San Diego State assistant coach Richard Sanchez had to be proudly smiling last season watching true freshman Tariq Thompson become an impact player for the Aztecs.
Sanchez joined the Aztec staff as the secondary and special teams coach this season after spending nine years as head coach of St. Augustine High School here in San Diego. One of his most promising pupils was Thompson.
Lightly recruited out of high school, Thompson was listed as a two or three-star player by the recruiting services. He chose the Aztecs over offers from Fresno State and Northern Arizona. Over the summer he worked hard and earned a starting spot in the San Diego State secondary.
Last year he started all 13 games, racking up 63 tackles (46 solo), five interceptions, including one for a touchdown, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. His stellar performance led to him being named a freshman All-American by both Football Writers Association of America and USA Today. Thompson was also named to the Mountain West Second team last season.
This season Thompson was named to the Mountain West All-Preseason Second Team by the Mountain West media. High expectations from outside sources are something new for Thompson as he was always a bit under the radar. Now with one year under his belt fans and media are expecting him to perform at a high level.
Last week the Aztec defense did a spectacular job against ex-Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Love. A big reason why the Aztecs were not able to keep the game close was because Stanford threw the ball all over the field. The San Diego State secondary gave up 332 yards passing to the Cardinal, including many big plays. Thompson finished the game with five tackles (three solo) and one pass breakup. With a complete season under his belt as a starting safety a lot will be expected of him and he will need to be a veteran-type presence in the Aztec secondary.
Against Sacramento State, the Aztecs need to come out and dominate. The secondary needs to go out and prove that they fixed the problems that plagued them last week. Thompson and company need to make plays and force turnovers against what should be an overmatched opponent. It will be interesting to see how the secondary covers and if there is a noticeable improvement from last week.
The defensive front was amazing against the run last week and we expect them to be this week as well.
Kyahva Tezino, who we featured last week, and Parker Baldwin were outstanding last Friday, tying for the team lead in tackles with 11. The defensive group held the vaunted Stanford run attack to 50 yards with an average of 1.8 yards per carry.
The front now needs to get to the quarterback with consistency. Last week the Aztecs only had one sack and one interception against the Stanford offensive line, an improvement against Sacramento State is necessary.
Offensively the running game picked up where it left off last year. Juwan Washington showed that he was ready to be the next big-time running back at San Diego State. He finished the day by rushing for 158 yards on 26 carries. The offensive line started off strong, but got worn down as the game went along. A sustained effort is necessary against a defense that will likely sell out to stop Washington and crew.
The passing game needs to play better. Senior quarterback Christian Chapman held on to the ball too long on many plays and the passing game never really became a threat. No player had more than Ethan Dedeaux’s three catches or more than Tim Wilson’s 49 yards. A go-to receiver needs to step up so that Chapman has a player that he can depend on when he needs a crucial reception, kind of how he had Mikah Holder last year. One part that was bewildering to me was how little the tight ends were involved. At this point it would seem that Kahale Warring and Parker Houston would be Chapman’s most reliable targets.
San Diego State should win this game, however there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. If the Aztecs do not blow Sacramento State out of the water then those questions likely went unanswered. The Aztecs are the better team on paper and should they play flawless football, especially in avoiding unnecessary penalties, then victory will be easily there. This is an opportunity and the Aztecs need to take advantage during their home opener.