San Diego State hosted Air Force Saturday night in the season finale of Snapdragon Stadium’s inaugural season. It was the 38th matchup between the Aztecs and Falcons with the Air Force holding the 19 to 18 advantage all-time.
When SDSU joined the WAC where the Air Force were a part of, it was a steep learning curve for SDSU who lost the first 8 of 10 matches the two played in.
The discipline and toughness was often too much for SDSU to get the advantage of in those early years. But since 1988 the matchup evened out and went back & forth with each side collecting near even wins.
It wasn’t until 2010 when a Brady Hoke coached team took control of the series. With Rocky Long leading the way the following year, SDSU went on a nine year run of beating the Falcons that included a Mountain West Championship game 27-24. That was the first of two outright SDSU Championships.
This game Saturday night marked a chance to take that win streak to a new level of 10 games in a row and one game to even the all-time series at 19 wins a piece. A landmark that would not be an easy one to make.
Last season the Aztecs put the hammer down on the Falcons so much that they forced the early exit of star QB Haaziq Daniels from the game. But with a slow paced, ball control offense that the option offense Falcons run, if Air Force were to get revenge they would have to stick to their tough, methodical style of play.
That’s exactly what they did when they struck first on their opening possession of the game capped wihth this TD run by RB Brad Roberts (35 carries, 187 yards, 1 TD).
This was the lone touchdown of the game and it was all the Falcons needed to leave San Diego ending their losing streak.
On a night where the tough Aztecs defense should’ve been the story of the night, instead it was the grounding of their offense that was the shocking part of the game.
SDSU’s offense had nothing going in the first half. The run game often struggling all season long to return to their dominant form, and once again could not muster enough to consistently move chains.
The passing game was off as well for the first time in months. QB Jalen Mayden (16-31, 188 yards, 2 INT) struggled to get the ball to his receivers accurately & consistently. The offensive lineman struggled with penalties at in opportune times and missed protection assignments often.
At the close of the first half SDSU had ran just 17 plays for just over 10 minutes of possession. This output accumulated 76 yards—65 of that through the air. The main stat was the 5 penalties and 0/4 on third downs.
Unfortunately for SDSU the offense got even worse in the 2nd half. On the SDSU opening possession of the half a bad snap set Air Force up with outstanding field possession in the Aztecs territory.
The Falcons kicked a field goal to extend their lead 10-0. That was the play of the game.
The Aztecs mustered one field goal on their ensuing possession to make the score 13-3. But while SDSU had multiple opportunities to score, all of them escaped the Aztecs in the form of two INT’s by Jalen Mayden in Air Force territory.
Final score Air Force 13 SDSU 3.
On the night, the Aztecs finished 0-10 on third downs, -1 rushing yards on the ground, 3 turnovers, and just over half the time of possession than that of the Falcons.
Air Force dominated in every aspect including special teams where star returner Jordan Byrd was constantly met with 3-4 Falcon defenders in his face at every opportunity.
But most importantly, SDSU put a final regular season loss on perhaps one of the most challenging seasons in their 100th year history—fittingly in their 100th year of competition.
For a team that was just less than a minute from beating Fresno State and possibly representing in the Mountain West Championship game, this night appeared like none other before it.
The Aztecs fall to 7-5 on the season and a lot of questions remain on which seniors will be returning to the program for their COVID year of eligibility. For those that are moving on, one more bowl game remains.
The experts lean towards the New Mexico Bowl, Hawaii Bowl or Potato Bowl. With this loss vs the Falcons, perhaps any option to be moved to an extra allotted bowl by conferences not able to meet their criteria is likely out the window.
Finishing strong in whichever bowl game is accepted is crucial. While the in season changes were obviously the correct ones to get the program back on track, it will be incredibly interesting to see just what next steps Coach Brady Hoke makes. Getting the program back to respectability at 7-5 is one matter, but to take this program to the next level is something that has eluded SDSU in this almost decade of dominating Air Force. A decade of dominance that has just ended.