San Diego State defeats Ohio University 20-13 to open up the 2023 season at Snapdragon Stadium

New Look Aztecs Pass With Flying Colors in Win Over Ohio

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or do they?

The San Diego State Aztecs notched their first win of the 2023 football season when they defeated the Ohio University Bobcats 20-13 Saturday night.

For the casual football fan looking at the box score and not being wowed by the stats would be a normal reaction. I mean this is not Air Coryell’s offense in Mission Valley. But there is plenty to be encouraged after SDSU’s opening day victory. Wether that encouragement leads to excitement…we’ll leave that up for you to decide.

The home opener at Snapdragon Stadium presented an intriguing matchup between two of the finer G5 conference programs in the nation. It was a challenge that had many questioning for the Aztecs wether it was a must win or not.

Most season openers could never wear that make or break label. But a brutal first six game stretch, the impact a loss to the MAC, and the perception of the team after a loss—made this kind of game easy to take that must-win standpoint.

Ohio was different. The Bobcats presented a 10 win team a year ago, a legitimate NFL QB prospect in Kurtis Rourke and were returning a large majority of it’s starters on both the offense and defensive sides of the ball. This was a legitimate victory for SDSU.

By starting the season out on the right foot with this quality win, all those must win worries are thrown out the window and we can now focus in on a solid SDSU performance for a short time and work to improve moving forward.

DEFENSE: Coach Mattix’s Knockout Artists

One of the main headlines to Saturday’s victory was the hard hitting, ferocious play of the defense. Coordinator Kurt Mattix has continued to carry on the Aztec tradition of knocking the opponent’s starting QB out of the game. (ie: Utah’s Charlie Brewer, Air Force’s Haaziq Daniels, etc.)

With both sides tied at 3 in the final seconds of the 1st quarter, Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke on a 3rd down dropped back to pass and had Aztec LB Zyrus Fiaseu barreling in on a blitz around the edge. The result would be the 1st turning point of the game. Rourke who was recovering from a season ending ACL injury, appeared to duck down expecting the impact.

In doing so Rourke took on the hit in a very awkward position. He went down to the ground and did not immediately get back up. Sent to the sidelines from there, Rourke never re-entered the contest. The dynamics and abilities for the Bobcats offense completely changed with backup QB CJ Harris (18-41, 203 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT)

Though Harris led the Bobcats to a Barstool Bowl victory last post season for his game winning performance over Wyoming, the consistent Aztec pressure was just too much for him on this day.

Exceptional performances led by transfer LB Cody Moon (12 tackles, 1 QB hurry, 1 Pass break up) set the tone all day and the defense was playing with an attitude that each Aztec possessed up & down the depth chart.

Pressures applied by LB Cooper McDonald (1 sack, 2 QB hurries) and Zyrus Fiaseu (1 sack) helped lead to the Bobcats turning the ball over three times.

Of those turnovers, Cedarious Barfield, New Zealand Williams, and Trey White each recorded interceptions. Senior CB Noah Tumblin led the defensive backfield with 5 total tackles and 3 pass break-ups.

In the fourth quarter true freshman S Marcus Ratcliffe could’ve added a fourth INT when near the goal line he picked off a Harris floater and streaked down the sidelines all the way for the pick six.

Though the zebras threw down a very suspect penalty flag for an unnecessary roughness hit by LB Cody Moon, it was an impressive example for the coaching staff’s confidence in Ratcliffe and trusting him into the starting lineup.

Overall for the defense, Mattix has this 3-3-5 defense starting solid once again and with a slew of different faces. Minus a few assignment errors in the secondary and a flurry of momentum by the Ohio offense in the game’s final minutes (more about that below), the defense did their job on this day and was the driving force in the victory.

OFFENSE: Lindley’s Influence

The new look offense lit up the scoreboard in this years edition of the Fall scrimmage. The buzz certainly left Aztec Nation a lot to be excited about. When the passing attack didn’t translate immediately in the 1st half against Ohio, first year offensive play caller Ryan Lindley could’ve folded to the pressure and veered away from the gameplan.

There was a pivotal moment with under 3 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. With under 20 total passing yards, Mayden and the Aztecs faced a long 3rd down backed up inside their own 20 yard line. Lindley’s offense kept the plays ultra conservative opting to punt and lean on the strength of their defense to get the ball back one last time.

The result was the 2nd turning point of the game. On Ohio’s next possession, CJ Harris under pressure by Cody Moon threw an errant pass that flung into the air and redshirt freshman Trey White showed fantastic athleticism & concentration to snatch it down for the interception.

The Aztecs immediately marched down the field with a dose of intermediate passes to WR’s Mekhi Shaw, freshman Baylin Brooks, and the tough running RB Kenan Christon. Inside the red zone with the clock ticking away, Coach Lindley then turned the hands to Mark Redman time.

All off season Coach Lindley and the offense stressed the importance of getting the ball to the playmakers in spaces. Mayden’s two end zone attempts to the 6 foot 6 Redman, proved to be successful on the 2nd try. The determination of going back to Redman a 2nd time, ensuring their playmaker in the red zone would have that opportunity, was a bright spot in the mentality of this offense.

As for the rushing attack, RBs Kenan Christon (11-48 yds) and Jaylen Armstead (8-79 yds) both ran the ball as a successful tandem. Jalen Mayden showed escapability outside of the pocket, and his occasional QB draw leaned on the Ohio front for successful yardage most times.

Meanwhile Jalen Mayden (17-27, 164 yds, 2 TDs) began to catch on to a noticeable rhythm in the 2nd half. Though the final score and yardage totals won’t electrify the casual audience, it should serve as a continued step in the right direction as the Aztecs attacked methodically.

On the day the performance leaves plenty of equal room for encouragement and items to improve upon.

Finishing. Finishing. Finishing.

For Head coach Brady Hoke, this game was in hand and never felt in danger of turning the other way for Ohio to seize momentum. However as the closing minutes came the Bobcats gave it one last run when they pulled within one touchdown and an onside kick.

The questionable decision to go for it on 4th down with under a minute failed and Ohio possessed the ball with excellent field position. Now one could say it showed confidence in the offense to convert and if they did not—it shows confidence in the defense to make the stop. But unnecessarily putting the defense in that heightened situation and the risk of giving up a tying score could’ve proved to be disastrous.

Coach Hoke’s gamble paid off and the Aztecs intercepted the final Harris pass. So while these end game decisions may not have been the Sons of Montezuma’s 1st choice, there’s optimism in having that end of game pressure situation to lean on as a valuable lesson for a team that surely has a much tougher road ahead.

The Aztecs will host the Idaho State Bengals at Snapdragon Stadium, September 2, at 7:30pm PT on CBS Sports Network. Tickets are still available.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

One Response

Leave a Reply

Join the Sons of Monty Team!

The Sons of Monty Team is looking to expand! We are currently looking for creative writers, photographers, videographers, researchers, graphic designers and social media marketers. If you are interested in  joining our team, fill out the info below and we will be sure to contact you!