Disappointing stadium opener for SDSU as Arizona rolls 38-20

Tyrell Shavers celebrates after scoring a TD in the opener. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

SDSU defense rushes against Arizona. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

The San Diego State Aztecs opened up a brand new Snapdragon Stadium in front of an energized and raucous sell-out crowd of 34,046. The heat (the highest recorded temperature of 100 degrees for an SDSU home game) and the Arizona Wildcats tempered that energy and excitement, at least for one game, by defeating the Aztecs 38-20 in the opening game of the season for both teams.

Newcomer quarterback Jayden de Laura completed 22 of 35 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns (and one interception). Three of those touchdowns went to fellow newcomer wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who caught eight passes for 152 yards. Nearly forty percent of his receiving yardage (59) were yards after the catch. True freshman wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan added a six-yard touchdown catch. 

DJ Williams added a ten-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that iced the game for the Wildcats. He rushed for 88 yards on only 14 carries. 

SDSU tries to tackle the ball carrier. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

“Our tackling defensively was atrocious…it was terrible,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke postgame. “As bad as I’ve seen a team do in a long time. We’ve got to get a lot better. Overall starting with coaching, starting with me, we weren’t very good. That’s not who we have been in the last three years.” 

“Lack of intent, and that includes the veteran guys,” said defensive lineman Jonah Tavai when asked what led to the bevy of missed tackles. “We know that’s one thing we need to work on this week and get better every day.” 

Tavai added later that he noticed the Wildcats’ offensive line was more prepared to face them this year than last year. “They were calling out stunts. They were calling out some of our plays as well,” he said. “They were hinging sometimes when normally you wouldn’t because they knew what we were doing.” 

The Aztecs’ offense, particularly their passing game, did not have the same success as their counterparts. Braxton Burmeister only completed 5 of 10 passes for 51 yards, although he connected with wide receiver Tyrell Shavers for an 11-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter on a 4th and 3 play. 

Burmeister injured his right shoulder on a run in the middle of the third quarter and was replaced by redshirt freshman Will Haskell on the next drive for the remainder of the game. Haskell led the Aztecs to a field goal on his first drive. He finished the game, completing 2 of 6 passes for 11 yards. 

After the game, Hoke said he thinks Burmeister should be fine, and it was precautionary not to insert him back into the game. 

The Aztecs rushed for 170 yards on the afternoon, led by Cam Davis (39 yards on eight carries). Braxton Burmeister actually had the most carries on the team (10 for 20 yards), but most of those runs were not designed runs. 

However, the first play of the season was a designed quarterback draw for Burmeister on an empty set formation that was stuffed by defensive lineman Hunter Echols for a seven-yard loss.  

Tyrell Shavers hauls in a TD pass. Credit Don De Mars/EVT

“Give them credit because they chucked the defense and went empty,” Hoke said when recalling that play. “It’s not the way you want to start on first and ten.”

“Our best players are running backs, and I think we’ve got to get them going early a little bit more. I don’t like (Burmeister) running all over.”

Arizona used their opening drive to set the tone for the game. After the Aztecs went three and out on the opening drive of the game, the Wildcats went 16 plays and 66 yards, took 5:35 off the clock and scored on a 25-yard field goal from Tyler Loop

After another Aztec 3 and out, the Wildcats marched down the field and scored on Cowing’s first touchdown of the day. De Laura found Cowing heading towards the right sideline, who made safety Cedarious Barfield miss a tackle and walked in for a 17-yard touchdown. It was the first ever touchdown scored at Snapdragon Stadium. 

 

The major turning point in the game came when the Aztecs looked to have erased a 14-point deficit and tied the score at 17 on a Jordan Byrd 25-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. However, a holding penalty by redshirt freshman Josh Simmons (one of his two penalties during the game) nullified the touchdown run. On the ensuing play, a slant pass to wide receiver Brionne Penny went through his hands and into defender Jaxsen Turner’s for an interception. 

The Wildcats went 54 yards on six plays and scored on Cowing’s second touchdown reception of the game (4-yarder) to make it 24-10 at the end of the first half. Cowing’s third touchdown of the day (25-yarder), on the opening drive of the second half, made it 31-10. 


The Aztecs scored ten unanswered points to get within 31-20, including a blocked punt (credited as a team punt) recovered by Jaylon Armstead in the end zone for a touchdown but were not able to get any closer. Williams’ touchdown run for Arizona at the start of the fourth quarter ended the scoring.

The Aztecs’ defense came up with two turnovers on successive possessions in the second quarter. Shavers’ touchdown catch came after a forced fumble, and recovery by safety Cedarious Barfield (his first career forced and recovered) set the Aztecs up with great field position. Cornerback Noah Tumblin intercepted a de Laura pass on the next drive after coming off his receiver and closer to the sideline and intercepting the pass aimed for the slot receiver. 

Braxton Burmeister hands off to Chance Bell Credit Don De Mars/EVT.

Despite coming up with turnovers, the usual stingy Aztecs’ defense struggled to contain the Wildcats’ weapons while only collecting one sack. SDSU allowed 461 total yards of offense, a 46% conversion rate on third downs (6/13), and 13.6 yards per completion.   

The Wildcats’ defense under new defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen shut down the Aztecs, only allowing 232 total yards. Linebacker Jerry Roberts led the Wildcats with 12 tackles, while defensive lineman Jalen Harris recorded eight tackles and one sack. The Aztecs only converted two of 11 third down opportunities. 

“Definitely a lot of disappointment and frustration,” said wide receiver Jesse Mathews postgame. “I’m kinda sick to my stomach right now thinking about certain plays. Good thing is that it is our first game of the season. It wasn’t a Mountain West Conference game. We can only go up from here.”

The Aztecs will look to bounce back and earn their first win of the season next week when they host Idaho State at Snapdragon Stadium. Kickoff will be at 5 pm. 

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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
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.
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