Last Friday’s National TV contest between the Aztecs and Broncos, bore striking similarities of both programs—yet both so vastly different. Boise State entered last week after an embarrassing, first ever loss to UTEP. The Aztecs coming in off a tough grind it out victory over Toledo, was as close of a loss as one may get.
Marking near the bottom of all FBS ranked passing offenses, Head Coach Brady Hoke had attempted to make public votes of confidence for his OC Jeff Hecklinski. When asked about his coordinators performance, Hoke stated, “He’s done a good job,” and that “there was more to it, not just Jeff.”
Boise State were one of the few programs with an even worse offensive ranking coming into the match. However their week was full of rushed preparation after cutting ties with Offensive Coordinator Tim Plough. Apparently being crushed by the Miners truly meant hitting rock bottom.
Head Coach Andy Avalos made the announcement to promote team analyst and former head coach of Boise State Dirk Koetter to reorganize the offense.
The Broncos and the Aztecs came into Friday both hungry to get things right. But it was only the Broncos who were truly starving for it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Previous four year starter Hank Bachmeier decided to enter the transfer portal allowing himself two years of eligibility remaining. But for Boise, they felt they had more than enough to hunt with Redshirt freshman QB Taylen Green. The big statured QB out of Texas would make his first start ever.
The game kicked off to Boise State first and although one first completion went the Broncos way, a few plays later the Aztecs defense looked as though they were going to establish how this night was going to go for the young QB Taylen Green.
SDSU linebacker Cooper McDonald was able to get a hand up on the line of scrimmage, deflect the pass and defender Dezjhon Malone picked it off to give SDSU prime field position for the Aztecs offense.
The Aztecs offense however continuing to graze about finding no success for scores, even in short fields. Two field goals by SDSU Kicker Jack Browning kept the Boise fanbase hopeful that they weren’t out of the game yet.
The only touchdown of the half was an outstanding Aztec special teams play by Max Garrison and Tyrell Shavers both taking advantage of a Boise goof. After the punter bobbled the hike, Garrison demolishing the sitting duck and Shavers delivering the pigskin to the end-zone.
The Breaking Point
Heading into the locker room at halftime up 13-0, there were no early celebrations for the Aztecs. But coming out receiving the ball to start the 2nd half would be crucial to put up points and create some distance and change the games dynamic.
After spending a whole half time to regroup, make adjustments and get on the same page, the Aztecs came out and delivered a play that aptly summarised this seasons offense to a tee. Burmeister on the first play from scrimmage rolled out right of the pocket, located his three targets in-front of him and rather than run for open yardage, threw up a dubious duck somewhere between his targets. The ball landed straight into the reaching arms of a Bronco defender.
Though the game would proceed for the rest of the final two quarters, this play was the beginning of the end for the Aztecs this particular evening. Burmeister was taken out of the game by a vicious helmet to helmet play. The hit by San Diego’s own JT Skinner was an obvious targeting call that the officiating crew failed to get right and shamed Collegiate officiating in the process of doing so.
The game also marked the ending of Offensive Coordinator Jeff Hecklinski’s time on the Montezuma Mesa. After Burmeister’s exit, a second quarterback was next to go down when true freshman Kyle Crum in just his 3rd appearance this season, was taken down in what was diagnosed as a broken collarbone. Essentially his season is over.
Wrong place–wrong time, right?
Enter in third on the depth chart and also a true freshman, Quarterback Liu Aumauvae. Although the mechanics and poise in the pocket looked sharp, the same could not be said of the unfolding of the diagrammed plays and all the components of the offense. The game was over.
Aztecs 13 Boise State 35
Ultimately there was one interception on one play and six 3 and outs—leaving the most successful drive of the 2nd half being 6 plays that eventually led to a punt. The Aztecs finished the day 2 of 16 passing completions for 33 yards, 1 for 14 on 3rd down conversions and 10 penalties for 55 yards.
The Aztecs, just as Boise State had a week prior, reached their breaking point. Word began to surface by Saturday afternoon that a change had been made bringing Jeff Horton, associate head coach and Running Backs coach, back into the offensive coordinator spot he held for five seasons and two Mountain West Championships while a part of previous head coach Rocky Long’s staff.
So what does Jeff Horton as OC mean for the Aztecs just five games into the season?
The Aztecs finished this week as the worst passing offense in all FBS, just behind the horrible UMass football program. Jeff Horton brings with him a depth of knowledge that spans from the Power 5 of the FBS to the NFL. As a quarterbacks coach for the Detroit Lions in 2009, one of the brightest names you will see Horton working with was Matthew Stafford in his rookie season.
A year later in 2010 as the University of Minnesota’s Offensive Coordinator, Jeff—In the only other time he’s been thrust into a new position midway through a season—took over head coaching duties as the interim. The Golden Gophers saw marked improvement in their offense and beat a couple of bowl bound teams in the process of that interim status.
“If it was one thing I think it’d be easy to fix,” Coach Horton told 760AM’s Jon & Jim show Tuesday afternoon. “For whatever reason we obviously haven’t been consistent. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been comfortable at all dropping back and throwing.”
“Is it the quarterbacks fault all the time—no. Is it the receivers fault all the time—no. Is it the O-Lines fault all the time—no. What we’ve really tried to do is let’s take a good look at it, let’s streamline down, get some things the kids feel good about. Limit that menu and try to get good at these 5 or 6 things in each situation and try to really work on those during the week in practice and give them a good understanding of what they might see.”
Having this re-evaluation of and a simplification process makes you wonder if the narrative of a certain quarterback that used to be on the team “not getting it” or “not grasping the offense” were accurate at all.
One of the big misses of this offensive leadership was the handling of Will Haskell Jr. With seemingly every quarterback this season not truly able to “get it”, one can only wonder had Haskell Jr. received this fresh minded approach to the offense how further ahead this Aztecs offense could’ve been by now. Maybe we will see a renewed Jalen Mayden if given the opportunity.
But I digress. As of today, there has been no effort on SDSU’s staff to reach out to Haskell Jr. to bring him back into the fold of the Aztecs quarterback room, though he is still enrolled on campus. Let’s not hold our breath waiting for that to happen Aztec Nation.
With Horton SDSU has a proven winner at the play-calling position. A leader who is dedicated to not only Brady Hoke, but to the University, the community and more importantly the Aztec Warriors on the team that put on the red & black.
Having gone through the ups and downs during his time as an associate head coach here now for almost a decade, Horton has seen the big picture. He knows what Aztecs football is and what it isn’t.
“Obviously between the passing game and third down, we’re okay running the ball but I still think we can get better running the ball” Coach Horton acknowledged.
Behind Horton’s offense during Rocky Long’s tenure, he was known for being ultra run-heavy and ultra conservative. When you have tailbacks like Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny, that is the genius move to make. But when you are consistently running Quarterback Power with a player known to have a checkered history in terms of staying healthy—not so much.
Now we may see that same conservative ground & pound offense given the circumstances of this rushed challenge to beat a fledgling Hawai’i opponent this Saturday, but how much of that massive dedication to the run can also be contributed to Rocky Long’s desire for control? Will Brady Hoke similarly demand a run heavy style of Coach Horton in this go-round? Only time will tell.
One thing’s for sure in this new Jeff Horton led offense, he will once again go the smart route when it comes to dealing with quarterback and running back touches.
“We can take a few things off of him (Braxton Burmeister). Not as many designed quarterback runs and be a little more specific when we want to do those things. We got to be smart with it and limit some of those things we’re asking him to do. I think if we can get the passing game going better … we can get the running backs going some and hopefully that will make us better.”
With Jeff Horton calling the shots, we already are.
Watch the live-stream version of this week’s Sons of Montezuma Podcast below. The guys recap the SDSU vs Boise State game and address all the latest developments of the staff additions and subtractions.