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The Aztecs Handle Idaho State—But A Tougher Test Awaits in Utah

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SAN DIEGO–Snapdragon Stadium

The Aztecs football program had the second test in their new home stadium this past Saturday. For the team, coaches, stadium staff and University as a whole, it was a second chance to make a big impression.

Coming off the hottest temperature game recorded in Aztecs football history, the football God’s toyed with the threat of Hurricane Kay’s affects on this matchup between SDSU vs Idaho State. After some light winds & rain, the game was off to an announced crowd of 27,865 for the FCS opponent Bengals of Pocotello.

This week the weather was surely much more bearable. The walkways were clean, the smiles were friendly, the play on the field was vastly improved. Early on, all of this could not have been true. The Bengals were off and running on the game’s second play from scrimmage when QB Tyler Vander Waal found WR Xavier Guillory on a simple one move slant pattern. 75 yards later Idaho State had the lead 7-0.

Bengals 7 Aztecs 0

What was supposed to be the re-do game for the SDSU offense, quickly began to look like the to be continued for the Aztecs defense. But not so fast. Just as he’s done in so many games before this, the Aztecs defense would get a boost from their Mountain West preseason special teams player of the year candidate, Jordan Byrd.

The senior RB took an Idaho State punt 66 yards to house and even the score. The electric play gave everyone in the stadium, Aztecs offense & defense included, a big sigh of relief. Additionally, for the 2nd week in a row coach Doug Deakin’s unit scored a special teams touchdown at a very critical spot.

Whenever a team is able to have positive contributions from their special teams the play on offense and defense benefit from it. But to have actual points put up on the board from them, is a whole different level.

Aztecs 7 Bengals 7

RETURN TO FORM?

The burst of momentum helped wipe the deficit clean and defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix’s crew regrouped to make their presence felt. On a 3rd down and 10 for the next Idaho State possession, senior defensive linemen Daniel Okpoko came firing untouched on his edge position on the way to the quarterback.

What was just the 2nd sack for this blitzing Aztecs defense turned out to be a gamewrecker move by Okpoko. His hit would ensure that QB Vander Waal had played his last down in this game. Vander Waal who suffered a season ending shoulder injury last year went down in pain and continued to be clearly suffering as the stadium medical cart took him off the field.

The Aztecs defense showed the biggest resemblance to their dominating 2021 squad with this one play. Knocking out an opponents QB during the game was a trademark last season. An event that almost spelled doom a few times when the backup QB would enter in and immediately have success against SDSU.

But the defense wouldn’t let that be. That lone 1st quarter score was all the Bengals would touch of the end zone on this day. SDSU recorded one more sack by LB Michael Shawcroft (6 Tackles, 1 Sack, 2 TFL’s) but the unit failed to cause a turnover in this game.

Idaho State’s offense attempted to be balanced in the run & pass, but credit to the Aztecs secondary who pulled themselves together and began flying all over the field to wherever the ball was. Junior safety Devaughn Celestine out of Placentia, CA racked up the team leaders with 9 tackles. While Patrick McMorris, CJ Baskerville, and Caden McDonald each rounded up at 8 each.

The Idaho State offense was playing catchup for the first time when Aztecs QB Braxton Burmeister scored on a highlight reel run. Braxton rumbled his way across the goal line on a 47 yard sprint that George Jones, Adam Muema and even Larry Ned would be proud of.

Aztecs 14 Bengals 7

The go ahead score was exactly what the Aztecs needed in this time-frame of the game.

In 2021, twelve FCS teams got the better of FBS opponents and pulled off the upset. In this 2022 season there have been six so far. The most advantageous way to prevent this rare upset is for the FBS team to go up ahead early and often.

The Turning Point

The Aztecs offensive character has long been a physical rushing attack. To ensure they would put this game out of reach quick, the Aztecs third score of the game came on the ground when Jordan Byrd broke through the line and raced for 53 yards to the end zone.

Aztecs 21 Bengals 7

With Aaron Greene at the H-Back and Cade Bennett at Left Guard leading the way on the line, Byrd was able to be patient and read his blockers. Once the hole opened up, his speed took flight down the right sideline. The opportunities for Byrd to get touches should be at an all-time high this season. His game-breaking ability is too rare not to utilize each and every game. And this his final super-senior season, he is at his physical prime at this level.

For the majority of the rest of the game the score was locked in at this 21-7 spot. And despite going up early against Idaho State, the Aztecs weren’t able to create the kind of separation needed to pull the starters and allow the rest of the QB depth chart to get some snaps early.

The large part of this was the early inconsistencies of the passing game. Although Braxton Burmeister’s accuracy began to heat up as the game went on, the stat line doesn’t jump off the screen at 15 for 26 completions and just 108 yards.

In the third quarter the Aztecs moved the ball into the red zone only to kick a 20 yard field goal by kicking specialist Jack Browning.

Aztecs 24 Bengals 7

Check out another of our full in-stadium highlight videos from the game. Each week on our YouTube channel!

The overall concern here is that this Idaho State pass defense gave up nearly 500 yards against Mountain West bottom dweller UNLV just the week prior. While we had Idaho State Journal sports reporter Greg Woods on the Sons of Montezuma Podcast, he clearly detailed that SDSU should attack through the air if they were to beat the Bengals. Coming from the teams beat writer, someone who follows ISU football exclusively, this is quite an underwhelming performance in this area for the Aztecs.

Burmeister did connect with WR Tyrell Shavers on a 4th quarter touchdown for 14 yards. This was the second week in a row the two have linked up for a score and should bode well for the future.

Aztecs 31 Bengals 7

After an Idaho State punt on the ensuing drive, the Aztecs continued on the ground when Jaylon Armstead rumbled for a 61 yard run down to the red zone. From there Cam Davis punched it in for the score.

Aztecs 38 Bengals 7
Final.

QUESTIONS

While the defense shut down the Bengals, the unit is undoubtedly still learning their new roles and abilities. Will the young secondary getting burnt so early in the game use that mistake as a crucial learning experience?

While only 11 missed tackles happened compared to last week’s 36, the pursuit angles did seem to improve all around. They kept ISU to 80 yards rushing on the day, but will the front 6 be able to produce enough of a pass rush at the level Aztecs Nation is used to seeing?

With this week’s roadtrip to Salt Lake City vs Utah, and the 2nd of two PAC-12 opponents looking for revenge, a lot of game planning is going to have to go into effect to prepare for the backup QB that gave the SDSU defense fits in the 2nd half last year.

Will the Aztecs try and play the Utes the same way they did last season? If so, special teams will need to be at the top of their game. At this early point, that has been the one constant overachieving aspect of the team. Jack Browning has been superb in all facets of the kicking & punting game. His decision on a fake punt was masterful and his overall day ranked up there with the best the past few seasons.

Plenty more to come on our former conference mates, Utah. Until then, be sure to stay tuned to our YouTube channel and all our podcast outlets for our previews and film rooms.

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