The single most frustrating part of watching SDSU Aztec football the past decade is the team’s inability to make huge strides in the passing game. Opponents for much of the past ten years stacked the box and dared the Aztecs to throw the ball. Even when SDSU spread out its offense, it still could not get much going through the air.
More than anything else, offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski was brought in to fix the woeful passing game and make the Aztecs dangerous in every aspect of the offense. Hecklinski’s stated plan of attack is to use a plethora of formations and personnel groups to take advantage of the large number of playmakers on the roster. In the fall scrimmages, this was on full display. Multiple tight ends were split out on one play, and the next saw two running backs in the formation.
Elijah Kothe makes the list for the most important Aztecs because his success would be a telling sign that SDSU’s passing game has made huge strides.
Kothe enters the season as the fourth or fifth-best option in the offense. Greg Bell promises to be the center of the game plan. Wide receiver Jesse Matthews is the team’s clear number one receiver. Tight end Daniel Bellinger, especially with Jordon Brookshire behind center, is next on the list. Teams have shown they are going to key on Jordan Byrd any time he is in the game.
Can SDSU develop a vertical passing game?
All of these options should leave Kothe with a lot of one-on-one opportunities because, for the first time since arriving on campus, the offense is taking advantage of the senior wide out’s unique skill set. In the first scrimmage, with cornerbacks playing tight in coverage, Kothe used his 6’4” 210 lbs frame to catch four passes and average more than 25 yards a catch. The defense played off Kothe in the second scrimmage, and he took advantage. He caught short passes and used his strength to gain extra yards and move the chains.
Kothe’s emergence as more than an occasional threat would make the opposition “pick their poison.” Defenses would have to choose where to send help and where to play single coverage. If they chose to spread out and give help because Matthews, Bellinger, Byrd, and Kothe all proved to be threats, they could no longer stack the box which would open up lanes for Greg Bell and the run game.
More than anything, a dangerous #96 would make life much easier for starting quarterback Jordon Brookshire.
Hecklinski described the quarterback in his offense as the most dangerous player on the field, who, like a point guard, is tasked with distributing the ball all over the field. A key to doing that is making the correct pre-snap read to know what the defense is set up to stop. The more playmakers an offense can utilize, the less defenses are able to hide their intentions.
Finally, though the staff has spoken about the strides Brookshire has made in his throwing accuracy, this aspect of his game will continue to be a question. Kothe’s emergence in the offense will help in this regard because he is a terrific “bad ball” receiver. Throws do not have to be perfect for the Las Vegas native to go and make a play.
Kothe adding these dimensions to the offense would be a catalyst for the change the offense promises to have in 2021. It is the reason he makes the list at number three in the countdown.