There will never be another Aztecs football season quite like 2021.
Not like the one this 99th Aztecs football team has had to endure. With each and every passing week, the reality of that statement weighed heavier and heavier as the stakes grew higher and higher. The road to winning 22 would require a team to climb atop the Mountain West Conference filled with a quality of veteran teams not seen before in quite some time.
The Aztecs in particular were predicted by many journalists to finish middle of the pack in the West division behind Nevada, Fresno State, and the incumbent Conference Champion San Jose State. The reality of this team having to accomplish this feat would require them to play every game on the road, in some capacity.
Having no real home field advantage to draw upon was only one of the challenges faced by this team. Certainly the only challenge outside of their immediate control. As for the ones that they could actually deal with was an uncertain performance at the quarterback position. Coming in to the fall it was a crapshoot as to who would lead the offense behind center. And despite the hierarchy being set by opening kickoff against New Mexico State, all season long the team struggled to settle in with consistency at the QB position.
But despite the preseason naysayers and revolving door at quarterback, this Aztecs team fought on and on to victory—11 times in fact—tying the all-time season high mark in SDSU football history. So after a dominant victory over Boise State last week with Jordon Brookshire behind center and a respectable showing of fans in the stands on an early morning holiday weekend, it appeared as though the Aztecs had completely broken through on their magical run to win22.
For every championship team in any sport, there must be a certain degree of magic, luck, or good fortunes that help guide the way towards the mountain top of success—no matter how great or dominant that championship team is.
Time and time again this year, the Aztecs were the beneficiary of the Aztecs football Gods with their blessings raining down in the form of missed overtime field goals, overturned scoring catches, and missed open receivers by the opposition. That streak of magical blessings came to an end this past Saturday afternoon when the Aztecs fell to the eventual champion Utah State 46 – 13.
Two challenges that lurked in the shadows reared their ugly heads against our Aztecs in the final game of the two year stint in Los Angeles’ Dignity Health Sports Park: A quirky, unique offensive opponent and COVID. Neither of which opponents are to be taken lightly. Both require maximum preparation for.
So when Kirk Kenney of the UT began to release stories detailing of the outbreak that hit the SDSU locker room, all of Aztecs nation feared the worst, that the game may be forfeited due to contact tracing issues. The game would go on, but with 20 players unavailable for game time and certainly more having to be isolated away from the team during the week for fear of positive test results coming in.
Games are won and lost in the workweek. Who can grasp the game plan, practice it, remember it, and implement it come game time usually takes the W. But when you lose such a sizeable amount of players during the work week, not being prepared is an absolute given.
This is all noted to show the importance of what was going on with this football team. But in no way whatsoever should it lessen the importance of preparing specifically for Utah State and the quality that they bring. We here at Sons of Montezuma took the Aggies very seriously. So much that we dedicated two of our Film Room study videos to what SDSU would need to do on both sides of the ball.
Each week we sit down with our resident Coach C to analyze our opponent and ourselves. What wasn’t mentioned in either our videos or podcast was the fact that Utah State head coach Anderson received his first D1 opportunity by a coach named Rocky Long. Operating behind the scenes for a team running the 3-3-5 was a great way for an offensive minded coach to learn first hand what makes that defensive scheme so successful. And in return coach Anderson has done his best to devise an offensive scheme similarly unique in formations and tempo, to counter defenses in this manner.
Just as much time as it takes for an opposing offense to prepare for the likes of the 3-3-5, the same could be said for the offense that Utah State runs. Not that either are impossible to get the better of, but without that crucial time of preparation, you are truly digging yourself a ditch to crawl out of.
After the opening kickoff took place, both teams traded three 3 and outs a piece. The Aztecs failed on a 4th and short run attempt and the Aggies missed a field goal. It wasn’t until the unthinkable happened, that the unpreparedness of the work week manifested itself on the actual playing field and the Aztecs started digging that ditch. Early in the 2nd quarter with the game scoreless at 0-0, Utah State got a clean block off of the Punt God Matt Araiza.
With only half a field needed to score, some points finally got on the board between the two when QB Bonner found Derek Wright in the end zone.
Aztecs 0 Aggies 7
The Aztecs responded with a decent drive but once again failed on 4th down and a long field goal attempt of 53 yards. The Aggies capitalized on a shorter than usual field and drove to score this time on the ground by RB Tyler Jr.
Aztecs 0 Aggies 13
The Aztecs got on the board towards the end of the half with an Araiza field goal that snuck just inside the uprights. Going into the half, SDSU down 14-3 found themselves in familiar territory as last week. Except in this game, there were no spark plug performances waiting on the sidelines to come in.
Aztecs 3 Aggies 14
QB Jordon Brookshire’s accuracy wasn’t to the level of last weekend (11 for 23 and 117). And when he was placing passes with precision to his receivers, often they were not rewarded with catches. Jesse Matthews continued to be the constant playmaker hauling in another stellar performance with 8 catches for 82 yards and an eventual 4th quarter touchdown.
With the running attack grounded once again and no other pass catchers able to be relied upon, it was clear that both facets of the offense were affected by the void of having nearly the entire tight-end position group unavailable.
One could go on and on about the multiple personal penalties called against the Aztecs. Or perhaps the multiple no calls against Utah State. The game was clearly officiated in a much different manner than the previous crew allowed for the SDSU vs Boise State match. Every borderline physical hit against USU QB Bonner the SDSU defense was flagged for. Flags that aided several USU drives bringing their offense closer to the goal line.
Meanwhile late hits out of bounds, undersized cornerbacks mugging Aztecs receivers in routes and for one USU player an unsportsmanlike throwing the football on the ground several yards away from an official after a play, were completely ignored by the crew on the field.
With all the events and mishaps, the confidence was visually growing in favor of USU and the energy of being overwhelmed began to grow on the Aztecs backs. One of the major keys to the USU offense identified by our Coach C, is their use of double-moves between the QB and receivers. The Aztecs got caught at the start of the 3rd quarter when they got burned for the 3rd USU touchdown of the game, a 58 yard strike wide open down the middle of the field.
Aztecs 3 Aggies 21
The game was essentially over after two more special teams blunders. A second blocked punt off of our own blocker resulted in a safety and a fumbled punt by Jordan Byrd set up the Aggies for an easy score.
A brief moment of hope was when standout defender Patrick McMorris, as he’s done all season long, intercepted a pass on cue into Aggie territory. It was a fitting play that emphasized his season as McMorris has become quite the turnover machine.
The ensuing drive did lead to another FG. But the rout was on with no turning back and really no reason to give any more of an account of the score by score plays.
Aztecs 13 Aggies 46
In the End…
Like any game, one can review the stats and analyze the big plays. Looking back at all of the penalties, dropped interceptions, turnovers, and special teams miscues, anyone who has spent their time watching this 2021 Aztecs football team can plainly see that this was not the same team that trotted out on the field a week ago. There was more going on behind the scenes that made itself visible this December afternoon and it wasn’t all in due to the Aggies dominating on the field. Sure, that is exactly the outcome of it all at the end of the day…but there will always be a sense of unfinished business to this 2021 Mountain West Championship in minds of Aztecs Nation. So many what if scenario’s that allow our Sons of Montezuma to have equal time and ability to prepare and be available.
These are the games that make sport and in particular college football, great. The cold hard truth that you have to take the pounding on the chin today, but make sure the next generation that put on the Red & Black still feels what this is all about.
While the words of ‘win22’ will once again be next years battlecry, the Mountain West trophy will also evade the Fowler athletics center glass cases yet again. As for now, the bitter taste of an opportunity lost will no doubt linger in the mouths of the program and its supporters, until the next opportunity gets here in a few short weeks that is.
So what’s next?
Say hello to the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl—NOT to be confused with the DXL Frisco Bowl. But this go round will be a much better matchup. Ranked as the highest G5 bowl matchup this bowl season, the Aztecs still have the ability to earn their 12 victory this season. They will need to play against an upstart UT San Antonio Roadrunner football program. The Roadrunners are in only their 11th season of football and have participated in Conference USA since 2013. They have quickly put together a formidable football program and are this years Conference Champions defeating Western Kentucky last weekend 49-41.
For SDSU this is not the bowl game that was wanted. For UTSA this is perhaps the biggest game of their programs existence. It will be fascinating to watch all unfold as we count down to the December 21 kickoff. The game will be played in Frisco, Texas—not exactly around the corner from San Antonio, but will certainly be heavy in Roadrunner Orange and Blue.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for our preview podcasts, articles and film room at the Sons of Montezuma YouTube channel as we get closer to gameday in Texas.