Analysis of the Aztecs Week 1 Win

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT Sports

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Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT Sports

Brookshire’s 2021 Debut

If you took a poll of 1,000 Aztec fans at the beginning of the year and asked who they would want to be the starting quarterback when the season rolled around, only a very small percent would have chosen Brookshire. As it turns out, his performance Sunday did little to pull fans onto his bandwagon.

Brookshire’s stats currently read 7-20 for 115 yards, but it includes a 39-yard reception to Kobe Smith that was called back due to a holding penalty. When corrections are made, his final line will be 6-19 for 76 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception. Saturday, Brookshire provided supporters and detractors alike plenty of evidence to support their positions.

Brookshire was late on his reads three times which resulted in throwing to the correct player, but at the wrong time. He also had difficulty with his accuracy. He overthrew Elijah Kothe on a deep ball, underthrew Jesse Matthews resulting in an interception, and put his receivers in dangerous positions a couple of times with his ball placement.

On the other hand, Brookshire’s receivers let him down on five or six occasions.  Jesse Matthews had a drop on a play that should have resulted in a first down. Kobe Smith bobbled a pass that was in his hands. BJ Busbee had a drop and fell down on two of his four chances. Tyrell Shavers had a chance on an inaccurate pass. Ethan Dedeaux dropped Brookshire’s best ball of the night. Brookshire dropped a dime in a small window, but Dedeaux was more focused on the defenders than securing the ball.

Mixed in between these miscues, Brookshire completed a nice pass to Smith in which he rolled parallel to the receiver, evaded a rusher, and threw a nice pass for a 24-yard gain. He found Busbee on a pass where he threw to the receiver’s back shoulder for 25 yards. There were a couple of times when he intentionally threw the ball at the feet of his receiver rather than risk a turnover.

Brookshire’s biggest play was his touchdown run. It is a play that was extremely important for him to make. Throughout the night, NMSU played the read-option correctly. They left one player to prevent Brookshire from running while the rest went after the running back. When teams have a full field to defend, they play conservative. They choose to give up a few yards to a running back rather than giving up huge chunks to a QB. In the red zone where every yard matters, they sometimes abandon the safe route and key on the running back. Brookshire read the play perfectly, and in doing so, will create lanes for Bell down the road.

Following the game, SDSU head coach Brady Hoke attributed a lack of rhythm as the principal factor in Brookshire’s poor play. The film should reveal plenty of blame to go around for the quarterback’s uneven performance.

Young Corners

With an injury to Dallas Branch, Noah Avinger and Noah Tumblin manned the second corner position on Saturday. Avinger started but appeared to injure his arm on the second series, and Tumblin finished the series. Avinger was back in during the third series, and the duo rotated each new set of downs the rest of the first half.

Credit: Garrison/EVT Sports

In the second half, only Tumblin played opposite Tayler Hawkins. When Hawkins was subbed out late in the game, Avinger came in and replaced him. Tumblin led the team with eight tackles and four passes defended. He likely would have had an interception, but Segun Olubi collided with the young corner and prevented the takeaway. It will be interesting to see going forward if Tumblin’s play in the second half will catapult him to the top of the depth chart.

NMSU’s plan of attack was to force the two new players to defend quick passes and to put pressure on the corners to shed blockers and tackle bubble screens. To combat this, SDSU switched Hawkins and the other corner frequently. In some series, they would switch every play. Hawkins would line up on the left one play, the right the next, before moving back to the left third play and so on. The strategy was largely ineffective. NMSU won the chess match during the opening thirty minutes.

The second 30 brought a different result. As mentioned, Tumblin played the majority of the snaps. It is possible he was simply playing better and earned the extra duty, but there may be a different reason as well. Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix, Hoke said, added coverages at halftime to the defensive playbook that were not part of the original game plan. Tumblin’s experience in the program would make it easier to call plays during the game that were not practiced beforehand.

Since NMSU was relying on quick passes and screens to move the ball, Mattix started dropping eight defenders to cover the pass. The tactic confused the quarterback causing him to hold onto the ball longer. It evened out the numbers game in the bubble screens while allowing for varying looks and responsibilities throughout.

Finally, in the second half, SDSU’s staff stopped switching the sides their corners lined upon and reverted back to what they did most during camp. They lined up Hawkins on the left side of the defensive formation and Tumblin on the right. Perhaps that comfort level helped calm the young corner’s nerves.

Whatever the case, the hometown hero from Mira Mesa, played a fantastic second half.  

Incredible Defensive Line

The defensive line dominated for the Aztecs. NMSU found success spreading SDSU out, but only a couple of times did that equate to running lanes inside for the Aggies. When NMSU chose to run, they were often forced outside where there was help from more defenders.

In the passing game, NMSU was getting the ball out quickly, but there was still a good deal of pressure applied from the front. In the second half, when Mattix began dropping eight and rushing three, the three were still able to rush the passer and cause turnovers. Keshawn Banks tipped the pass that Michael Shawcroft intercepted. Jalil Lecky hit NMSU QB Jonah Johnson as he released the ball on both of SDSU’s other interceptions. 

Lecky, who is listed at 235 pounds, along with other defenders, lined up at nose tackle when Jonah Tavai was not in the game. It was another example of how the Aztecs value energy, activity, and movement from their line more than size.  

Week One Mistakes

During this week’s press conference, EVT writer Andre Haghverdian asked coach Hoke if he expected NMSU to cut down on the number of mistakes they made between week one and two. Against El Paso, the Aggies dropped wide-open passes, had a tough time wrapping up, and fumbled the ball with relatively soft contact. Following Saturday’s game, Haghverdian’s question and Hoke’s response appear prescient.

“You mention all those things (tackling, wrapping up, etc.),” Hoke said. “Those are things we’re trying to coach against, so I think some of it could be from time off – not going fundamentals and those kinds of things. We’re just trying to make sure that we play our best football, and hopefully, don’t make those same mistakes.”

A credit to their team, NMSU eliminated many of the fundamentals errors that plagued them during the first game. SDSU, on the other hand, made a large amount of mistakes that it will be looking to clean up heading into the matchup with Arizona.

In addition to the above descriptions of dropped passes and poorly thrown balls, there were a host of other unforced errors. Greg Bell fumbled a ball inside the red zone. SDSU’s special teams had a turnover when a Dezhjon Malone was pushed into returner Jordan Byrd. RG William Dunkle had a pair of 15 yards penalties, Hawkins added one, and Tumblin had another. Tackling was good, not great. The mistakes added up and made the game close in the first half.


Quick Hits

        What a day by Matt Araiza! Following the game, Hoke called him a weapon. It was an understatement. Araiza had one of the best days by a kicker in college football history.

        New Aztec safety Patrick McMorris was as good as advertised. He played fast, physical, and instinctual. His play recognition and tackle when NMSU ran a reverse was as good a play as any of the linebacker’s interceptions. The only other player on that side of the field was Hawkins, who had his back to the play. If McMorris did not read the play and make the stop, it may have gone for an Aggies score.

        SDSU’s offense showed how varied it will be this year. On the opening drive:

First Play: 2 WR, 2RB, 1 TE

Second and Third Play: 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB.

Fourth Play: 3 WR, 2 RB

Fifth Play: 4 WR, 1 TE

Sixth Play: 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB in an empty backfield formation.

        SDSU’s new color on their helmets looked amazing on the screens inside Dignity Health Stadium. There was a more pronounced brightness to them. With the naked eye, they looked the same as they always have. Apparently, the new designs were made for TV.

        It was Week One for everyone, even the team running the stadium’s systems. The score was listed as 3-0 SDSU until NMSU made it 10-0. When the referee informed the world that a targeting call against Jesse Matthews had been reversed, his voice could not be heard over Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It.

        Michael Shawcroft showed no rust from not playing in the scrimmages. He made his typical impact despite having a club covering his hand.

        Tyrell Shavers played a large number of snaps. When he and Elijah Kothe are in the game together, SDSU’s lineup is very tall.

        The two backsets the coaches have been promising for more than a year finally materialized. Jordan Byrd scored his long touchdown from that set. Greg Bell’s TD run came with two backs in the game. On Bell’s play, Kaegun Williams motioned into the backfield behind Bell. At the snap, two Aggies keyed on Williams as Bell broke loose for the score.  

        The university did a great job making the LA Galaxy’s home have an Aztec feel. Pregame festivities included the same inflatables inside Aztec Village that were part of the kid’s zone at SDCCU Stadium. The junior journalists, who accompanied me to the game, were able to purchase new sweatshirts in the team store.

        When Jordan Byrd touches the ball in space, great things tend to happen. His screen to open the second half was an explosive play, as was his long touchdown. His big-play ability makes him one of the keys for opposing defenses, even if he does not touch the ball all that often.

        Injuries: In addition to Avinger listed above, Olubi banged up what appeared to be a leg in a collision with Tumblin. Chance Bell left the field and went into the locker room but returned to carry the ball in the fourth. William Dunkle hurt a leg and was carted off the field. He was in good spirits, smiling and motioning to the fans encouraging him.

        As Hoke left the field and headed into the locker room at halftime, he was smiling. When the players came back out, there was no panic in their eyes. Everyone was calm and focused.

        Despite trailing 10-0 at the half, SDSU was able to play a lot of players on Saturday. After the Aztecs went up 28-10, they brought in a number of subs, including Desmond Bessent at RT, Jesse Matthews at PR, Brionne Penny at WR, and Lucas Johnson at QB. 63 players played in total.

        Fans are known to be fickle. On social media, where negativity is the norm, many “fans” threw in the towel on the season after only one-half of play. Surprisingly, there were boos scattered throughout the stadium when the team ran off the field at halftime in Carson. Figure there would be more patience and support from people who made the trip and had not seen live football in eighteen months. Peace between the fans and the team was quickly made following a quick Aztec touchdown and an apparent blown call by the refs. Apparently, nothing unites people like poor officiating.  

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        At the end of the game, Matt Araiza was hit as he punted. Athletic Director JD Wicker was behind the end zone, mimicking the running into the kicker sign and screaming at the refs to protect the players better.  

        CB Tayler Hawkins’ interception was incredible. It was a great sign that he is ready to step into the void left by Darren Hall.

        At the coin toss, only four captains are allowed to participate. Olubi led the team out of the tunnel. Bellinger, Thomas, Thompson, and McDonald went onto the field. State won the toss, electing to defer something the Aztecs seldom did under Rocky Long.

        Hoke reiterated his experience that teams make the biggest improvement from Week One to Week Two during the postgame press conference. Apparently, Las Vegas expects Arizona to improve more. They opened as one-point favorites over the Aztecs.  

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