Big passes, explosive returns, quarterback sacks, and a giant comeback. Saturday night San Diego State took down San Jose State 43-27, in a game that featured a little bit of everything.
From the opening kickoff the underdog Aztecs appeared as if the odds makers had chosen correctly in favoring the visiting Spartans. Two quick touchdown drives, one aided on a Jalen Mayden interception, had the Spartans up 14-0 early in the 1st quarter.
But before the home town fans could settle into their seats and slouch in negativity, this season’s familiar game-changer pulled some more magic out of his hat. Jordan Byrd returned the San Jose State kickoff to the house for 95 yards for the touchdown.
The senior RB has elevated his game all season long and this play instantly breathed new life into the Aztecs players and their fans.
From then on it was an onslaught of Red & Black. The defense quickly forced a three and out and the offense kicked a Jack Browning field goal to pull within 14-10.
The emergence of QB Jalen Mayden (17 of 22, 268 yds, 3 TD 1 INT) has been the brightest spot in this 100th year of Aztecs football. After starting his first 4 games ever at the FBS level and winning 3 of them, the Texas native helped right the ship of the SDSU offense.
Coming into this week against a more than formidable Spartan defense, the concern that the rest of the conference was now picking up on Jalen’s style and tendencies. Mayden and OC Jeff Horton put those worries to rest.
On the next SDSU offensive possession, Mayden connected with WR Tyrell Shavers (4 catches 111 yds, 1 TD) streaking down the sideline as he completed the 66 yard touchdown pass & catch. The play was Mayden’s longest pass completion of the season and put the Aztecs up for the first time on the night 17-14.
From then on the Aztecs never looked back. It was complete domination as the Aztecs scored 38 unanswered points going into the half and well into the third quarter.
Time after time Mayden connected with young WR Mekhi Shaw (5 catches, 64 yds, 1 TD) on crucial first down yardage. That third passing option has made Shaw a deadly weapon in the slot. In the 2nd quarter Shaw took a pass into the end zone for his first TD ever as an Aztec. The score put SDSU up 24-14 going in to the halftime.
In addition to his stellar passing night Mayden showed again his pocket escapability. His 13 carries for 61 yards led all SDSU rushers on the night. And though that is not the top desired rushing result the offense wants, it’s a valuable and necessary option for this team moving forward against stingy defenses like San Jose State. The dual threat capability of Mayden puts his game over the top.
As mentioned this game was a next step up for Mayden. From the eyeball test, Mayden was his spectacular self—manipulating the pocket, stepping up into his throws, taking what the defense gave him, but also at times threading the needle into tight spots. One of the facets of his game that hadn’t been seen to this level of difficulty yet.
In his final touchdown pass on the evening Mayden showed this ability perfectly when he threaded the needle to find Jesse Matthews down the seam in the end zone for six. Matthews (4 catches 57 yards, 1 TD) now has touchdown catches in three straight games.
The Darkside Defense
With all the offensive highlights, it’s easy to not highlight the defense. But the ‘Darkside Defense’ was relentless on this evening. SDSU held San Jose State to below 200 yards passing, under 30 yards rushing and although the Spartans logged 27 points, the scores were early in the game and late in the game were it wasn’t truly a factor.
Most importantly was being able to get pressure on Cordeiro. SDSU totaled 8 tackles for loss and got to Cordeiro 5 times for sacks. Jonah Tavai the standout senior Defensive Lineman had another game wrecking performance totaling 3 sacks. Keshawn Banks and Cooper McDonald also were able to sack the QB each once.
Dallas Branch a week off from earning Mountain West DPOTW honors, also had an incredible interception grab on a deep pass down the sideline. The secondary as a unit played fearlessly all night. Breaking up passes with physical play jarring the ball loose on many occasions.
San Diego State now bowl eligible heads into this week with a shortened schedule. They will travel to Albuquerque to face against the New Mexico Lobos on Friday night. Facing former defensive coordinator and current New Mexico head coach Gonzales as well as former head coach Rocky Long will be a treat for the team and fans alike.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Sons of Montezuma Podcast previewing this game and looking back at this recent Aztecs performance.