Aztecs defense shuts down Lobos in Rocky Long’s return, 31-7


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Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs defeated the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday night by a score of 31-7 to reach 5-0 for the second time in 46 seasons, the fifth time in their Division I history, and the ninth time in 99 years of program existence.

They also extended their win streak against New Mexico to eight games. After the game, head coach Brady Hoke stated that the team “did a nice job…we have big goals.” 

Running back, Greg Bell had 100 rushing yards for the eighth time in 12 games as an Aztec, finishing with 111 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown, with 104 of those yards in the first half. Bell did not receive any more carries after a fumble in the third quarter, which was returned for a touchdown by Lobo linebacker Ray Leutele. Coach Hoke was asked if that was for punishment or due to rest, and he replied it was a little bit of both. “You can’t put the ball on the ground…[will] need to address the issue,” said coach Hoke. 

The story heading into the game was the return of former Aztec head coach Rocky Long, now the defensive coordinator of the Lobos. The Aztecs’ defense greeted their former defensive architect by shutting out the Lobos offense in dominating fashion. The only points the Lobos scored was on the defensive touchdown on Greg Bell’s fumble. 

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The Aztecs’ defense came into this contest ranked 18th in total defense, only allowing 290 yards per game. That ranking will surely improve as they only allowed 193 yards to the Lobos, in addition to forcing two turnovers. 

They harassed Lobo quarterback Terry Wilson as he appeared to be running away from defenders all night. He finished the game, completing 13 of 25 passes for 127 yards, one interception, and only one rushing carry for eight yards. 

After the game, defensive end Keshawn Banks said that their success came from disguising coverages and their ability to get in Wilson’s face so he can’t see his reads downfield. 

The Aztecs were also well prepared for Trae Hall, the backup quarterback, who has been receiving snaps at running back and wide receiver for the Lobos. Hall only caught three passes for 18 yards, one rush for -1 yards, and was incomplete on his only pass attempt on a trick play. 

The Lobos offensive game plan targeted their slot receiver, repeatedly matched up on safety Trenton Thompson. Thompson was a blanket on defense outside of one play where he was beat on a stop-and-go route down the left sideline. In addition to his one interception, he picked off another pass later in the game that was called back on a questionable pass interference and almost had a couple of others. Coach Hoke credits Thompson’s improvement in coverage in the way he studies the opponent. “Watching film has helped him,” stated coach Hoke. 

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During the bye week and leading up to this game, head coach Brady Hoke stressed the importance of his team starting fast. They obliged. After the defense held the Lobos to a “3 and out” on the game’s first drive, Greg Bell took the handoff and found a gaping hole on the left-hand side for 40 yards. He capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, totaling 63 yards on the drive on five carries. 

The Aztecs added a Matt Araiza 40-yard field goal and a Brookshire one-yard touchdown run to make it 17-0 before thwarting the Lobos only positive drive of the half. Safety Trenton Thompson’s interception of Terry Wilson’s pass at the goal line with about a minute left in the half put that to bed. 

The Aztecs also forced and recovered a fumble earlier in the half as linebacker Michael Shawcroft ripped the ball away from a receiver after the catch, and cornerback Dallas Branch, playing in his first series of the season, recovered the fumble.  

Another statistic that made coach Hoke happy was that the Aztecs did not commit a single penalty in the first half, while the Lobos committed five for 52 yards. The Aztecs, though, committed an illegal block in the back penalty on the opening kickoff of the second half plus a delay of game before their punt and ended the game with five penalties for 37 yards. 

Quarterback Jordon Brookshire returned after missing the past two games and looked very shaky in the first quarter, only completing 3 of 11 passes for 18 yards and wildly missing several open receivers. 

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However, according to coach Hoke, he was able to “get himself out of a rut” and begin to get comfortable starting in the second quarter after converting a fourth and two on a play-action pass to Tyrell Shavers for 23 yards. He finished that drive with a one-yard touchdown run. 

Brookshire continued his improved accuracy and decision-making and ended the game, completing 11 of 24 passes for 130 yards. He also added an 11-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, totaling 45 rushing yards on the night before, giving way to backups Lucas Johnson and Will Haskell in the fourth quarter.

On Friday night, the Aztecs head out on the road next to play the defending Mountain West Conference champions, San Jose State. 

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