When Aztecs starting running back #22 Greg Bell came off the field nursing his left arm, after just the 2nd Aztecs possession, it was not the start head coach Brady Hoke was looking for. Already five FBS teams had been upset by the FCS underdog opponent this season coming in to week 4. Just before a bye and the start of Mountain West Conference play, coach Hoke did not want to be #6.
All the college football world knows that anything can happen on any given Saturday this year. With the Aztecs already down their starting quarterback Jordon Brookshire for yet another week, the offense was going to have to dig deep to their reserves in order to reach their fourth consecutive win.
Your Aztecs did exactly that and more, reaching not only a perfect 4-0, but marking the fourth consecutive week of scoring 28 points or more when they beat the Towson Tigers 48-21 before a much less than 7,619 announced crowd at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
While it didn’t take all that the Aztecs had in order to defeat a Towson team that traveled over 2,500 miles, it definitely required much more effort than what was initially given. The Aztecs started the game lacking energy and perceived preparedness. After competing at an incredibly high emotional level to beat a PAC12 favorite Utah last weekend, this game offered a very peculiar obstacle—Do not play out of your character.
After surrendering a shocking first go ahead touchdown to the Tigers in the first quarter it was evident that the Aztecs defense was a bit out of sorts after playing an exhausting 90 snaps last weekend. Nevertheless, it was the Aztec’s defense that turned it around and provided a spark to get things going for the offense. With just above two minutes left in the opening quarter and the Tigers offense backed up into their own 10 yard line, a fumbled center to quarterback shotgun snap was all the opportunity the Aztecs needed to light the fire.
Moments later it was special teams standout and gut busting running back Kaegun Williams who powered the first of six Aztecs touchdowns on the day. 7-7 tie ball game.
It was another special teams expert on the Aztecs that scored the next touchdown. In just the fourth game of the season Jordan Byrd has put together a senior season anyone in the nation would be proud of. Byrd raced around the left sideline and dove past the Towson defender to stretch out and knock down the pylon for the go ahead 12 yard touchdown. 14-7 Aztecs.
After his initial struggles with accuracy and being flushed out of the pocket, Lucas Johnson was able to collect himself and attack the Towson defenders through the air. This time at the 4 minute mark of the second quarter, Johnson lofted up a pass to the corner endzone for the big physical receiver Elijah Kothe. The 6 foot 4 Senior Kothe out muscled his way to position himself for the touchdown catch to make the score 21-7.
The Aztecs two-minute defense for the second straight week however looked to falter as the Towson offense operated efficiently marching down and scoring a touchdown just before the half.
Aztecs 21 Towson 14
Coming out of the intermission, Towson received the ball first. But the Aztecs quickly shut down their advantage of trying to even the score and instead stretched the lead out once again to two scores by blocking the Tigers punt.
When word broke that SDSU was receiving an SEC transfer wideout, not many expected to see Tyrell Shavers contribute so much in the special teams side. Credit to the young man Shavers, who has injected his skill and ability to make the Aztecs a powerful special teams nightmare for opponents. The #14 Shavers burst through the line and used every bit of his 6’6″ frame to superman block the punt. And of course it was the man who always seems to find himself either blocking or scooping up a punt block return, Trenton Thompson who delivered the touchdown. 28-7 Aztecs.
The game was basically over when once again the lightning quick Jordan Byrd took a hand off, ran through a hole and raced down the sideline for the touchdown. Byrd as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing, completely distanced himself from all opponents for the 55 yard touchdown. 35-14 Aztecs.
But it didn’t stop there. The ferocious Chance Bell displayed exactly the kind of quality that the Aztecs have at the running back position. His 61 yard 3rd down blast ended with his leap falling just short of the end zone–which he quickly punched in for six on the very next play.
Tack on another Araiza field goal and there’s your ball game.
Tecs 48-Tigers 21.
What Does It All Mean?
Witnessing such a flurry of offensive production to start a season has been something to behold for Aztecs nation. A 4-0 start to the season for just the 2nd time in 40 years is quite the achievement. But despite the milestone for our Aztecs, the dissatisfaction with the offense can still be felt on Montezuma Mesa.
The strength of the offense is where it should be–on the offensive line. The Aztecs continued to push their over 200 yard rushing mark to earn its 52-1 streak when doing so. The offense needed to rely on this full stable of backs with starter Greg Bell out the entire game–and they delivered in dominant fashion pushing the rushing yards mark to 281 yards vs Towson.
Quarterback Lucas Johnson finished the day vs Towson 16-25 for 149 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 Interception. Definitely a more balanced stat line for the graduate senior. But did the passing game perform up to the ability that they surely are capable of? Facing a top PAC12 defense like Utah will give your passing game all kinds of fits. This Towson team is not that. So when the day started slow for Johnson, as he threw the only interception of his career midway through the 1st quarter, it was curious to see how his day would unfold.
“We’re gonna practice 3 days and a lot of it early in the week will be on timing. Timing on the quarterback, timing for the wide receivers. I think thats some of our problem was not connecting the way we’d like to connect there” said coach Hoke when asked about this upcoming bye week and how he would address the offensive slow starts.
To Lucas’ credit, he did bounce back to execute the offense and handle the task at hand. His athleticism didn’t produce any highlight reel runs but the nature of this Aztecs offense allowed him to spread the ball out to a mix of receivers and backs with efficiency and a low turnover risk. There were even a few deep shot opportunities that were taken, though not executed whether due to inaccuracy or defensive penalty.
The Sons of Montezuma Film Room will have more of our analysis of Lucas Johnson’s game on our YouTube channel. Make sure to subscribe today!
So Who’s Next?
The anticipation for true freshman quarterback Will Haskell Jr. to get some playing time vs an FCS opponent had been the talk all week. Especially when the coaching staff released the weeks depth chart revealing Haskell’s jump to the 2nd man up at the position. So naturally when playing against a lower FCS division team, the hope was to be able to see the younger guys get some action.
The Aztecs faithful were able to do just that witnessing the first snaps behind center for the young Haskell. With just under 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter the young man made the most of his given opportunity orchestrating the Aztecs down the field with a solid command of the offense. From the first snap it was evident that Haskell had a natural grasp of the RPO game dialed in. The first play from scrimmage Will faked the handoff, kept the ball and raced around the left edge for a positive 7 yards.
Will wasn’t alone in gaining some meaningful snaps. #38 Jaylon Armstead the young physical running back was impressive out of the backfield chewing up positive yards in chunks and keeping the clock running out. The young bull showed great forward motion in punishing defenders who were in his path. Armstead definitely looks to be a problem for whoever tries to square up one on one.
So after a short gain on 2nd down for Jaylon, it was Haskell’s time on third down to once again fake a handoff and race around the edge. This time Haskell looked to be wrapped up by a defender behind the first down marker. But there was no denying Haskell extending his playing time out there. Will twisted his way out of the defenders arms and lunged for the first down while having the presence of mind of staying in bounds.
After some more gashes of positive yards between Haskell and Armstead for first downs, it was the one pass attempt and completion by Haskell that brought about some collective ooh’s and ahh’s. Will let the small number of remaining Aztecs fans hit the 5 south with big smiles on their faces when he connected his first pass to Brionne Penny (4 catches 55 yards).
The quickness and fluidity of Haskell’s pass was something that stood out and even drew some mild praise from the Stadium sports TV commentators. The only question from Aztec fans walking out of the stadium this Saturday afternoon was, why not see Haskell earlier?
With the game sewn up well before this final drive, there were plenty of opportunities to get multiple drives for Haskell and perhaps even transfer QB Jaylen Mayden. But either the combination of Hoke’s conservative approach to holding the lead in this game, or perhaps wanting Lucas Johson to continue to get more snaps running the offense, Brady was not budging. The next week offers a bye for starting quarterback Jordon Brookshire to heal his leg even more but it is still yet to be known whether Lucas will take the starting position once again when Danny Gonzales, Rocky Long and the New Mexico Lobos come to Carson to give the Aztecs all they got.
The lasting impression for this game however, is that the Haskell quarterback and Armstead running back tandem sure showed to be a formative duo in keeping this Towson defense on their heels. Keeping a perspective that this was most likely the 2nd string defense by this late in the game is to be noted. But the future looks promising for the Aztecs offense. Especially knowing that so many quarterback and running back talent is set to graduate and move on to the next chapter of their lives outside of the program.
You can watch our full Sons of Montezuma highlights below from our YouTube channel or directly at our Film Room.