Four facts following another Aztecs loss

Credit: Nevada Athletics

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Nevada Athletics

Hats off to Rashad Scott

Late on Saturday night, cornerback, Darren Hall, tweeted, “Send one up for my boy @rashadscott_ I love you man.” Details were not immediately available, but Hall’s tweet and the coverage of the injury by CBS suggest another devastating hurdle to Scott’s playing career. Scott, mostly a contributor on special teams, was in line for substantial playing time next season with the graduation of three senior safeties. Earlier in the season, we wrote about Scott’s interception in garbage time being “the most important play of the game” precisely because he overcame so much to be in that position. Yesterday’s game was another reminder to celebrate more than just championships. Thoughts and prayers for Rashad Scott.

The Aztec Position

History has shown the 3-3-5 is only as successful as the person playing the Aztec position. In Rocky Long’s first three seasons running the defense, the Aztecs ranked 72nd, 53th, and 68th in total defense. That final year redshirt sophomore, Nate Berhe, took over as the Aztec and redefined the role for the program. Berhe’s final two seasons, the Aztecs ranked 27th and 35th.  Berhe passed the baton to Na ‘im Mcgee who led defenses that ranked 12th, 4th, and 12th. An injury his senior year forced McGee to hand over the reins a little early to Parker Baldwin.  Baldwin held down the position for defenses that ranked 10th and 23rd. Last season Dwayne Johnson Jr. took over for Baldwin, and SDSU finished 7th. Anyone who has met Johnson, listened to his interviews, or followed his impact off the field knows he is the unique person who knows how to balance success in all facets of life. Yesterday, Johnson missed the game for personal reasons that again reflects a maturity beyond his years. It gave us a glimpse that the position will be in good hands, going forward.

Sophomore, Patrick McMorris, started in place of Johnson and was third on the team in tackles. As the game wore on and McMorris’s comfort level increased,  his tackles started occurring closer to the line of scrimmage. His tackle for a loss on a running play late was particularly encouraging because it was the attacking style needed for the position. McMorris, though, was solid all game. Neveda targeted him with the only trick play of the game. Running the wild cat formation, Nevada’ running back, pretended to run, but stopped and threw instead. The pass was wildly overthrown because of McMorris’ discipline. Instead of leaving his man and getting involved in the running game, McMorris did his job.

One other interesting name to mention in regards to the Aztec position is Segun Olubi. The NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for seniors this year, could open the door for Olubi to return to the Mesa next year. The speed he has displayed in the past two games is remarkable. Last week, Olubi returned an interception 71 yards in blink of an eye. This week, he was usually the first person down the field on Tanner Kuljian’s booming punts. Listed at 215 pounds, he began the season as the backup Will linebacker because of his physical play. His bio on the team webpage has been update since the beginning of the year. His current position is “Linebacker/Safety,” which accurately describes the perfect Aztec.

San Diego, we found a quarterback

Midway through the second quarter, the CBS announcer said what everyone watching was thinking, “How was Lucas Johnson not named the starting quarterback to start the season?” Saturday’s game revealed a possible answer. Carson Baker is better at completing the first read than Lucas Johnson. Unfortunately for Baker, once defenses learned what those first reads were going to be in Jeff Hecklinski’s offense, he did not know how to progress past it. A good example from the game: On first and 10 in the fourth quarter, SDSU lined up in an unbalanced formation to Baker’s right. Bellinger ran a button hook, but with Nevada in man coverage, he was not open. Baker read that correctly and immediately focused his attention on the defensive pressure and got back to the line of scrimmage for no gain. Had he moved to his next receiver, he would have seen BJ Busbee breaking open on a post route 10 yards behind where Bellinger ran. Bellinger drew in the defense for what should have been an easy completion at this level.

Johnson’s inability to quickly read the play is both his greatest strength and weakness. His final two plays illustrate the latter. His terrible pass to Matthews on third down occurred because he was not focused on his first read. The play worked as it was designed, but Johnson was late recognizing it. Likewise, on the final play, he could have noticed pre-snap the cushion the corner was giving Jesse Matthews. Matthews ran a quick slant and was open, but Johnson never looked in his direction.

The strength of Johnson’s ability to make a play beyond the first option was evident all game. His 13-yard pass to Kobe Smith in the fourth quarter shows this strength. He scanned the entire field and found Smith on a laser of a throw. It was, nonetheless, a promising debut. When healthy, Johnson was easily the best athlete on the field. He was accurate with the ball and threw his receivers open when they had one on one matchups.

Clearly, choosing a starting quarterback is not an easy task, but the reason SDSU paid $180,000 to hire Hecklinski away from Kansas was to make this decision. He missed. It is easy to understand why. Without the scrimmages throughout the Spring, it was near impossible for Johnson’s sheer athletic dominance to come out. Baker is quicker with the first read, so he would run the plays how they were designed, which is flattering for any coach.

Bowl Record in Jeopardy

#Win22 is the stated goal for each season. With the loss to Nevada, this goal is closed for the 2020 season. There is still a lot to play for. The Aztecs currently sit fifth in the standings. One game behind Fresno State for fourth place. With the game between Fresno State and San Diego state canceled due to the presence of Covid among the Bulldog team, the Aztecs lose a chance to establish a tie breaking win over their fellow Cal State University rival. The Aztecs’ 10 consecutive bowl game appearances are more than any school in California, but there is a real chance it ends this season. Currently, there are only four bowl games with MW ties.

Another aspect to keep an eye on is what happens if Fresno State continues to cancel games. According to the MW rules, Fresno State would likely have to play only one of its final two games to qualify for the Mountain West Championship game, but the league has yet to announced if those same rules will be applied to bowl selection order. Fresno State’s final games currently scheduled are against Nevada and New Mexico.

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