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Aztecs attempt to get over the Rainbow in Hawaii

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Coming off a devastating loss to now #25 ranked Fresno State, the Aztecs must pull themselves together and travel to “The Rock” to face the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on the Mānoa campus, at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex. While the Aztecs lost their undefeated record and slipped out of the AP Poll, there is still a lot to play for. SDSU debuted at #24 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday and is one of three G5 squads in the initial top-25. Fresno landed at #23. That is a massive milestone for the team and proves that the committee has large respect for the Aztec program. SDSU can also very well make it into the Mountain West Championship game with a slip up from Fresno. However, any chance to #Win22 starts with beating Hawaii.

The SDSU – Hawaii matchup is a late-night kickoff and will be the last college game of Saturday’s slate. It is set for November 6th at 8 PM and will be available to watch via Fox Sports 1.

Stadium Switchup

The Rainbow Warriors are used to playing their home games at Aloha Stadium, which became famous for hosting the NFL’s Pro Bowl for years. Hawaii has not been playing there this season. The stadium has been closed indefinitely due to corrosion in the stands. The extreme rusting of the venue led it to be deemed unsafe to host crowds. Instead, the Warriors are playing on campus at Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex for at least the next three seasons, which has been upgraded and modified to host D1 football.

Playing in an alternate stadium is something the Aztecs know all too well. Hawaii is now playing in what is the smallest stadium in the FBS. However, it should be packed and loud this week. Hawaii has been the most strict state when it comes to covid laws. State officials are finally allowing 100% capacity in both outdoor and indoor sports venues starting Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021.

Just a month ago, there were no fans allowed at games until October 13th, when the state allowed 50% capacity. Now that Hawaii has relaxed its restrictions, the Aztecs will be the first to face the Warriors this season while they operate at 100% capacity, which is a slight inconvenience for SDSU.

Modifications were made before the start of the season

Hawaii

Hawaii enters the matchup with a 4-5 record and will be the lowest conference-mate in the Mountain West standings the Aztecs have faced this year. They have lost to both San Jose State and Nevada. Their victories included an odd home and home series against New Mexico State, beating them twice in the same season, a modest win against Portland State, and a head-scratching triumph over Fresno State. Hawaii beat the Bulldogs 27-24, intercepting four Jake Haener passes, proving that The Big Island is an extremely tough place to travel to and play.

The Bow’s offense is balanced but passes the ball just slightly more than they run. QB Chevan Cordeiro has thrown for 1,706 yards in five of Hawaii’s nine games. The redshirt sophomore sat out three of their last four games, including the Fresno State game, due to suffering a shoulder injury against New Mexico State in late September. He also missed the season opener when Hawaii got blown out against UCLA. In his return against Utah State, Cordeiro completed 23 of 39 throws for 296 yards and three touchdowns with one interception off of a deflected pass. Cordeiro could easily be in the top 10% of college passers if he did not sustain an injury.

Cordeiro’s favorite target is a running back who typically acts as a slot receiver, Calvin Turner Jr, who has 299 rushing yards, 624 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns on the year. He is their Swiss army knife. WR Nick Mardner also has 615 receiving yards and is a long-ball threat. Their two main rushers, Dae Dae Hunter and Dedrick Parson, split reps evenly and have accumulated nearly a combined 1000 yards. 

Hawaii’s offense can put up big numbers but is bogged down by their 117th ranked defense that has allowed an average of 34 points and 461-yards per game.  

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Aztecs

It was a rough outing for the Aztecs in last Saturday’s loss to Fresno State. There were many things that went wrong including questionable coaching calls, a not-so-stellar defensive performance, and terrible ball security. 

Coach Brady Hoke took some heat when he called his second timeout of the first half with a stopped clock when the Aztecs were marching down the field in an attempt to score just before halftime. He used his final timeout when there was already a stopped clock with 7 seconds remaining. Before calling the TO, the Aztecs could have thrown a pass to get better field position and set up a closer field goal for star kicker, Matt Araiza. Instead, Hoke sent out Araiza for a career-long attempt from 55-yards, who eventually hooked the kick far right. Later on in the game, Hoke decided to punt from the 43-yard line when the Aztecs were down 10 with twelve minutes to go in the 4th quarter. 

I saw a comment on an Aztec Football Instagram post that claimed it was time for Hoke to be fired. I laughed. While some calls were questionable, the Aztecs are 7-1 and still have a chance at the Mountain West Championship game. Slow down. 

A big surprise to me was the Aztec’s defensive performance. They allowed Fresno 485-yards of total offense. It was highly unlike them. In fact, that ended a 29-game streak of holding opposing teams to under 450 yards. We expected Jake Haener to throw the football well. But, with as good as a defensive front that the Aztecs have, nobody expected them to let Jordan Mims run for 186-yards and 2 touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how the 12th best statistical defense in college football responds after a rough outing. 

Ok, it’s time to talk about offense. Lucas Johnson went 14 for 31 and threw for 220-yards and 1 touchdown against Fresno. On the surface, that’s not a terrible performance for an Aztec quarterback. However, he threw 2 interceptions (could very well have been 5) and was responsible for 3 turnovers. Ball security is key at any level of play and Johnson did not secure the football. On top of that, the Aztec running backs didn’t even rush for a combined 100-yards. They got shut down. 

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With that being said, I saw a positive in the offense trying to air out the football. The wide receivers showed that they are well capable of making plays if the football is thrown near them. Elijah Kothe had 105-yards receiving with some heroic catches. Shavers also shined and made some great plays. Plus, we all know that Jesse Matthews and Daniel Bellinger can be game-changers. At the moment, passing is working better than the rushing game. Brady Hoke confirmed that Lucas Johnson will be starting against Hawaii. Know that he will be on a short leash. If Johnson does not perform well in the first half, we may see a change at the quarterback position. They need to play a quarterback that puts the team in the best position to win by making accurate throws and protecting the football. If the Aztecs are up big, I hope they play Haskell for more than just one drive to see if he could be “the guy”.

There is no clear answer to the Aztec’s struggles. Hopefully, the Aztecs can get back on track by traveling to Hawaii and taking care of business against the Rainbow Warriors.

Stay tuned tomorrow as our Sons of Montezuma Podcast is set to release this week’s episode reflecting on the Fresno State game and previewing this Saturday’s game on the islands vs Hawaii.

Andrew Serrano — Twitter: @sirandys

Andrew is a San Diego State University graduate and sports enthusiast who enjoys playing below-average golf and trying new craft beers. During his time at SDSU, he was a KPBS Newsroom Assistant and NPR copywriting intern.
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