Missed tackles and two fumbles doom Aztecs in conference opener against Broncos

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

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Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs (2-3, 0-1) lost to the Boise State Broncos (2-2, 1-0) to begin Mountain West Conference action, 34-31. 

“We had opportunities, and we didn’t take advantage of them, and we didn’t fall through with them,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke postgame. 

The Broncos took control of the game in the third quarter, breaking a halftime tie with ten unanswered points aided by Aztec miscues.  

After Jack Browning missed a 40-yard field goal, the Broncos opened the scoring in the quarter with a 27-yard attempt by Jonah Dalmas. 

QB Jalen Mayden fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive, appearing to run into his center, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli, trying to cut back on a rush attempt. Boise State recovered at the SDSU 25 and scored a few plays later. QB Taylen Green faked a handoff on a 3rd and 5 from the 10 and beat every defender around the corner for the touchdown.  

The Aztecs converted three 3rd and longs and cut the lead back to three on Jaylon Armstead’s second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, but an opportunity to tie or take a lead on their next drive stalled when Mayden was sacked for the only time in the game on a 3rd down play. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The teams traded touchdowns in the final two minutes, and an onside kick attempt by the Aztecs was recovered by the Broncos.  

Boise State’s Ashton Jeanty was the best player on the field Saturday night, breaking tackles left and right and carrying tacklers forward for extra yards on almost every carry. He finished with 205 rushing yards (on 23 carries) and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 49 yards. 

“I did feel as though we were running to the ball but kinda not getting there trying to make a play,” said safety Cedarious Barfield postgame about the multitude of missed tackles. “Kinda just running there just to run there. This one hurts.”

Hoke provided more thoughts on tackling, stating he was surprised by the number of missed tackles because of the way they tackled in practice all week.  

“We tackle constantly (but) you can only tackle so much (in practice),” said Hoke when asked if the team needs to do things differently during the week to fix the issue. “We work angles, we work sheds, we work all kinds of stuff. It will be interesting to look at it and see if it was angles, see if it was follow on through, wrapping up, we’ll see how that all turns out.”

Green completed only 12 of 22 passes for 162 yards but threw and ran for touchdowns. Eric McCalister led the Broncos with 90 receiving yards (on five receptions).

Both teams came into the game with two of the worst defenses in the country. The Broncos allowed 427 yards per game (110th), the Aztecs 439.8 (114th). Those rankings made perfect sense for anyone who watched the first half and saw the teams rack up 253 and 234 yards, respectively, in a 17-17 tie at halftime. The Aztecs nearly scored their 18.8 ppg average in the first half alone. 

The Aztecs were fueled by Mayden’s perfect 9 for 9 for 120 yards and the opening touchdown pass of the game to true freshman WR Braylin Brooks. Special teams returns by Kenan Christon (71 yards) and Dez Malone (36) gave the Aztecs great field position, although Mayden fumbled on the opening drive at the goal line after Christon’s run back. 

Entering the game, the Aztecs did not have a reception longer than 29 yards. Brooks had two longer than 29 in the first half alone (34, 37). Brooks finished the game with five catches for 117 yards. 

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Brionne Penny added a 32-yard reception in the second quarter on a running back pass from Martin Blake to start a drive in the second quarter. Jaylon Armstead ran in his third touchdown of the season from two yards out to complete the drive. 

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

On the flip side, the Broncos offense in the first half was all about Jeanty. He rushed for 137 yards on ten carries, one of which went for a 58-yard touchdown, and caught a 37-yard pass. On several carries, he broke multiple tackles from Aztec defenders on his way down the field. Green found McCalister open in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to finish one of the drives. 

Jack Browning and Jonah Dalmas added a field goal each in the first from 22 and 29 yards out, respectively. 

For the second straight game, Mayden (16/22, 241 yds) was able to connect with wide receivers down the field. In addition to Brooks, Brionne Penny hauled in five catches for 97 yards. While Mayden also led the team with 85 rushing yards and a touchdown, his two lost fumbles proved crucial in the final outcome of the game. 

“I’ve got to play a complete game,” Mayden said postgame when asked about the turnovers. “It starts with me. I just can’t have turnovers. (I) can’t allow myself to have mistakes.”

San Diego natives Marco Notarainni and Demetri Washington led the Broncos in tackles with eight and seven, respectively. 

Eric Butler played the best game as an Aztec in his brief career with a team-high eight tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss (first career sack). He replaced Davaughn Celestine midway through the second quarter and played the remainder of the game. Barfield added 1.5 tackles for loss, and corner Noah Tumblin led with three pass breakups. 

Browning’s miss was his third in five attempts in the past two weeks, along with being relieved from kickoff duties by Gabriel Plascencia. Hoke mentioned postgame Browning has been bothered by a hamstring injury, although he did not think that played a part in the misses. 

Credit: Don De Mats/ EVT Sports

“He’s got to be more consistent,” added Hoke. “If anybody knows it, it’s Jack. He’ll get back to work.”

Senior RB George Holani missed his third straight game for the Broncos, while WR Mekhi Shaw missed his second straight game for the Aztecs. Boise State LB DJ Schramm started after missing last week’s game against North Dakota. 

The win broke a 4-4 series record deadlock between the two teams. Previously, SDSU was the only current Mountain West team Boise State did not own a winning record against. 

Both Mayden and Barfield reiterated postgame that it is a long season, and they still have seven games to go to compete for the conference title. 

“It’s the top two teams (in the conference),” said Barfield. “We can still make it to the championship.”

The Aztecs travel to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force next Saturday at 5 p.m. On Friday night, the Falcons (4-0, 2-0) defeated San Jose State, 45-20. 

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