Five thoughts following SDSU football’s Spring Game

Credit: EVT Sports

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Credit: EVT Sports

A pair of East Village Times writers took in SDSU’s Spring Game on Friday.

Andre Haghverdian wrote a recap of the game.

Below are some thoughts and observations following Team Aztecs’ 10-3 win over Team Warrior.

1. Quarterbacks

The three QB’s vying for the starting job did not have terrific games. Johnson received the most reps. Brookshire and Mayden split about the same number of snaps that Johnson got. Each did a couple of good things surrounded by some less than ideal work.

Johnson: The Good: Even on a day when the QB’s were not live, Johnson’s superior athleticism was obvious. He evaded several defenders, outran others, and a couple of times, the refs blew the whistle when if the game was live, it was doubtful a tackle would have been made. He created opportunities for big plays.

The touchdown pass to Dedeaux was more of a jump ball, but Johnson sidestepped a free defender before launching it downfield. On two other occasions, he delivered catchable balls that his receivers did not make a play on.

The Bad: Johnson did not complete many passes inside of the play design. There were multiple times when receivers were open and did not get the ball. Most occurred within the first few seconds after the snap. He held the ball and waited to make plays with his feet. It is not easy to know from Friday’s scrimmage if that’s due to less than stellar play recognition or Johnson’s desire to make the big play instead of taking what the defense was giving him.

Brookshire: The Good: He showed more pre-snap patience than the other signal-callers. On his best play of the game, a third and one that should have went for a touchdown, he got to the line, calmed the entire team, and audibled into the perfect play. He threw a great pass in stride, but Isaiah Richardson did not catch it cleanly. What should have been a touchdown was only a long gain.

The Bad: Aside from the play mentioned above, Brookshire did not do much. He completed only three other short passes. As he was for much of last year, Brookshire was locked into the center of the field, throwing almost exclusively between the numbers. This tendency was known by the defense, and the defenders shaded to the middle of the field when he was under center.

Mayden: The Good: Of all the quarterbacks, he threw best in the rhythm of the offense. He found receivers throughout the formation and was on time with his passes. He also had a scramble for a first down on his first snap of the game. Mayden replaced Brookshire, and Team Warrior immediately had a potency on offense it was lacking before he entered the game. He showed a good pocket presence and avoided the rush without having to tuck the ball and run. He also threw a very nice pass to Jesse Matthews on a play he extended with his feet.

The Bad: Mayden had a few opportunities for passes down the field he did not complete. His deep ball was not thrown with authority. Nonetheless, on a day when the QBs were not at their best, he was tied with Johnson for the most effective player at the position.

2. The Front Six

SDSU’s 3-3-5 is loaded with players upfront. Following the game, coach Hoke would not even guess at the ceiling of the group but praised the defensive line and linebacking rooms for their depth and skill. While the offense fluttered in an abbreviated game, much of that was due to the constant pressure both defensive fronts were able to provide.

SDSU was a combined 54 carries for 108 yards on the day rushing, averaging a meager 2 yards a carry. When the front six were not making the play themselves, they were engaging the entire offense and freeing up the rest of the defense to wreak havoc.

Aztecs Football

The offense is built to put pressure on the defense throughout the field. It forces the defense to make plays in space and uses misdirection and play-action to capitalize on over-pursuit. After three weeks of spring ball and seeing the offense every day, the defense was well prepared for everything the offense threw at it, but they still had to make plays in space and control the running game with fewer defenders close to the line of scrimmage. They did this and still applied constant pressure on the quarterbacks.

3. Patt McMorris

An elite Aztec safety is essential for the 3-3-5. This year’s team has one. Throughout camp, McMorris’ name kept coming up as a player who was having a strong camp. He stood out again on Friday. He made a couple of stops in the backfield in short-yardage situations that were off script and exceptional.

Three of Greg Bell’s six carries were on consecutive plays where the star running back was handed the ball.  It was classic smash mount football. Runs on first and second down, set up a third and one. At the snap, McMorris broke through the offense, forced Bell to hop right before dropping him. McMorris’ instincts to get in position to make the tackle and his skill to bring down one of the better backs in college football without letting him fall forward for the first down was outstanding.

Early in camp, the coaching staff moved players around to provide competition and depth at the position, but it is clear, this is McMorris position. He was one of the best defenders on the field.

4. Dropped Interceptions

One emphasis for spring camp, according to the defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix, was creating turnovers. He lamented his team’s inability to take advantage of the opportunities they had in the 2020 season. They were in a position to make plays often but failed to finish them with turnovers. While the team has made strides in the area throughout camp, the progress was not on display Friday.

The teams combined for one interception but had at least three other relatively easy opportunities that bounced off their hands. The 3-3-5 was invented to put players in a position to make game-changing turnovers. In order for this defense- expected to be one of the best in the nation- to reach its potential, it will have to make capitalize more on the mistakes their superior play generates.

5. Strip Party

Whether by emphasis or instinct, the defense was active throughout the contest attempting to strip the ball. The constant attacking of the ball should help the offense be more prepared come fall. It is clearly an area where the defense has grown.

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With so many fast and skilled defenders around the ball, it allows players freedom to poke and prod at the ball. Yesterday, running back, Lucky Avinger took a handoff near the goal line. Completely boxed in by the defenders inside, defensive lineman Sefo Mailangi was free to strip the ball without worry that Avinger would break loose for a touchdown. He knocked it free for one of the game-changing plays of the scrimmage.

This and That

  • Matt Araiza crushed a 57-yard field goal that would have been good from 60+.
  • Araiza was the only punter who did not have a shank. Jack Browning and Collyn Hopkins each had a bad kick, but to their credit, followed it up with solid kicks. All three kickers punted and attempted field goals.
  • There were two live kickoffs and one live punt on the day. Otherwise, special teams were handled as it normally is, with the long snapper the only person covering kicks. Even with only one defender running downfield, there was still a kick catch interference penalty.
  • The entire team is taller than other versions. The length of the team stood out.
  • Sporting a knee brace in his left knee, Rashad Scott was on the sidelines in his white #20 jersey. He could be seen encouraging his teammates throughout. His smile could be seen across the field.
  • The voice of the Aztecs, Ted Leitner, was on the sidelines taking in the game. Uncle Teddy said he is doing well and is recovered from his fall, and has appreciated all the care and concern for his health.
  • Aztec greats Donnel Pumphrey and Marshal Faulk were also in attendance.
  • Sophomore LB Vah Kaho ended a drive nearly on his own. On second down, he recorded a sack on a play-action pass meeting the QB just a second after the signal-caller faked the handoff. On the next play, he was able to run out from the line of scrimmage and stop a bubble screen. It was an impressive series for the young defender. Kaho led Team Warrior with five tackles.
  • Kahi Neves had the loudest play of the game. He burst through the offensive line and stopped a running play deep in the backfield. It was a read option, and Neves could have tackled the running back and quarterback at the same time. He arrived at the QB at the same time as the RB, who, obviously, had a shorter, much easier path. When he made the play, the crowd and the sideline erupted.
  • Cameron Thomas made the first few tackles of the game. They were made with superior effort, coach Hoke said, which has become Thomas’ trademark.
  • Jaylon Armstead was a solid 12 carries for 50 yards and showed good quickness, vision, and power on a couple of runs.
  • Ethan Dedeaux’s touchdown bailed out a poor throw by Lucas Johnson. He beat two defenders for the ball, which was just thrown up. The defenders interfered with Dedeaux, but he was able to bring the pass anyway, stay on his feet, and take it for the only touchdown of the scrimmage.
  • Segun Olubi had a nice day and attacked throughout the game.
  • Cedarious Barfield played safety and allowed one deep pass.
  • Adonis Brown had a nice pass break up on a jump ball in the end zone.
  • Cliffton Styles has been a linebacker his whole career at SDSU but is now playing on the offensive side of the ball. He is the only player currently listed as a full-back on the roster.
  • Garret Fountain was a player-coach Hoke mentioned who had improved. He led Team Aztec with eight tackles. He was Caden McDonald’s primary backup last year.
  • Darius De Los Reyes played well at the end of the scrimmage. The Lincoln High produce made three short catches and was elusive after the receptions.
  • Tyrell Shavers lined up in the slot several times. Shavers stands 6’6”, and normally a player that tall from the slot is a tight end, but Shavers speed was evident by the way defenders gave him ample cushion.
  • Aaron Greene is huge but nimble from the tight end position. He was targeted a few times. On the one short out he caught, it took a couple of defenders to bring him down. He ran over and landed on Adonis Brown. The junior corner yelled out a surprised exclamation as he went to the ground.
  • Only parents from California were allowed to attend in the stands. Parents from out of State sat in the parking structure overlooking the field. They got to take in the game but did not receive the goodie bag the team gave to families as they entered.

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