Last week, Lucas Johnson’s high grade was due to his performance in context with all the circumstances leading up to the game. This week’s grade is based only on what he did on the field. From any perspective, Johnson had a subpar outing. If his role is to be a game manager, his interception is inexcusable. If he is expected to be a true compliment to the running attack, he was inaccurate on too many throws. SDSU is 4-0 for only the second time in the last 40 seasons, but the Aztecs managed that without clarifying the murky quarterback situation.
Running Back: A+
To imagine where this team would be without the incredible running backs on the roster is a scary thought. SDSU average 6.0 a carry on the ground as a team. Four of the five offensive touchdowns came in the run game. Chance Bell (seven carries for 79 yards) and Jordan Byrd (seven carries for 75 yards) had the flashier runs, but Kaegun Williams (10 carries for 76 yards) had arguably the best day. While the latter broke off runs of 61 and 55, Williams’ longest carry netted only 25. Nonetheless, the senior back still managed a 7.6 yard per carry average.
Tight End: C+
The tight ends deserved credit for being an extension of the offensive line. Jay Rudolph has taken on the persona of a fullback, and the opposition is worse for it. He plays from whistle to whistle and drives opposing players mad. Multiple times, Towson players directed a few extra late shoves Rudolph’s way, which only played into the tight end’s hands even more. Until this unit is more active in the passing game, however, it simply is underachieving.
Wide Receiver: B-
Saturday was the most productive the receivers have been all season. The wide outs should not be blamed for inaccurate throws that deflated their performance. Mekhi Shaw started for the Aztecs, and he certainly earned himself more time going forward. Brionne Penny led team in receptions, though they came with the game no longer in doubt. Elijah Kothe’s 16-yard touchdown reception is precisely what the Aztecs need more from him going forward. Kothe used his size to win a 50/50 ball. With SDSU rushing the ball so well, the opportunity for that pass is there a handful of times each game.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line continues its dominant play. All of the above accolades for the running backs is only possible because the line wore down a Towson team that has not been stout against the run. The line earned a minus because the five tackles for loss the Tigers produced on Saturday were the most they had all season. SDSU needs its line to continue to play at this level to have any shot at a conference title.
Defensive Line: C+
Credit Towson for breaking script and attempting to beat the Aztecs through the air. For the first time all year, the Tigers attempted more passes than runs. It is possible SDSU was caught off guard by the tactic, but the defensive line that was so dominant a week ago was pedestrian on Saturday. Towson was quick to get the ball off, but they also held onto it enough that the Aztecs’ five quarterback hurries and two sacks were simply not good enough.
The linebackers are too good to have as little of an impact on the game as they did Saturday. A week after completely dominating against Utah, the group had only one tackle for loss all game. Segun Olubi led the team in tackles a week ago with eight. All of the linebackers combined for just ten stops against Towson. Their improved play during hurry-up situations will be a key during the bye week.
Patrick McMorris returned after being ejected for targeting last week to lead the team with eight tackles. Despite the missed time, McMorris has the most stops on the season for SDSU. He is playing the Aztec position with poise, confidence, and skill. Cedarious Barfield (four), Trenton Thompson (two), and CJ Baskerville (two) combined for eight additional tackles. Safeties coach Kyle Hoke deserves a lot of credit. Despite replacing a pair of NFL-caliber players, the unit amazingly has not had too noticeable a drop-off from last season. They were not awarded a top grade because allowing three touchdown through the air is too many.
With Tayler Hawkins out with an injury, Towson targeted his replacement Noah Avinger a lot. Avinger responded with an interception but also gave up a fair share of completions. It was the kind of performance that will go a long way in his development. With the Tigers focused in on Avinger, Tumblin received a cold shoulder from the offense. Both have a long way to go to be complete corners, particularly in run support, but the non-conference season has been a great primer for the conference portion of the schedule and SDSU’s hunt to Win 22.
Special Teams: A+
Saturday was nearly a complete special teams’ performance. The positives were so great, it more than made up for the one blemish. Matt Araiza’s 65.7 punt average was the highest by an FBS player with at least three punts in a game since 1996. The punt team blocked another punt, their third in three games, and Trenton Thompson returned it for a score. Jordan Byrd average 10.3 yards a punt return. The only negative was a 73-yard kickoff return.
SDSU’s coaching staff earned this high mark because of the way they substituted. Many of their younger players were given valuable reps, while some of their older players were rewarded for all their work over the years with playing time. Among the former group, Connor McBride saw action Saturday. If anyone on the team has a claim to earning playing time, it is McBride. He is a great teammate with an infectious personality and deserved his time yesterday. The Aztecs came out a little flat but evened the score before the end of the first quarter. A trend for the season, the team came out on fire after halftime. The players are locked in, believe in the staff, and play for each other.
Bye Week: A+
When the season’s schedule was released, one talking point was the placement of the bye week. With all of the injuries to key players, the week off comes at a great time for the Aztecs. They should be able to spend the week getting healthier heading into the important part of their schedule. Motivation should not be hard to come by on the Mesa during the off time. Besides the reset that comes with beginning the conference slate, voters did the coaches a favor by not ranking them in either major poll.