Self-inflicted wounds and missed opportunities was the theme of SDSU’s 35-10 loss to UCLA this past Saturday afternoon. After two tightly contested games for the Aztecs to open the season, they were handed a much tougher test in the blitzing Bruins.
This time the Aztecs did not pass with flying colors.
90% of the points scored were in the first half as UCLA ‘s freshman QB Dante Moore impressed in his first official start and was able to execute the offense well. Meanwhile, the Bruin defense frustrated the Aztecs all night long.
On the Aztecs first offensive possession a free defender off the edge unblocked, took down RB Kenan Christon almost as soon as he received the handoff. This was the first indication of mistakes to come.
SDSU was only able to muster 63 yards on the ground against a physical UCLA front. The domination at the point of attack dictated the evening and forced SDSU to be one dimensional in their offense, which is not their strength.
Often finding themselves in 2nd down & long to start drives, Aztecs QB Jalen Mayden was hit hard during his 19 of 37, 1 TD and 3 INT performance. Though the short passing game at times had it’s success, the lack of a down field presence has created an added challenge to the Aztecs aerial attack in these first 3 games.
There was a brief moment in the opening quarter after UCLA’s first TD where it appeared SDSU was going to have success. Mayden connected with WR Mekhi Shaw in the corner of the end zone on a difficult back shoulder pass & catch.
Shaw made the grab, muscled up on the Bruins defender and bullied his way into the end zone. It was the lone time the Aztecs would score six for the rest of the night.
All Heart—But Not Prepared
No one can question SDSU’s toughness in this lop-sided affair. The Bruins flexed their Power conference muscle on both sides of the ball and it was visually obvious the weight classes were tipped on the scale towards UCLA’s favor.
The undersized Aztecs gave it their all and were impressive in their fight to the end led by WR Mekhi Shaw and LB Zyrus Fiaseu, our Warriors of the Week on the offensive & defensive side.
But being undersized hasn’t held back the Aztecs defense in holding the lines up before. UCLA running backs were able to rush through gaping holes and receivers after the catch racing down the hashes unchecked. UCLA ran their way to almost 300 yards on the ground and air.
In addition to being out-manned physically it was the assignment errors in the first half where SDSU was caught off guard. UCLA, running a faster tempo offense that Chip Kelly has built his reputation on, was able to catch the Aztecs defenders scrambling for position and took advantage going in for a score.
In the 2nd half many of the defensive issues were addressed as UCLA only put up one score. But it was the SDSU offense that was still stuck in the mud. Failures to get play calls in on time and pre snap penalties
The Call of the Day
By the time the SDSU defense got it right and forced a fumble on what was first ruled as a touchdown, the play was under the PAC-12 official’s review and subsequently overruled. The result left the ball to be spotted just outside the goal line.
Either way, the defense served up a gimme touchdown on a silver platter.
But if you believe in the football God’s, this is when you knew they were on UCLA’s side. If you believe strictly in players & coaches, you’re probably still pounding your head against the wall at the outcome.
First and second down runs yielded no touchdown for SDSU. That’s when OC Ryan Lindley had the jumbo package mix it up a bit.
On 3rd down and at the 1 yard line, the offense changed formations sending TE Mark Redman out alone one on one to the left. Meanwhile a quartet of tight ends, fullbacks and RB Martin Blake lined up out wide to the right.
Mayden in the shotgun steps back throws a quick slant to Blake as the other 3 big bodies shielded him from any defenders.
However the inside linebacker was making his way towards Blake at the goal line. It was enough to unnerve Blake’s concentration to make the grab. The ball bounced high in the air off his hands and into the defenders clutches ending any possibility to add points on the board.
It was the breaking point of the game though still only in the 3rd quarter, but everyone knew this just was not the Red & Black day.
Questioning the play call on that unfortunate series of events is debatable. The play worked brilliantly in creating the opportunity to cross the goal line—when the ground game was not making any head way. But for Aztec Nation, not being able to use your RB’s to carry the ball across the goal line as they are specialized to do so, is not what Aztec football has come to be about in the last decade.
It will be an interesting lesson to see if SDSU learns from it or if given a similar situation again, doubles down on executing next time.
One has to wonder however, with points being hard to come by with this offensive group, wether it’s natural playmakers will be given opportunities to shine. RB Kenan Christon’s 9 touches seem under-utilized for the blazing speed of a trackstar.
Out of the backfield, in the flat or out in a pattern down field, this offense could use a kickstart that Christon has shown he’s able to provide.
Whatever it is that needs fixing and whoever it is that is able to do it, this team will need to discover thatand fast.
The road towards winning their 22nd conference Championship is still completely unscathed for SDSU. But in order to win the Mountain West Conference, this loss must serve as a learning opportunity. Because it doesn’t get any easier folks.
The San Diego State Aztecs will travel up the Pacific Northwest to play Clemson transfer QB DJ Uiagalelei and the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Oregon this Saturday, September 16 at 12:30pm PST.
Oregon State is looking to win seven straight for the first time since the 2000 season. The Beavers have also won five straight at home, tied for the 11th-longest streak nationally.
The Sons of Montezuma will be making this road trip event and look forward to previewing all that comes with this exciting matchup this week. Be sure to follow on YouTube, Spotify, Apple podcasts and/or stay tuned here at sonsofmontezuma.com for more.