The San Diego State Aztecs (7-4, 5-2) defeated the New Mexico Lobos (2-9, 0-7), 34-10, to keep their conference championship hopes alive for one more night. A Fresno State victory at Nevada on Saturday would eliminate the Aztecs from the West Division race.
Through five games this season, the Aztecs averaged fewer than 69 passing yards per game, the worst in the country. With quarterback Jalen Mayden at the helm, the passing game has grown exponentially and provided the offense with big-play ability unseen in San Diego for a long time.
In Friday’s game, Mayden threw a 51-yd touchdown pass to Mekhi Shaw and a 63-yd pass to Tyrell Shavers that set up a touchdown run. Both of those plays alone would have represented an entire game’s passing yardage at one point this season.
Mayden completed 15 of 25 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The Lobos came in with the 26th passing defense in the country, only allowing 192.1 yards per game. Mayden cleared that number in the first half alone (201).
Mekhi Shaw caught six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, the first 100-yd game of his career. He caught his first touchdown pass last week. The Aztecs Twitter account posted a video of Shaw’s second touchdown calling it the “M&M connection.” With Mayden’s decision to return next year, expect to see a lot more of it.
— San Diego State Football (@AztecFB) November 19, 2022
“He’s earned it (with) the way he practices … he’s improved,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke on the 760AM Postgame Show.
Tight end Mark Redman added five catches for 66 yards.
Christon’s 49-yd touchdown run, his first as a rusher at SDSU, came on a 4th and 1 on the opening drive of the second half. In the first half, the Aztecs failed on a 4th and 1 attempt on a handoff to Jaylon Armstead. This time around, the Aztecs ran out of I-formation with Martin Blake as the lead blocker, and Christon bounced it outside and around the corner untouched. None of the Lobo defenders were able to catch him before he reached the end zone.
Hoke credited Blake’s blocking the run, noting that he took on two blockers to spring Christon to the outside.
Jaylon Armstead only rushed for five yards on five carries but ran for a score from one yard out, his second career rushing touchdown.
New Mexico came into the game with a +7 scoring advantage in the first half but a -121 scoring disadvantage in the second half. In this one, they trailed 21-10 (-11) at halftime and lost the second half, 13-0 (-13).
New Mexico quarterback Justin Holaday was banged up in last week’s game and unable to play. Redshirt freshman CJ Montes started in his place and scored a six-yard touchdown run on the second drive of the game.
In their last 53 drives before this game, the Lobos had only scored one touchdown and entered as the worst offense in the country, averaging only 239.5 yards per game. They totaled 183 yards in the first half alone but were only able to tally 26 yards in the second half.
“We were a little soft on the inside, and alignment-wise (we) really hurt ourselves,” said Hoke in response to why the defense struggled to contain the Lobos in the first half. “But (defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix) and the staff really did a good job (with adjustments).”
Montes completed 15 of 23 passes for 112 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception while only rushing for 16 yards on seven carries.
Running back Nate Jones rushed for 68 yards on eight carries, but 51 of those yards came on one play that led to Montes’ touchdown run.
The Lobos’ third down defense had been exemplary all season (33%, 27th nationally), but especially in only allowing four conversions that required more than seven yards (EVT’s game preview incorrectly cited only one conversion allowed that required greater than seven yards). The Aztecs converted four of six third downs in the first half, three of which required eight or more yards to convert. They finished the game 7 for 15 on third downs, while the Lobos were 0 for 10.
The Aztecs outgained the Lobos 459 to 209 and collected 18 first downs to the Lobos’ 9.
Jerrick Reed II, Preseason All-Mountain West selection at safety, led the Lobos with 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception. Linebacker Cody Moon added 13 tackles and one tackle for loss.
After ramping up the pressure on quarterbacks the last four games, the Aztecs only generated two sacks, opting to play more gap-sound defense against the triple-option looks the Lobos like to run.
Patrick McMorris led the team with nine tackles. Cedarious Barfield, who continues to start for an injured CJ Baskerville, added eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Jonah Tavai (2.5 tackles for loss) and New Mexico native Keshawn Banks (1.5 tackles for loss) paced the defensive line.
Dallas Branch recorded his third interception in as many games, picking off a pass from Montes in the second quarter.
“We have four really good corners, and they all really push it each other, and it’s been great to see (Branch) improve,” said Hoke. “(Branch) makes our defense better.”
SDSU’s Jack Browning nailed both field goal attempts (30, 48) and is now 16 of 19 for the season. New Mexico’s Luke Drzewiecki made a 39-yd field goal on the last play of the first half.
Thomas Mirabella started in place of Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli at right guard for the second straight game. Running back Chance Bell also missed the game.
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True freshman quarterback Liu Aumavae entered the game in the fourth quarter replacing Mayden, and completed his first pass as a collegiate athlete on a short completion to fellow true freshman running back Sheldon Canley.
Canley and Lucky Sutton, who are both likely slated to redshirt this year, received two carries each. Given the ability for freshmen to play four games and still redshirt, the Aztecs are eager to get both game action knowing they will not burn their redshirt status.
The Aztecs won their ninth straight game against the Lobos.
SDSU returns home to host Air Force next Saturday night (6 pm PT, CBS Sports Network) in their final game of the regular season.
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.