SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH. Rice-Eccles Stadium
Rice-Eccles Stadium was jammed packed this Saturday night and it was bursting through the seems. It was a night where it felt like all of Salt Lake City was in the building. But the over 51,600 announced crowd wasn’t only there to watch their #14 ranked Utah Utes, they wanted to see the San Diego State Aztecs. They wanted to see blood.
Just a season ago, almost 365 days exactly, the Aztecs took down a Utah program that was struggling mightily with their quarterback transfer Charlie Brewer. Enter in the second half, Cam Rising. Although the Aztecs eventually took down the Utes in triple overtime, Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham learned all he needed to know about his quarterback situation that night in Carson, California.
Since that in-game switch of the quarterback position, Utah went on to rattle-off 9 wins in their last 11 games of the 2021 football season, including their first ever PAC-12 Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl game.
This was a different football team that SDSU had to prepare for on Saturday night. The Aztecs were even more different.
Questions on how this Aztecs team would match up against the #14 Utes was the talk all week long leading up to game time. Last season’s tape clearly shown that Cam Rising & the Utah offense was able to move the ball consistently against the Aztecs defense. The challenge was set before the Kurt Mattix led defense to rise to the occasion and slow Rising & the Utes down just enough to give the SDSU offense a chance.
But would the Aztecs be able to show enough offensive improvement against a consistently tough Utah defense?
After all the pregame fireworks and pageantry was over, the Aztecs answered the call and rose to the occasion.
For the first quarter and a half the Aztecs played their best defense all season.
The defensive line was active putting visible pressure on the Ute’s Cam Rising forcing many uncomfortable passes. The linebackers were attacking the ball in both run support and in pass coverage. And the secondary had held their own running stride for stride not allowing any big receptions.
The first four Utah drives were as follows:
If one play could encapsulate the defenses performance up to this point, it would be this. Just after the start of the 2nd quarter Aztecs defensive lineman Garret Fountain, laid perhaps the hit of the game. On a crucial 3rd down and 3, the Junior rushed through the line, and then through the poor blocker on his way to sack the quarterback.
SWITCHING UP THE GAME PLAN
Up to this point, as the commentator noted, Cam Rising was just 4 of 13 passing. The defense was looking like it’s old self again providing the necessary pressure to make this scheme dangerous. The Utes from the start of the game had come out in empty backfield sets as if to say we are going to attack through the air early and often. The Aztecs were having none of that.
But then this is where the game gets tricky.
On the resulting punt by Utah, after this 3rd down sack, the Aztecs received decent field position at the 35 yard line. The previous Aztecs possession ended with QB Braxton Burmeister getting heavy pressure and threw an errant pass. What wasn’t fully given eyes to the referee was Braxton receiving a blow to the face by a Utah lineman.
No penalty flag thrown.
Instead, a hit to Burmeister’s eye that caused vision loss for the rest of the evening and he was unable to return to the game.
Unfortunately for Braxton, injuries have been such a regular factor in his career. Always known to be tough for playing despite them, vision for a quarterback is just something that cannot be played without.
With Burmeister’s history—and that of all recent Aztecs QB history at that—the reality of having the #2 QB receive multiple playing opportunities in this Aztecs offense this season was something to bet big on before the season started.
In came backup QB Will Haskell Jr. the redshirt freshman from Arizona, who had a string of mop-up duty opportunities last season before essentially being shut down as to not burn his redshirt season.
In such an intense game environment, it makes sense that OC Jeff Hecklinski would run the basic two runs and a 3rd down short passing opportunity to help ease the QB into the game. The Aztecs training staff no doubt was still evaluating Burmeister not knowing exactly how long he would be out at this point perhaps.
So the Aztecs ended at 3 & out and on comes the punting unit. Not a great drive, but no damage done.
This is where things get ugly.
The resulting drive by Utah was when they begin to pull it together and Cam Rising begins to take advantage of the Aztecs secondary. First a blown assignment in the defensive backfield allows Cam to find his streaking receiver Kuithe, wide open down the middle of the field and into the end zone.
Utes 7 Aztecs 0
This is where it gets tricky.
On the next SDSU possession, out goes Haskell and in comes true freshman QB Kyle Crum. Another 3 and out, unsuccessful drive and the Aztecs were giving Jack Browning some more Ray Guy Award footage to submit.
The questions all over social media began, where is Will Haskell? Did he also get hurt?
No visible reason as to the sudden switch was made by the TV commentators and there have been no legitimate explanation by the team.
After the punt, Utah once again drove down and scored yet another touchdown through the air.
Utes 14 Aztecs 0
With just under two minutes left in the game, Utah’s special teams wanted no part of Jordan Byrd returning a kick against them for any positive momentum. So when their squib kick bounced into the arms of an Aztec blocker the job was done.
However the Aztecs TE Aaron Greene fumbled when advancing the ball and the Ute’s took over possession. And just like that Utah once again scored to go up three scores to end the half and essentially put the game out of reach for good.
Utes 21 Aztecs 0
Coming out of the second half with the ball, the Aztecs offensive performance on the next seven drives were as follows:
QB Crum would eventually complete the full game 5-16, 53 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT. SDSU failed to earn a first down until the 3rd quarter and not put up points until a really nice 4th quarter TD pass from Crum to put the Aztecs on the board.
Utes 35 Azecs 7
SO MANY QUESTIONS
The lone touchdown made the score not have the true look of utter devastation that took place. Kyle Crum was put in a very precarious situation, one that this Brady Hoke staff has tried repeatedly to avoid, especially when dealing with young quarterbacks.
Could this mean that there is a higher level of confidence in the younger Crum than Haskell?
If so, then why the clear designation of Haskell at the #2 spot all season long?
Additionally, why only one drive opportunity given to Haskell, yet the full game awarded to a true-freshman’s first meaningful snaps?
Will the Aztecs earn their first FBS victory of the season over a gritty Toledo?
Will Braxton Burmeister get the go ahead for the next start? And if another injury takes place, who is now the #2 on the depth chart?
So many unanswered questions have turned this blowout loss into much more than it should be. A full on speculation situation of the program’s coaching conduct is now being called into question by many among the Aztec faithful.
When asked on 760AM’s Coach Hoke Report with Big Rich, TD & Fletch, about the decision to insert Crum as the QB for the remainder of the game after just 3 plays for Haskell, Coach Hoke noted, “Kyle and Will both all last week were sharing the #2 reps, and we were just trying to find who’s gonna be that #2. I think going into it—the preparation—both of them worked real hard. But at the end of the day we thought Kyle would give us the best opportunity.”
Much more to come on this developing story.