Hoke’s patience pays off with SDSU’s offensive outburst

Phillippe Wesley dances after scoring a touchdown at Fan Fest. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Brady Hoke coaches Tupu Alualu before Fan Fest. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Among many impressive qualities SDSU head coach Brady Hoke possesses, his patience stands out. Saturday at the annual Fan Fest, it was on full display. Just 14 days before his team embarks on the 2023 campaign, the coaching staff experimented with personnel packages unseen in previous practices.

Those changes occurred on schedule, and according to a plan Hoke created leaning on his decades of experience. SDSU competed in spring camp resulting in a depth chart that held relatively firm over the first nine scripted practices. Following the predesigned exercises, Hoke and his staff thoroughly evaluated their team.

“They’re not scared,” Hoke replied when asked Saturday what he learned about SDSU from the self-scouting. “They’ll be physical. I like to hear football, and I could hear football tonight. Especially the first hour and a half of it tonight, you could really hear them. So, I was pleased with that.”

Preparation for SDSU’s first game will take place next week following one final dress rehearsal inside Snapdragon on Wednesday. Hoke’s design was that from the tenth practice to the start of game-planning for Ohio, the staff will be able to experiment, looking for the best combinations of players at each position.

For the nervous fan, that amount of time might seem inadequate, but for a grizzly football coach, it is the process laid out. Hoke’s ability to trust it and the patience to let it play out is exceptional.

Ryan Lindley’s strength-based offense

On Saturday, the fruit of Hoke’s patience shined through in another way. After weeks of the defense dominating the offense, no one would have blamed the staff for making knee-jerk decisions. They were rewarded for staying the course with the best offensive performance at a Fan Fest in recent memory.

Offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley’s offense clicked. His philosophy of building the offense around his players’ strengths was on full display. Three examples stood out.

Kenan Christon was sensational Saturday night and looked like SDSU’s best skill position player. (Don De Mars/EVT)

RB Kenan Christon’s best run of the night came on an inside run, but that has not always been his strength. Lindley designed a quick QB option that resulted in Christon with the ball on the outside. He made Vai Kaho miss and picked up a nice gain.

Lindley also called multiple screens to various positions. The tactic supported the offensive line by preventing the defense from over-blitzing.

Finally, he used jet sweeps to his wide receivers to spread the opposition out and force them to play in more space.

Together, the game plan allowed Jalen Mayden’s high football IQ and excellence in multiple aspects of the game to shine.

“The competition was really good, and the way some of the other scrimmages have gone, it’s good to see what the offense did today,” Hoke said.

Jalen Mayden, Mountain West Player of the Year

If Mayden consistently plays at this level, he will be in contention for Mountain West Player of the Year and in an NFL camp next summer. Sensational does not completely capture how dominant, in control, and impressive he played.

Over the past 15 years, SDSU’s defense has rarely looked overmatched. When they have, terrific QB play was often the reason. Mayden’s excellence was the primary explanation for what took place Saturday night. His stats (165 total yards and four touchdowns) do not do his performance justice.

Jalen Mayden drops back to pass with Cade Bennett pass-protecting. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“Jalen’s a great athlete,” LB Cody Moon said post-scrimmage. “He’s not only a great thrower, he’s a great runner. I had the opportunity to go against him when I was playing for New Mexico, and it was not any easier than it is now. He’s a great athlete, and I can’t wait to see what he can do for us this season.”

Moon likely appreciated Mayden’s performance more than most. In 255 passes in 2022, UNM QBs threw for three total touchdowns. Mayden matched that in 26 attempts on Saturday night. Only twice last season did the QBs at Moon’s former school throw for more in a game than Mayden’s 154 yards.

Who is the backup QB?

Mayden, though, was not the only QB who played on Saturday. His understudies unperformed. For the second scrimmage in a row, Kyle Crum inexplicably dropped the ball on a play-action pass. Last week, it led to a safety. This week, DE Dom Oliver scooped the miscue and returned it for a touchdown. Crum did have one long pass to WR Baylin Brooks later in the scrimmage that accounted for most of his 48 yards passing. He also ran in a touchdown on a read-option in red zone drills.

During the scrimmage, Tobin O’Dell spelled Crum. Presumably, the staff wanted to give O’Dell, a redshirt freshman walk-on, experience at coming into the game and having to lead the offense in the middle of a series as he would as a backup QB.

Tobin O’Dell throws a pass at Fan Fest. (Don De Mars/EVT)

O’Dell has primarily competed as the fifth signal caller in camp. Playing behind the fourth-string offensive line, it was difficult to gauge his play, but competing with the second unit on Saturday, he performed better than Crum, completing six of seven passes. He also had a touchdown to TE Logan Tanner called back by the referees for illegal procedure. His one mistake was an easy pick-six for CB Noah Tumblin.

Perhaps the most worrying development from the scrimmage is the staff does not know who their backup QB is going to be. Liu Aumavae, the usual third-string signal caller, did not play due to a minor injury.

New offensive line comes together

The biggest news from the scrimmage was Washington transfer Myles Murao started at right tackle for the Aztecs. Drew Azzopardi and Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson competed there throughout spring and fall camps. Murao’s ascension is very positive for the program.

Myles Murao in the huddle at SDSU Fan Fest. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Since Murao’s arrival, Hoke has praised the Washington transfer’s play. SDSU’s head coach did the same following Saturday’s festivities. The Aztecs are looking for the five best players and believe Murao could be one of them.

As well as he has played, however, he has been unable to pass right guard Dean Abdullah or center Ross Ulugalu-Masueli. That the staff is looking for ways to get him on the field by switching positions shows how strong the interior line play has been for the team.

Competitors on most days, Murao and Abdullah formed a competent duo, opening up holes in the run game. Murao’s night at right tackle was not without hiccups. He had a pair of holds called against him.

“The offense was able to run the ball,” Moon said when asked why the offense played better at Fan Fest than in previous scrimmages. “As a defense, we don’t ever want the offense to be able to run the ball. If they can run the ball, they can dictate the game. They were resetting the line of scrimmage in their favor. We need to be stronger at the point of attack and reset the line of scrimmage in our favor instead of theirs.”

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Wide receivers step up

The receivers accounted for 13 receptions, a solid but not spectacular number. Their night should be considered a revelation nonetheless because they displayed everything the offense needs to be one of the top units in the Mountain West.

Brooks and Brionne Penny each caught deep balls over 40 yards. Mekhi Shaw and Phillippe Wesley picked up yards after the catch and caught passes when the opposition played too far away from them.

Mekhi Shaw breaks a tackle on his way to the end zone. (Don De Mars/EVT)

If the wideouts are this effective during the season, SDSU’s offense will be fine. Out of the group, Wesley is the most intriguing. His 14-yard touchdown was athletic.

“Just like I said in an interview a couple of weeks ago, I feel like everybody’s stepped up, so we don’t have to rely on just one or two guys to make the key plays,” Mayden said post-scrimmage when asked about the wide receivers. “(We) can distribute the ball around. Phillippe, Bri, everybody has stepped up and shown that at any time they can get the ball and make something work.”

Cody Moon high impact transfer

Moon was the defensive star on the evening. He led the Aztecs with ten tackles, eight of them solo. Most importantly, for a defense that had trouble getting pressure against the first-team unit, Moon had 2.5 tackles for loss. Given his history and preseason accolades, it is unsurprising Moon produced when the lights came on.

Cody Moon (58) at Fan Fest (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

What had been a little concerning was his lack of dominance in practice. He is tall but slight in frame and has been pushed for time by sophomore Brady Anderson.

Saturday, Moon was the difference maker everyone envisioned when he transferred into the program.

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Moon said when asked about his growth in the defense. “I felt myself a little hesitant when it came to pass coverages at the beginning of fall camp. Now, I’m playing a whole lot faster, almost like the back of my hand like it was at New Mexico.”

Where will Cedarious Barfield line up?

Noah Tumblin and Dez Malone celebrate Tumblin’s pick-six. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Marcus Ratcliffe started at aztec for the second scrimmage. With Max Garrison unable to play, JD Coffey was the first reserve. Later in the scrimmage, defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix lined up, maybe the most intriguing possibility as the team continues looking for Patrick McMorris’ replacement. Mattix moved Barfield from warrior safety to aztec.

With the defense struggling to find penetration against the starting offensive front, Barfield excelled playing closer to the line of scrimmage and successfully blitzed off the edge multiple times.

Mattix has a lot of intriguing pieces on the roster, and Barfield is SDSU’s most confident defender. Putting the super senior at the inflection points of the defense would allow the success of the defense to rest on its most experienced player.

I Heart NIL

Jack Browning signs a jersey and interacts with fans at Fan Fest. Wyatt Draeger signs a poster  (Don De Mars/EVT)

Long after their teammates walked off the field, SDSU’s senior class signed autographs for the fans. Mayden, who participated in the postgame press conference, had a spot at the end of a row of tables set up on the concourse on the north end of the stadium.

Children made up the majority of the last group to have a chance to meet their heroes. As the seniors signed posters and other paraphernalia, they asked about the sports teams the kids were on or how many games the children planned to attend this year.

Sitting at the tables, the players wore the same t-shirt. In the middle of a red heart, fans could scan a QR code that would take them to Azteclink.com. It was another small way SDSU is trying to connect its student-athletes to possible NIL opportunities.

1 thought on “Hoke’s patience pays off with SDSU’s offensive outburst

  1. After reading your article I felt like I was their, at Fan Fest. Instead I’m in Texas pulling for the Aztecs to beat the Bobcats of Ohio!

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