The SDSU Aztecs competed in its second and final scrimmage of the preseason Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Califonia.
The Aztecs ran 75 plays in a dress rehearsal that will go a long way in determining the two-deep going into the first game against New Mexico State.
Getting ready for the season’s first game, however, has more to do with X’s and O’s. Part of the festivities Sunday was designed to help prepare the players for the game-day rituals. From eating the pregame meal to riding a bus a couple of hours to the stadium, the team had a walk through so nothing they see during the season on and off the field will be a surprise.
The team even received a crash course from the pyrotechnics crew on hand about the smoke pillars that will erupt when they run out of the tunnel on September 4. After the brief tutorial from the professional pyros, the team practiced their entrance, swaying from side to side before emerging and racing to midfield.
The game itself was structured differently than the first scrimmage eight days ago, but it had many of the same components. For the first five series, the offense took the field at their own 25-yard line and had an opportunity to take the ball the length of the field for a score. Brookshire started the first and fifth drives, Johnson the second and third, and Mayden the fourth. The first and second teams on offense and defense competed in the five drives. The offense scored 13 points and would have had three more, but freshman Collyn Hopkins’ kick from 34 yards out hit the left sidebar and bounced out.
Drives six to ten were taken from the one-yard line. The offense was tasked with making a first down. Johnson led the first two drives but was unsuccessful on two third-down passes to move the chains. Mayden led the final three attempts but managed only one first down. He would have had a second, but #94 Aaron Greene dropped a perfectly thrown pass. The young tight end turned to run before bringing the pass all the way in.
The final three drives were a return to the full length of the field variety. Freshman William Haskell led the first and third of these, sandwiching a drive led by Brookshire. The offense scored three more points and would have had another touchdown, but a holding call negated a Haskell scoring pass to Josh Nicholson.
In between all of the above was the most extensive special teams preparation to date. The coaching staff took advantage of the full contact to practice a wide variety of special teams situations. Following the practice, head coach Brady Hoke spoke about the weapons they have at returner, and that was on display as Jordan Byrd, Jesse Matthews, and BJ Busbee all had terrific punt and/or kick returns.
In addition to kickoffs and punts, both the starting and reserve units participated in a number of other situations. Punters Matt Araiza and Jack Browning practiced how to take an intentional safety while running the most time off the clock. The coverage teams ran down kicks inside the twenty, and the hands teams focused on communication in the onside kick drills.
Coming into Fall Camp, coach Hoke identified four positions that were open to competition, safety, left guard, cornerback and quarterback. Judging from the snap counts in the first scrimmage and again today, Cedarious Barfield and Chris Martinez appear to have seized the safety and left guard position, respectively.
At cornerback, the competition started among four players but is now down to a head-to-head matchup between sophomore Noah Tumblin and true freshman Noah Avinger. Adonis Brown ran exclusively with the third team, and Dallas Branch did not participate in the scrimmage and had a soft cast on his arm. Tumblin and Avinger both competed all afternoon and took most of the snaps at corner. Each was a sure tackler and around the ball.
Tumblin had a slight edge on the day. Age and experience are important, and it was hard not to notice #10’s presence alongside the rest of the senior leaders on nearly every special team’s units. He was running down punts and was on the first team hands unit. Clearly, the staff believes in his athleticism and intelligence.
All eyes were once again on the quarterback position, and just as in the first scrimmage Jordon Brookshire was the best signal-caller on the day. On Sunday, his edge over the rest of the quarterbacks was evident. His final stats, 7-12 for 109 was far and away better than any other QB. He had two big plays in the scrimmage. He completed a 45-yard pass to BJ Busbee, where he moved around in the pocket before sprinting to his left towards the line of scrimmage all while keeping his eyes downfield. The second was on a crossing route to Ethan Dedeaux, where he stood in the pocket, let the play develop, and delivered a ball that was low but still allowed Dedeaux to continue running in stride. It went for 30 yards.
Lucas Johnson was not very good on the day. He did not have the opportunities Brookshire did, but he also did not create more chances for himself. He finished 4-7 for 8 yards. Johnson was the QB for the team’s only touchdown, a one-play drive when Jaylon Armstead took a carry 70 yards for a score.
Jaylen Mayden did not have as many opportunities with the first team units as the other two but still led the first team on a good drive. It ended on the aforementioned missed field goal by Hopkins, but prior Mayden hit Elijah Kothe for a first down. He also lofted a 50/50 ball into the corner of the end zone that fell incomplete. Cedarious Barfield prevented Daniel Bellinger from making the play.
– Elijah Kothe continues to impress. He started today opposite Jesse Matthews, though. All the receivers rotated in and out. Kothe was a favorite of all the QBs. In the first scrimmage, he did most of his work outside the numbers. Today, he worked inside and showed an ability to run after the catch, including delivering a stiff arm to Noah Tumblin, sending the corner to the ground.
– The offense used a variety of formations and personnel. Different plays were designed with multiple tight ends, multiple running backs, and multiple receivers lining up all over the field. Following practice coach, Hoke said the variety is only important if it puts their best playmakers in position to excel.
– The next carry Armstead had after his 70-yard run, he was met by the entire defense led by Vai Kaho for a five-yard loss.
– In addition to Dallas Branch, players who did not participate were Rashad Scott, Dominic Gudino, and Michael Shawcroft.
– Eight days ago, Tyrell Shavers was held out for an undisclosed reason. Today, he was a full participant and ran with the first and second teams. He made one reception and had an opportunity for a second that was catchable.
– Jack Browning nailed a 50-yard field goal.
– The offense had five penalties inside the 25-yard line going in. Three of them were committed by the third-team unit.
– Aside from a couple of offsides penalties, the defense played a clean game. The one exception was Cedarious Barfield was called for pass interference on a Brookshire pass intended for Jesse Matthews that may have gone for a score if not for Barfield tackling Matthews while the ball was in the air.
– After the third series, many of the known commodities on defense had their days called short. The starting defensive line, Tayler Hawkins, Trenton Thompson, and Caden McDonald, were spectators after about 15 plays.
– The running backs were rotated between two positions. A featured back behind the QB and an RB in the slot. Greg Bell and Chance Bell were the primary players at the former. Jordan Byrd and Kaegun Williams at the latter.
– Matt Araiza added a 50-yard field goal of his own.
– True freshman S CJ Baskerville made some explosive, attacking plays. He led the defense with five tackles.
– Sophomore DL Dylan Taylor was around the ball and in the backfield frequently and appears to have a nice future.
– Aaron Greene made up for his drop by catching a slant in stride from Mayden and taking it 26 yards. A year ago, his future looked to be on the offensive line, but with his weight loss, he looks to be a promising tight end.
– With coach Hoke watching the scrimmage from behind the offense, he was able to join the refs when they huddled to make a decision on a penalty. He appeared to help clarify a call.
– Caden McDonald made a stop on a jet sweep by Jordan Byrd. It was an intelligent play by a player who has played a lot of snaps for the Scarlet and Black.
– In the few snaps he was in the game, DE Cameron Thomas blew up a running play for a loss.
– The defense throughout the roster plays downhill and attacks the line of scrimmage.
– Concrete slabs are visible at the base of the stands, where more seats are put in for soccer games. The slab that extends from the tunnel is only five yards from the back of the end zone. It was another reminder that a football field does not fit as well in a stadium built for soccer.
– William Haskell handled himself very well. He was in control of the unit he led, showed great athleticism on the read-option, kept plays alive with his feet, and showed a strong arm. His highlight play came when he stiff-armed a defender to the ground. His low light was taking a huge sack because he was dancing, trying to keep the play alive. He followed that low point by completing a pass to Isaiah Richardson to get the team back into field goal range.
– Andrew Aleki had a huge sack of Brookshire but had the wherewithal not to knock the QB to the ground.
– Up next: SDSU will resume practice and around Wednesday will turn their focus to fully preparing for New Mexico State.