Following an ’embarrassing’ performance, Aztecs offense remains confident

2023.10.21 SDSU v Nevada FB Nevada wins 6-0

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SDSU’s offensive lineman need to protect Jalen Mayden better. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

With a chance to even its record and move within sight of bowl eligibility, SDSU produced one of the worst offensive performances in program history. That it occurred against a team that came in winless in its previous 16 contests (Nevada’s won two straight now) and giving up over 500 yards per game made the outcome even more inexplicable.

Following Monday’s practice, offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley addressed the media. He explained that from his play-calling to QB Jalen Mayden’s fumble and WR Mekhi Shaw’s drop, the entire offense took turns making critical mistakes. Lindley said if the topic wasn’t so serious, he would describe it as a “Comedy of Errors.”

“There was blame to be placed all around,” Lindley said when asked about the Nevada loss. “For me, for the most part, I look at the coaching staff, and I tell them, ‘at the end of the day, we’re the adults in the room. We’ve got to get the guys ready to play.’ I take that all on our shoulders and our chest. We’re going to do a better job doing what our guys can do to put them in situations where they can be successful. … At the end of the day, our guys will bounce back. If we’re really fighters, if we have the culture we think we have, our guys will bounce back and react the right way.”

Jalen Mayden hurdles a tackle against Nevada. (Don De Mars/EVT)

The external response from the Nevada debacle has been predictably loud. Fans took to social media and message boards to voice their displeasure. Even the parent of starting running back Kenan Christon publicly criticized Lindley, calling him a “bust” on X.

With all the noise swirling outside the program, eliminating distractions is necessary for the offense. The tall task of rebounding from Nevada and putting enough points on the board to counter Utah State’s potent offense is enough to focus on. That began with Lindley speaking privately with Christon to assure him nothing his dad wrote would impact his status on the team.

“For some of the stuff that’s directed towards us coaches, I’m a grown-ass man; you can tell me anything you want on Twitter; it’s not going to hurt my feelings,” Lindley said. “I’ve heard a lot worse from a lot better people. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Minimizing distraction does not mean forgetting about Nevada entirely. If anything, Lindley hopes the feeling the team left Snapdragon with a couple of weekends ago fuels the offense’s turnaround. The danger is whether the result impacts the confidence of the players moving forward.

Following their matchup with the Wolf Pack, the Aztecs had a bye week, giving SDSU even more time to stew on the defeat. With the team focusing primarily on fundamentals during the respite, Lindley said he was not sure until practice on Monday how his players would respond. The offensive coordinator liked what he saw.

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“The worst thing about football, hands down, is you can’t get in the saddle again for another week normally,” Lindley said. “For a deal like (Nevada) for our guys to sit on it for two weeks, I wasn’t sure until I saw them today. But, seeing them today, I’m pretty happy with how they’re internalizing it. It’d be soft to tell our guys to forget about it. I don’t think we’ve told them to completely flush it. We’ve told them to let it fuel you a little bit.”

Ryan Lindley’s main task is unleashing Jalen Mayden’s potential. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Whatever the ultimate meaning of the defeat to Nevada in the long run, in the short term, the staff cannot overreact. SDSU’s best hope at moving the ball effectively is believing that the work it has done all year will pay off. Lindley alluded to gamesmanship when asked about possible personnel changes, but whomever he chooses to line up on Saturday trained in the current offensive system.

The Aztecs’ lack of big plays continues to haunt them. They have not shown the ability to consistently string together drives of six, seven, or eight plays, and without picking up huge chunks of yardage, that is what they are forced to do. Lindley said that since the first bye week, the emphasis has been on finishing plays.

In the run game, big plays come when the offensive line reaches the second level, and the wide receivers reach the third, or a running back makes the final defender miss. That has yet to happen this season. Through the air, game-changing plays come when the line blocks long enough for double moves or crossing routes to develop while the QB makes the correct progressions. Those opportunities have been few and far between for the Aztecs as well.

SDSU will get another opportunity on Saturday to change the course of its season. Utah State brings a high-powered offense to town. Lindley and company will likely need to keep pace with the Aggies to have any chance to rewrite the story of their 2023 season.

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