The San Diego State Aztecs (3-6, 1-4) continued their downward trajectory Saturday night, losing at home to the Utah State Aggies (4-5, 2-3), 32-24, in double overtime.
After a 2-0 start, the Aztecs have lost six of seven games. Unless the Aztecs win their last three games, they will suffer their first losing season since Brady Hoke’s inaugural year as head coach in 2009 (4-8).
“It’s the broken record that we don’t want to play,” said Hoke postgame about the mounting losses. “but I know one thing, the last two weeks, these guys have come to work in the building and practice field, and I think you saw that tonight. They played hard. You could hear football out there. Obviously, we need to score more points. It’s tough, but I love the way we came out and played physical.”The Aztecs scored ten points in the final 7:10 of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. After both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime, Utah State scored one to start the second overtime and intercepted a fourth down pass attempt by Jalen Mayden to seal the victory. The interception was the only turnover of the game for either side.
One game after only completing six of 14 passes for 47 yards, QB Jalen Mayden and the offense came out pass-heavy, opting for the pass on the first five plays of the game. Mayden ended up completing 25 of 39 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. A few of those incompletions were drops by receivers that would have kept key drives alive.
“Here were some things that they really did well,” Hoke said about the offense before adding, “But how many balls did we drop? There’sat least five.””
RB Kenan Christon, whose role had diminished heavily over the past two games, had a breakout performance. He rushed for 35 yards on ten carries but led the team with eight receptions for 76 yards. His 10-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was his first score of the season.
McCae Hillstead started at QB for Utah State but was ineffective. He completed 12 of 16 passes but for only 62 yards through most of the first half. Cooper Legas replaced him near the end of the second quarter and finished the remainder of the game. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
The dynamic receiving duo of Terrell Vaughn (8 rec, 91 yds) and Jalen Royals (8 rec, 87 yds) each caught touchdowns.
The Aztecs controlled the first half but only took a 7-3 lead into halftime. On the Aggies’ second drive of the game, they went for it on 4th and 1 from their own 31, but Garret Fountain stopped Robert Briggs for a one-yard loss to hand the offense the ball at the Aggies’ 30.
Two negative plays later, the Aztecs faced a 3rd and 25 from the 45 and were forced to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. An offside penalty and a Christon 15-yard reception brought on Jack Browning for a 42-yard field goal attempt. Browning was unable to connect, though, his seventh miss in 17 tries this season. Hoke attributed Browning’s recent struggles to him overthinking it.
On the following drive, Lucky Sutton broke free up the middle on a 3rd and 1 run and raced 62 yards to the Utah State 17 near the end of the first quarter. It was the longest run of the season for the Aztecs. Sutton led the team with 86 rushing yards (on 11 carries).
On the second play of the second quarter, Mayden faked a handoff in 32 personnel and found Mark Redman wide open in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. It was Redman’s first touchdown since catching two in the opening game against Ohio.
The Aggies, who had the fifth-fastest tempo in the nation coming into the game running a play every 21.2 seconds, answered with a William Testa 24-yard FG on a 14-play drive that only lasted 3:56 to make it 7-3. That drive averaged 16.9 seconds between plays.
The Aztecs reached the red zone late in the second quarter after starting a drive at the Utah State 42. On a 4th and 9 from the 13, Browning lined up to kick a 30-yard field goal, but the Aztecs ran a fake, with holder Zechariah Ramirez popping the ball up to Browning as he ran up to the ball. Browning was met by a defender immediately, which knocked him back towards a bunch of players at the line of scrimmage who stopped him for a two-yard loss.
The Aggies ran a fake punt from their 35 on a 4th and 2 on their first drive of the second half, snapping directly to Anthony Switzer, who gained four yards and a first down. Later in the drive, Legas connected with Royals for a 50-yard touchdown to give the Aggies their first lead of the game at 10-7. Royals ran a stop-and-go and beat Noah Tumblin, who was then unable to tackle Royals near the goal line to keep him from scoring. It was the first touchdown the Aztecs allowed in 97:15 of game time dating back to the HHawai’igame on October 14.
Royals was tied for third in the country with ten receiving touchdowns at the start of the week. The Aztecs defense limited big plays throughout the first half and kept Royals to only five catches for 24 yards up to that point.
Davon Bush scored early in the fourth quarter on a 19-yard run to give the Aggies a 17-7 lead. He led the team with 77 rushing yards (on 13 carries).
Another Browning fake attempt was stopped short, this time on 4th and 3 from the SDSU 24. Browning took the punt snap and ran to his right but found no openings.
Hoke said miscommunication was the problem on the fake punt.
“There’s a look that you look for (in the opponent’s formation),” he said. “if you see the look, we are going to run it. The look wasn’t quite there, so it didn’t work. “Fortunately for the Aztecs, Testa missed a 38-yard field goal attempt to keep the Aztecs within ten points with 11:18 remaining in the game.
The Aztecs’ offense went to work on their best drive of the game, taking nine plays for 79 yards to cut the lead to three. Christon caught a short pass in the flat and raced to the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. On the drive, Mayden completed six of seven passes for 73 yards.
The Aztec defense forced a 3-and-out, and the offense started the next drive at their 15. But a sack and a false start quickly backed them up inside their five, thwarting the drive and leading to a Browning punt.
The Aztec defense came through again, forcing a punt near midfield. Punter Ryan Marks dropped the snap, which allowed Wyatt Draeger to get close enough to block the punt attempt and give the Aztecs the ball at their 44.
A Christon 25-yard run got the Aztecs into the red zone, but Mayden missed a wide-open Redman in the end zone that would have given the Aztecs the lead. Instead, Browning tied the game with 36 seconds remaining on a 23-yard field goal, which took the game to overtime.
The first three plays for the Aztecs in overtime ended in penalties. The first was on a defensive pass interference, and the last two were on holding penalties by the Aztecs. But Mayden found Brionne Penny for a 27-yard score on 1st and Goal from the 27 to give the Aztecs the advantage. Miscommunication by the Aggies’ secondary left Penny running down the left sideline untouched for his first career touchdown.
The Aggies answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Legas to Vaughn to send it to a second overtime.
Then, they only needed two plays to score on the first possession of the second overtime and converted the mandatory two-point conversion attempt (rules stipulate a team has to go for two after a touchdown in the second overtime).
The Aztecs’ fourth down attempt on their possession was intercepted by safety Ike Larsen to end the game. Larsen added eight tackles and a tackle for loss. LB MJ Tafisi led the Aggies with 13 tackles.
JD Coffey III started at aztec safety in place of true freshman Marcus Ratcliffe, who had started all eight prior games this season. Coffey is in his first season at SDSU after transferring from Texas during the spring transfer portal window. It was his first career start. Ratcliffe replaced Coffey for the fourth drive of the game, but Coffey returned afterward until he was ejected for a targeting penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Warrior safety Deshawn McCuin returned after missing the Nevada game with an injury and played behind starter Josh Hunter.
One primary area Hoke wanted improvement from the defense was generating pressure on the quarterback and negative plays. The tteam’s1.5 sacks per game and four tackles for loss per game were 112th and 125th in the country, respectively. In the first half alone, they collected two sacks and six tackles for loss. They finished with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
LB Zyrus Fiaseu continued his stellar play with three sacks to go with six tackles. LB Cody Moon, who started in place of Vai Kaho, led the team with 13 tackles. The starting defensive line of Garret Fountain, Tupu Alualu, and Daniel Okpoko added 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks total in arguably their best performance of the season.
Hoke also implored his defense to force more turnovers to help out his offense. They were unable to force any against Utah State.
Despite not forcing any, the defense was still able to hold a team averaging 35 points per game to only 17 in regulation before they scored 15 in two overtime periods.
Fountain attributed the overtime breakdowns to players trying to do too much outside their assignments.
“We may have got caught up in trying to do too much,” said Fountain postgame. “We were trying to make plays that were out of our job. Everybody needs to do their job, and I think everybody was maybe trying to do too much to try and stop them, and if everybody tries to do that, mistakes are going to happen.” Penalties were an area of weakness for the Aztecs that appeared to have been corrected but reared its ugly head again. They were flagged for nine penalties for 84 yards.
“The penalties that we had were physical penalties, I don’t have as much problem with,” said Hoke. “The penalties that are before the snap, we had, I think, three of those tonight, they set you back.” Snapdragon Stadium drew a crowd of 23,096 for the annual SDSU Homecoming game.
The Aztecs travel to Fort Collins to take on the Colorado State Rams (3-6, 1-4) at 4 p.m. next Saturday. They have one more home game this season on November 25 against Fresno State.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.