Aztecs win final game of Brady Hoke’s career and reclaim Old Oil Can

Credit" Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The Brady Hoke era at San Diego State (4-8, 2-6) officially ended on Saturday night in a victorious effort to reclaim the Old Oil Can Trophy. The Aztecs defeated their rivals, the Fresno State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4), 33-18, at Snapdragon Stadium to break their four-game losing streak.

“It was really, really fun to watch our team play,” said Hoke postgame. “It’s great to have the (Old) Oil Can back.”

Hoke finishes his head coaching career with an overall record of 105-90 and is one of only two head coaches since 1996 to lead three different FBS programs to 11+ win seasons. 

“All we wanted to do was to get that win tonight for coach Hoke, let him go out the right way,” said DE Garret Fountain postgame. 

“It felt really good to send the man that gave me an opportunity to play the position that I love in the fashion that we wanted it to be in,” added QB Jalen Mayden postgame about Hoke. 

The Aztecs rushed for 226 yards, only the second time this year they passed the 200-yard mark. They are now 56-2 in their last 58 games they rushed over 200 yards. 

After an 8-1 start to their season, the Bulldogs had lost their last two games heading into this contest due to allowing over 300 rushing yards to both opponents. The Aztecs were able to exploit that same weakness on Saturday night, including converting all three 4th down and short conversions on the ground. 

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

“I thought we could run the ball, and I thought we proved it a week ago (against San Jose State),” said Hoke postgame about the fourth down decisions. “They did a nice job, and I had a lot of faith in them.”

In his final collegiate game and 20th consecutive start at QB, Mayden completed 17 of 26 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He added 96 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a 70-yard touchdown run that gave the Aztecs a lead they would not relinquish. The run was the longest play from scrimmage by the Aztecs this year and the longest run by an Aztec QB since at least 1996. Mayden finishes the season as the leading rusher for the Aztecs with 528. 

The key statistic for Mayden and the offense – zero turnovers against the sixth-best defense in the country at forcing turnovers. 

FSU QB Mikey Keene (21 of 36, 190 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) returned to the starting lineup but struggled against the Aztec defense. With the exception of one drive early in the 4th quarter, where he completed 4 of 5 passes for 34 yards (and a 2-pt conversion pass), he was unable to find receivers down the field as the Aztecs defense focused on taking away the passes over the middle and underneath.  

Malik Sherrod led the Bulldogs with 138 rushing yards (on 15 carries) and scored both of their touchdowns. 

The Bulldogs came into the game with the 12th-best third down conversion rate (48.48%) in the country but were held to only 11% (1 of 9). Winning the time of possession battle 41 to 19 by the Aztecs helped keep the Bulldogs’ offense off the field and limited their possessions.  

After starting at RG last week, Tommy Mirabella started at C in place of Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli. Myles Murao started at RG.

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

Redshirt freshman Trey White earned his first career start at SAM LB, becoming the 21st player to earn their first career start this season. Cooper McDonald moved to WILL LB, and Vai Kaho started at MIKE LB in place of Zyrus Fiaseu, who entered the game on the second defensive drive.

After allowing the Bulldogs to race down the field for an 86-yd opening drive culminating in Malik Sherrod’s 62-yd touchdown run, the Aztecs’ defense buckled down and forced numerous 3-and-outs, allowing the Aztec offense to get in sync and put up 16 unanswered points on four scoring drives in the first half.  

Keion Mitchell collected the only TFL for the defense all night, getting a big sack that pushed the Bulldogs back deep into their end zone.

Marcus Ratcliffe led the Aztecs with six tackles and recorded the only turnover of the night for either team with an interception on FSU’s second drive of the game. The Bulldogs went for it on 4th and 2 from the SDSU 40. Ratcliffe walked up to the line of scrimmage, looking to blitz up the middle. At the snap, he dropped back into coverage over the short middle exactly where Keene looked to dump a pass off to a receiver and hauled in his first career interception.

Mayden’s touchdown run came on a 3rd and 1 play with the Aztecs lined up in their usual 32 formation, flanking both of Mayden’s sides with fullbacks and Armstead behind him. After taking the snap, Mayden faked the handoff and ran to his left, fooling the defense enough that nobody ran after him to the left sideline. His lead blocker, fullback Leo Kemp, had absolutely nobody to block in the process. 

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Mayden credited RB’s coach Jimmy Beal, with implementing the adjustment out of that formation for Mayden to keep it and roll out. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

“I have to tip my hat off to coach Beal,” said Mayden. “He’s been trying to get that in because it’s just been a running back run; it wasn’t a QB-designed pull in there, so he finally introduced it. … I just told Leo (to) get out the way and let me run.” 

Jaylon Armstead (41 rushing yards) scored from one yard out, his team-leading eighth touchdown of the season, to put the Aztecs up 23-10 in the 3rd quarter. 

The Bulldogs showed some fight, cutting the lead to eight (26-18) in the 4th quarter on Sherrod’s 1-yd score and a 2-pt conversion (Jalen Moss reception). 

The Aztecs put the game away, taking 7:06 off the clock on a 14-play, 78-yard drive that ended on Leo Kemp’s first career touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Mayden with 2:54 remaining in the game. 

Malachi Langley led the Bulldogs with 13 tackles, and Levelle Bailey added six tackles and 1.5 sacks. 

In his final collegiate game, Browning tied a school record with four field goals in a game. It is the tenth time an Aztec kicker has accomplished the feat. After struggling recently and giving way to Gabriel Plascencia the past two games, Browning connected from 32, 39, 41, and 33. 

Backup QB Tobin O’Dell played three snaps on the night for the Aztecs, rushing for 21 yards on three carries. On the third snap, the Aztecs ran a flea-flicker, but O’Dell wisely kept it for the carry instead of throwing it into double coverage. 

Before the game, the Aztecs honored 18 seniors. Five of them were utilizing their additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19, while the remaining 13 have the same option for next year if they choose to utilize it. 

The announced attendance at Snapdragon Stadium was 22,000.

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