next as the Aztecs travel to Tucson to take on the University of Arizona Wildcats.