Collectively, the San Diego State football team woke up in a good mood on Sunday. The Aztecs got back to their old ways of last season with a win that was close, gritty, and of course ugly at times. A signature Aztec win. We will take it.
But here is the silver lining to these struggles. Jalen Mayden. Like Cam Newton, Aztec nation was in awe of what #18 brought to the table. We have not seen anything like that—outside of a bowl game—in a very long time.
Last year, Mayden was buried on the QB depth chart and just last week was playing the safety position. Though, due to injuries, earlier in the week he was asked to help the team by taking snaps behind center yet again.
Then, unexpectedly, he was announced the starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against the Rainbow Warriors. Most chuckled when they heard the news that Mayden would get the nod. But could SDSU’s QB play get any worse? No… Because they were ranked 131st out of 131 FBS programs in passing offense entering the game.
Mayden took the reigns and soared. He went 24-of-36 throwing for 322 yards and lead the Aztecs down the field to set them up for a game-winning field goal with less than 10 seconds to play. Heroics like that is why we love college football.
Standing tall in the pocket, clearly reading through his progressions, delivering the ball where it needed to be more times than not—Jalen’s performance was like manna from heaven for this offense. Though he does not possess the gamebreaking speed, his big body was also seemingly able to withstand several punishing runs keeping the defense honest.
The naturally calm demeanor of quarterback play was an assuring aspect of this game. The more the chains continued to advance and the 33,070 Aztecs fans in attendance were able to cry out “First Down”, the more confidence began to grow for #18 as the quarterback.
While it was a terrific performance by Mayden—who with one start is now the team passing leader six games into the season— it was aided by new offensive coordinator, Jeff Horton, and newly hired quarterbacks coach, Ryan Lindley.
Wide Receivers Tyrell Shavers and Jesse Matthews have the right to be giddy. They, like all of Aztec Nation, now have hope. Hope that they will be effectively thrown to thanks to the three news guys on the offensive block.
Shavers recorded 8 receptions for 149 yards, Matthews snagged 6 for 68 yards, and Brionne Penny and Mekhi Shaw each caught 4 passes for 54 and 28 yards. These four receivers all had season-high catches and yardage.
TE Mark Redman and RB Jordan Byrd each caught 1 pass. Even with what many Aztec fans would consider an improbable night in the passing game, Byrd’s 15 yard reception was the only Aztec touchdown of the night.
Notice The Difference
One big change in last Saturday’s run game—there was only one rush on third and long. What a miracle! SDSU’s once great rushing attack however, is struggling to meet the Aztec standard. Jordan Byrd and Kenon Christon shared a combined 19 attempts for 36 total yards. The speedy back’s top strengths are not inside runs—especially with an offensive line still looking for some cohesion. Chance Bell, fresh back from injury, is effective in between the tackles. He had a productive night with 7 carries for 53 yards.
One can only assume OC Horton and OL coach Mike Goff will make adjustments and improve this team’s rushing production in two weeks. Starting right guard Ross Maseuli is sure to be a welcome addition when he returns to the line from injury for more of that inside presence.
SDSU won the time of possession battle, holding the ball for (36:10) and keeping their defense off the field thanks to the lively passing game. Due to the extended drives, this is the first time all season that they’ve controlled the clock. Before that, their highest time of possession was (29:20) against Idaho State.
The defense wasn’t tired like in past games but still struggled against an objectively bad Hawaii offense. Hawaii pushed around the Aztec defensive line and averaged 6.1 yards per carry on 24 rushing attempts.
At the most critical times of the game Hawaii’s running back was able to break free from some poor tackling efforts that resurfaced. This area up the middle is concerning to say the least as much more run-able teams await on the schedule. If the Aztecs are to turn the season around fully and compete for the Mountain West West division crown, the run defense must hold strong.
A large majority of the secondary lead the team in tackles. Cedarious Barfield had a game-high (6) total tackles. Meanwhile, Devaughn Celestine, Patrick McMorris, and Dezjhon Malone each had (5). This signals why Hawaii’s run game was so effective. Linebacker Caden McDonald also had (5).
Jack Browning’s Redemption
Jack Browning went 3-of-4 on field goals, including kicking the game-winner leaving mere seconds on the clock for the opponents from the islands left to work with. Though Browning’s missed field goal was the first and only of the season and came at an utterly nerve-wracking moment in the 4th quarter it still kept him 9-of-10 in total for 2022 so far.
Accomplishing your job 90% of the time is still an A. Jack will continue to be pivotal to the success of the team the rest of the way as the team continues to struggle to score once past midfield. The Ray Guy Award watch list is sure to get extra kudos and consideration for the award considering he does the double duty of place-kicking.
The Aztecs continue to get over the Rainbow against Hawaii as they are now 9-2 against the Warriors since they joined the Mountain West in 2012.
In the end, the Aztecs put together their finest performance of the year against an FBS opponent. Both sides of the ball had it’s bright spots and areas that need work. While no one will claim this weekend’s performance as something to be satisfied about, there’s a different energy concerning the outlook of this team’s future.
Moving forward the bye week comes at no greater time for these young Aztecs. Healing over injury and another week of tutelage from Jeff Horton’s offense with Ryan Lindley are just what’s needed to advance this offense. Jalen Mayden’s development as a quarterback is to be watched as is Braxton Burmeister’s complete recovery.
With several road matches to Reno and Fresno lined up next, a real opportunity to advance is before Brady Hoke and the staff. With this performance things are looking like their finally headed in the right direction.