SAN DIEGO–Snapdragon Stadium
The Aztecs survived a late charge from Toledo Saturday afternoon and took down the Rockets 17-14 before an announced crowd of 27,108 at The Dragon, The Snappy, The Snap or whatever other nicknames that are in the running to stick in due time.
While Aztecs fans may have a plethora of options on what to call the stadium, there’s only one word that we can all currently use to describe the team. Sickos.
Known for being depraved College Football fans that tip-toe the line of bad & ugly, the Sicko’s Committee brand have captured the dregs of the weekly NCAA schedule and turned it into a highlight affair for junkie’s like us.
SDSU football fits the mold of a Sicko’s kind of team to a tee. One player that does not fit the mold of this kind is the gamebreaking play of RB Jordan Byrd. If there has been one constant in the offense it has been the abilities of the super-senior Byrd (115 yards, 2 TDs).
After Toledo threatened to score but missed a 36 yd field goal, it was Byrd who opened up the scoring on this day with two runs back to back to start the 2nd quarter. The first for 37 yards and the second a 43 yard touchdown run. The touchdown run was a big step for the offense to seize a lead and play ahead.
Aztecs 7 Toledo 0
Toledo came into San Diego as 3 point favorites. Both teams were coming off devastating losses to last seasons Rose Bowl contestants—Ohio State for Toledo and Utah for SDSU. Perhaps this game between the Aztecs and Rockets was indeed the Sicko Bowl.
For many SDSU analysts, including ourselves, the concern was wether the Aztecs offense would be able to keep up scoring with the Toledo offense led by leading passer & rusher QB Dequan Finn. That would not be the problem on this day.
On the ensuing possession for Toledo, Finn threw his first interception and senior corner Cedarious Barfield was there to get it.
After the interception the Aztecs were unable to convert the gift into points. After a promising gain by Kenan Christon, the offense quickly punted.
The Aztecs defense has seemingly turned a corner this season. Though last weekend vs Utah appeared to be a tough go for Kurt Mattix’s group, the unit never stopped competing despite being on the field the majority of the contest. Keeping Utah scoreless in the first quarter and most of the second was a confidence booster to a unit that has failed to produce turnovers.
On this day the Aztecs defense attacked Toledo and surprisingly caused four turnovers—three on Finn alone. To put this into perspective, the week prior vs Ohio State, Finn surrendered only one interception.
The next Toledo possession they were once again threatening to score and were in the red zone. That’s when they were turned over for a second time when the handoff exchange between Finn and his RB fell to the ground. Junior transfer LB Cooper McDonald was there to scoop it up.
The younger of the McDonald brothers has shown his physicalness and high intensity play as the season has progressed. #55 had nothing but green ahead of him and a touchdown but a Toledo receiver was able to swiftly trip him up from behind before a defensive touchdown of a lifetime could become reality. Either way, great alertness for the young linebacker and another scoring opportunity crushed for Toledo.
But this was a game of missed opportunities—on both sides.
QB Braxton Burmeister got the start after suffering an eye injury last week that ended his game early. And early in this one, it appeared as though his vision was still impaired from the injury. An erratic performance, Burmeister finished the day 13-24 for 65 yards and one interception.
The Aztecs offense was unable to maintain a drive after a first down and a penalty against the Rockets. SDSU punted the ball away as time expired in the first half and both teams headed to the locker room to regroup after a very clumsy back & forth showing so far.
To start the second half Toledo picked right back up and so did the Aztecs defense. CB Devaughn Celestine has made his name known the last several weeks earning a starting spot and making big plays. This time he picked off an errant pass by Flynn for the third turnover of the ball game.
The Aztecs week leading up to the game was a time of deep scrutiny of the passing game. Much has been made of not taking advantage enough of both talented wideouts Jesse Matthews and Tyrell Shavers. With so many disjointed drives leading to punts all season long, there were going to need to be some chances taken and some 50/50 balls up in the air for SDSU receivers to go get.
After trading 3 and outs, the Aztecs took a chance and with excellent field position took a shot deep. Burmeister launched a deep one down to Tyrell Shavers who had the inside position one on one streaking down the field.
Had the ball been accurately thrown leading Tyrell away from his man defender, the big-bodied WR out of Texas had the inside track to go get it. But instead Burmeister let it fly too far ahead and out away to the right back shoulder of Shavers. Toledo CB Chris McDonald was able to position himself for the overthrown pass and pick it off.
Another opportunity gone and the Aztecs only turnover on the day.
Nothing would come of the interception but back & forth punts. The score languished at a 7-0 score but this game wasn’t without its magic. And that’s what happened when K/P Jack Browning was responsible for the next points scored.
The fans that sat in the bleachers and also watched from underneath the shaded parts, began to voice their disapproval in the conservative run on 3rd down offense. But as we’ve seen multiple times with Brady Hoke’s decision making, the conservative approach often times wins games. Or at least puts the team in the position to win.
Jack Browning delivered some more of that “Hoke magic” when he kicked a 50 yard field goal to give the Aztecs a two score lead. The kick was the longest so far in Snapdragon’s short history and of Jack Browning’s short career.
Aztecs 10 Toledo 0
No doubt Browning’s play up to this point has been an incredibly bright spot in a less than shiny season so far. Handling both kicking and punting duties appears to be the Aztec Way for the special teams. Browning has been named on the Ray Guy Award watch list and just the next day after this game in practice was fully awarded from Coach Hoke and staff a scholarship.
But in this game that’s where the magic took a turn. The defense which was pitching a shutout all game long began to tire as the September heat began to take its toll. Against Utah, the defense could only last so long without getting scoring support. Against Toledo, they were able to last until the fourth quarter. That’s when Finn and the Rockets were able to finally turn their trips to the red zone into points.
Much can be said about Jalen Maydin the Aztecs backup QB last season turned Safety on the defense this season. He came into this game registering only 1 tackle in these first 3 games. Filling in as best as he could in spots for the injured defensive star Patrick McMorris, Maydin collected 8 tackles on the day. That is a very fine day for someone who never played a down of defense in FBS before this year.
On this play however that inexperience showed. As the Aztecs defense stacked the line, Toledo QB Finn found his receiver Jamal Turner after all the defenders washed out of the area. A one on one situation with Turner heading towards the corner of the end zone pylon and one man to bet. Mayden was unable to push him out of bounds despite having the angle. Touchdown Rockets were on the board with under 8 minutes to go. Certainly a play Mayden will learn from.
Aztecs 10 Toledo 7
The next Aztecs possession, you guessed it 3 and out. Toledo receives the ball on the punt. A few positive yardage plays, a defensive unnecessary roughness on SDSU’s CJ Baskerville and a big 36 pitch and catch down to the 1 yard line and the Toledo Rockets were on the verge of going ahead after not having a point going into the 4th quarter.
Finn for all his mistakes had guided Toledo into position against an exhausted Aztecs defense and they took the lead on a 1 yard quarterback draw up the middle.
Aztecs 10 Toledo 14
The crowd went silent. The ones that remained were in shock and not feeling confident as the Aztecs would have just under 3 minutes left to go in the game. No heroics were available for Jack Browning to perform as the team needed a touchdown down by four points. How and where was the offense going to come from a team and quarterback not looking right all game long.
The Aztecs put together perhaps the finest drive of the year when all things considered. Braxton Burmeister was able to put on display the fullness of what Aztec Nation had been hoping to see all season long when he guided the team down with a perfectly blended mix of plays.
Coming out in the shotgun with a single back formation and going no huddle allowed for an uptemp offense. No time to over think, only time to go. First play got off to positive yardage and an 18 yard Burmeister run. Next three straight complete short passes to the most sure handed WR’s Mekhi Shaw for 5 yards, Jesse Matthews for 7, and then Tyrell Shavers for 13. Braxton able to move around the pocket and buy time with his legs looked like a kid picking apart the defense of a saturday morning sandlot game.
Another Burmeister run and a hand off for Kenan Christon had the Aztecs on the move. But two consecutive false starts by the offensive line threatened to end the day on a sour note.
But not this day, it was Burmeister to the rescue by taking the ball and sprinting down to the 1 yard line. In what was a typical show of Braxton’s athleticism, it shouldn’t be lost on the Aztecs Nation that his play was truly exceptional. Speed like that, just doesn’t exist with normal quarterbacks. Braxton is not normal. Though reaching out for the goal line at the end of the run and potentially fumbling the ball, was indeed reckless, however you cannot fault the desire to win it all on that one play. It was definitely a career highlight kind of way to cap off a fantastic drive.
Next play, Jordan Byrd takes it in for the easy go ahead touchdown.
With just 34 seconds remaining on the clock, Toledo needed a field goal range miracle to tie and a touchdown miracle to win. On the first play Finn committed his 4th turnover of the ball game when Caden McDonald dropping back in coverage stepped in front of a middle of the field pass and intercepted any chance the Rockets had left.
AZTECS 17 Toledo 14
The Aztecs offense was able to come through in the clutch—when it mattered most. While the defense put together another outstanding execution of their game plan, the glaring questions remain on this offense.
When trying to run the traditional plays that are called, the team struggles with accuracy at the QB spot, timing between all components and being able to deliver the ball to the playmakers at their most effectiveness.
The offense was a horrendous 1 of 12 on 3rd down efficiency. Often times 3rd down and long yardage situations plagued their efforts and runs up the middle to set up a punt brought cries of boos from the stands. This strategy is not a strategy at all. This is a defense mechanism when the offense finds themselves in a no win situation. It worked last season and appears to have the capability to work again this year—but only against lesser talented teams.
However, once Braxton was pulled into this do or die situation of no huddle, fast paced, spread out action, it appeared that his skillset was able to focus in and get in rhythm.
At this point of the season and against this level of competition, the conclusion for what Burmeister is as a QB should be somewhat settled. It will be interesting to see against a down year for the Mountain West what kind of adjustments the offensive staff and Jeff Hecklinski make to better tailor the game plan towards Burmeister’s effectiveness.
Up next for SDSU is a short week of preparation and travel to the Potato State of Idaho. The Aztecs travel to the blue for what was once considered an early game of the year inside the conference with Boise State.
Mysteriously this season the Broncos find themselves at 2-2 and in very precarious situation internally. The Broncos are coming into this matchup having just been embarrassed on the road losing to UTEP 27-10. After firing their offensive coordinator this past week, there should be some expected wrinkles in the Boise State game plan.
Breaking word this morning was that Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier is now in the transfer portal. This significantly alters how Boise will play moving forward and how SDSU will prepare.
Be sure to stay tuned to our Sons of Montezuma Film Room series with Coach C this week as we take a look at how SDSU can best attack a struggling Boise team.