“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The famous phrase by boxing legend Mike Tyson sums up this battle between SDSU and UNLV very accurately.
The SDSU Aztecs got back in the win column when they beat the UNLV Rebels 14-10, before 28,854 happy homecoming fans. Both teams came into this contest seeking to get closer in bowl eligibility with SDSU just on the outskirts of a western division title chance.
This game was full of competitive fire and heated plays, but not without it’s mistakes at times. Despite the low scoring affair, there were some very bright spots on both sides of the ball to take note of and build upon.
SDSU QB Jalen Mayden has been the surprise of the season taking over the duties and excelling each week in the new look offense. This game appeared to show some struggles in the offenses progression with Mayden completing 19 of 31 for 216 yards two touchdowns and 1 interception.
While that may not be in line with what Mayden’s previous 3 games have shown, it’s a stat line and performance that everyone in Aztec Nation should be content with this season. Though teams are now seeing more of the SDSU QB’s style and tendencies, OC Jeff Horton has been able to cook up plays to catch the opposition off guard and get the ball to the play makers.
The first score of the day showed Mayden’s ability to read the defense quickly and deliver the pass to a wide open Jesse Matthews.
The senior WR Matthews (5 catches for 84 yards 1 TD) has been quiet this season with limited opportunities to show what he can do. But under this new offense he’s been heating up. No play better demonstrated this than his fantastic job after the catch to get into the end zone. It was surprisingly Matthew’s first score ever at the new Snapdragon Stadium.
After this initial score the offense was quieted down for much of the day. Mayden’s effectiveness was held in check by a stingy Rebels defense. Often the pocket presence was solid for Mayden but the timing was just off in the progressions. In the 3rd quarter Mayden’s pass to Matthews missed in accuracy but Jesse was able to dive and pull it in. Had he not secured the catch, it would have been a devastating interception.
On the very next play Horton dialed up a tremendous play call. With Jesse Matthew starting to heat up, he came around behind Mayden as if to receive a reverse hand off. With the defenses eyes and motion all locked in on Matthews direction, Mayden then pulled the ball back and found a quickly released Tight End Mark Redman escaped out past the 2nd level and wide open.
Big Mark Redman made the catch, streaked down the sideline and delivered the ball across the goal line for the games second score and a 14-0 Aztecs advantage.
This game featured an Aztecs unit that needed to bounce back after last weekend. They were once again led by the Tavai brothers up front causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks. Coming in to the game Jonah Tavai led the nation with 48 QB hurries.
Newly returned UNLV QB Doug Brumfield (17 of 27 207 yards 1 TD 2 INT) had been plagued by poor wide receiver play all first half. Throwing an accurate and catchable ball, had UNLV made half the plays they dropped, perhaps their first half wouldve ended with some points on the board.
UNLV did however move the ball in the 2nd half but SDSU was there with two takeaways against Brumfield. This incredible jump ball by SDSU CB Dez Malone is a season highlight reel feature and he knew it. Malone got in perfect position, timed his jump right, got some elevation and secured the catch right in front of the Rebel receiver so that he had no chance of winning ahead of Malone. Just a huge turnover for the Aztecs defense.
With the Aztecs offense stalling the Rebels were able to continue to press forward with their possessions. They finally were able to make it a game when Brumfield found his receiver wide open passed the defense. Nick Williams stumbled into the end zone for 70 yards and the game took on a completely new complexion.
By the start of the 4th quarter the Rebels were once again on the move looking to tie the ball game. By this point in the game, UNLV had gained some momentum and attitude by showing they could hang with the Aztecs. The Aztecs took a shot to the chin by UNLV and answered back with relentless pressure.
Brumfield took the Rebels deep into SDSU territory and the Snapdragon crowd began to worry. But that’s when a huge play by the Aztecs secondary once again took points away in the end zone. This time it was CB Dallas Branch with the heads up coverage.
While having his own man covered towards the sideline, Branch began to see the play develop towards the middle of the field. A Rebel receiver had the step on Safety Patrick McMorris in end zone and Branch was there to wisely leave his receiver to jump in front of the pass before it could get to the Rebel.
With so many empty drives by UNLV credit to them for their continued fight in the game. They drove once again into the Aztecs territory but the Aztecs kept them out of the end zone forcing a 29 yd field goal with just over 10 minutes in the game.
UNLV drawing in 14-10 could feel the energy rise knowing they were within winning distance. On the next Aztecs drive, the UNLV defense began to heat things up by playing physically with extra curricular actions that should’ve been penalized. One player took a swipe against SDSU RB Kenan Christon that went uncalled. And on another play a blatant late hit on Christon that knocked him down also went uncalled by the officials.
Sensing the fight being stirred up the Aztecs finally got an late hit out of bounds penalty called agains the Rebels that gave SDSU a first down. But after a quick 3 and out ending with a sack of Mayden, the Aztecs were forced to punt.
UNLV turned to RB Aiden Robbins (21 carries 115 yards) to take the game physically at the Aztecs defense. But with just over 5 minutes left UNLV coach Arroyo decided not to go for it on 4th and 5. He trusted his defense to get the ball back one more time. This did not end up the case.
The Aztecs took over possession and never gave the ball back. Instead the Aztecs shut the door on UNLV with an 11 play possession eating up the rest of the clock behind the O-Line and RB Jaylon Armstead. The SDSU RB had’nt had much playing time since injuring his ankle in week 4 against Toledo.
Armstead with runs of 17, 11, 8, 6, and 14 yards punished Rebel defenders with his 5’11” 220 lb. bruising body to leave no doubt who the winner was as the offense lined up in the victory formation.
The satisfying feeling of being able to physically defeat their opponent to close out the game was something this SDSU team hadn’t shown for much of this season. This game was set up somewhat similarly to last week except the Aztecs were able to handle business and execute the 4 minute offense successfully this time.
• The Aztecs now improve to 5-4 on the season and 3-2 within the conference. Next week sets up a pivotal game against San Jose State, the next team above SDSU in the western division. With faint championship possibilities still along the horizon, the Aztecs will first need to focus on bowl eligibility.
• San Jose State who just secured their post season play will be looking for revenge after a heartbreaking overtime loss at home last year.
• Will Jalen Mayden and the offense be able to return to their smooth performance two weeks ago, or are defenses now focused more on the offenses gameplan.
• The defense continues to win their turnover goals. The secondary seems to be getting more confidence with each game.
• Only two penalties for 15 yards in this game against SDSU. This will need to continue against a much better Spartans team next week.