Aztecs bounce back from sluggish start, throttle Towson 48-21

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

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Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs bounced back after their third consecutive poor start at home this season to defeat the Towson Tigers, 21-14, in front of an announced crowd of 7,619 at Dignity Health Sports Park. 

Head coach Brady Hoke stated the team was “a little sluggish to start the football game…but it was a happy outcome.” He credited the team’s leadership for getting the players together at halftime, stating, “our guys have a lot of pride for who they represent.”

After starter Greg Bell was injured in the first quarter, primary backup Kaegun Williams took over the lead role and rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown in the first half.  He finished the game with 76 rushing yards. Chance Bell added 79 yards, 61 yards of which were on a run taken down to the one-yard line and a touchdown, while Jordan Byrd had 75 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard score. 

In the post-game press conference, Chance Bell stated that the running back room is deep, they “have a lot of love in the room, and there’s no jealousy or envy.” He was also very quick to praise his offensive line, who “won the line of scrimmage and made it easy for us to do our job.”

The Aztecs finished the game with 281 rushing yards and are now 51-2 the last 53 times. They have rushed for at least 200 yards in a game.  

Starting quarterback, Jordon Brookshire, dressed and warmed up with the team pre-game but sat out his second consecutive game with an ankle injury. Lucas Johnson led the offense, including an impressive drive in the second quarter. He completed three passes for 1st downs and another that was flagged for pass interference before Jordan Byrd ran it in for a 12-yard touchdown. Johnson ended the game, completing 16 of 25 passes for 149 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. 

SDSU scored their third special teams’ touchdown of the season after Tyrell Shavers blocked a punt and Trenton Thompson scooped it up and ran seven yards for the score. The Aztecs’ second blocked punt returned for a score this season and would have been their third if not for an offsides penalty that nullified a blocked punt return last week against Utah. 

The Aztecs opened up their passing playbook, utilizing a lot of three and four-wide receiver sets, with quick, short passes in space to let the receivers collect yards after the catch. They also called numerous shovel passes, two of which went for double-digit yards and first downs. However, the deep passing game was unable to get going despite numerous plays called for receivers running deep routes and who at times were open. 

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

Cornerback Tayler Hawkins also sat out with a left knee injury, and the two Noahs, Tumblin, and Avinger started at the cornerback spots. Avinger collected his first career interception early in the third quarter on a pass by quarterback Chris Ferguson, which led to Byrd’s 55 yard TD run, the Aztecs’ fifth touchdown of the game. Ferguson ended the game 19 of 35 for 213 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He received no help from his running game, as the Aztecs were able to hold the Tigers to only 15 net rushing yards. 

Aztec safety Patrick McMorris stated the defense’s game plan was to be more physical and get three and outs every drive. The defense responded by getting four three-and-outs on the first five Towson possessions in the second half. 

The opening minutes of the game were an endless run of miscues for the Aztecs. Johnson and Greg Bell fumbled the exchange on the opening play of the game, which ended up leading to a three and out. On the ensuing Tigers possession, Cedarious Barfield dropped an easy interception that would have likely been returned for a score. 

Following a Tigers punt, Johnson threw an interception right into the hands of cornerback Mark Collins, who was sitting in a deep zone. The defense, uncharacteristically, had two breakdowns which led to a 49-yard reception by receiver Daniel Thompson and a 19-yard touchdown pass to running back Jerry Howard, who drifted out of the backfield and was completely uncovered. 

The game turned for the Aztecs when Towson quarterback, Chris Ferguson, fumbled an errant snap and the Aztecs linebacker, Garrett Fountain, recovered at the Tigers’ 15-yard line. Five plays later, Kaegun Williams ran it in the endzone from eight yards out to tie the game at seven. 

After taking a 21-14 lead into halftime, the Aztecs took control of the game in the third quarter, outsourcing the Tigers, 24-0 and holding them to only four yards of offense in the quarter.

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT Sports

True freshman quarterback Will Haskell, who was elevated to the third quarterback spot on the depth chart this week and subsequently the backup to Johnson for this game due to Brookshire’s injury, came on with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter for his first college game action. His only drive of the game, which ran out the remainder of the clock, included a 20-yard pass and three rushes for 20 yards, one of which was a run on third and three where he broke two tackles and got the first down. 

Greg Bell’s injury appeared to be to his left shoulder or collarbone area, and he was seen icing it on the sidelines in the second quarter. In the post-game press conference, coach Hoke did not have an update to provide but did state that the injury was an aggravation of an existing injury, “the same as last week,” and he did not anticipate him having to miss the next game.   

The Aztecs, now 4-0, head into their only bye week of the season before they start conference play against New Mexico and former head coach Rocky Long on October 9th. 

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Quick Hits

  • The Aztecs have outscored opponents 62-0 in the third quarter this season
  • Sophomore wide receiver, Brionne Penny, collected his first four career receptions for 55 yards in the fourth quarter
  • In addition to Brookshire and Hawkins, the Aztecs also missed Kobe Smith and Andrew Aleki due to injuries
  • Matt Araiza, who came into the game leading the nation in yards per punt at 53.8, booted three punts for 197 yards, a 65.7 average, ensuring his leader status is safe for another week
  • Wide receiver BJ Busbee wins the hustle award this week for chasing down kick returner D’Ago Hunter after a 73-yard kickoff return that was destined for a touchdown

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