Mr. Garrison’s SDSU Aztecs grades for week seven

Credit: AP Photo

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Credit: AP Photo

Special Teams: A+

Where would this team be without Matt Araiza? They certainly would not be undefeated. The junior from local Rancho Bernardo High had another terrific game. Araiza averaged 52.9 yards on seven punts, including five that were over 50 yards and a long of 86. His two field goals were the only points SDSU scored in regulation. Following the game, coach Hoke said he decides when to kick long field goals or punt by the “gut” instinct, and having a player like Araiza makes his job easier.

Safety:  B+

Statistically, this was a banner day for the unit. Patrick McMorris led the team in tackles with 12. Cedarious Barfield chipped in seven. Trenton Thompson, of course, had the interception in the end zone in overtime. McMorris and Thompson more impressively had six pass breakups between them. The unit misses out on a top mark because they were a few penalty calls away from giving up 300 yards in the air. Derek Deese owned the middle of the field with six receptions for 113 yards.

Cornerback: B-

Nine receptions for 109 yards and no scores are what SDSU gave up to SJSU wide receivers. Many of those yards were the throw-it up, hope for the best, type. That the Aztec corners were unable to pick off one of those 50/50 passes is the reason their grade was not higher. Tayler Hawkins led the unit with six tackles and two pass breakups. After solidifying the position over the first six games, someone aside from Hawkins needs to make a few game-changing plays if this team is going to continue winning. 

Linebacker: B

Michael Shawcroft had a notable game. Eight tackles, three tackles for loss, including a sack, and one forced fumble. Aside from Shawcroft, it was a pedestrian performance for a group that over the season’s first six games has been the difference from the defense as a whole having a good or a great one. The defense was good Friday night; greatness would have come by setting the offense up with short fields. The defense had a couple of chances following epic punts by Araiza but allowed the Spartans to escape on the ground. The linebackers needed to make a play in those situations.

Defensive Line: A-

As the game wore on, so did the defensive line. It is the one aspect of this undersized unit that could be viewed as a negative. Nonetheless, they dug deep and stopped SJSU on key short-yardage plays late in the game. None more important than stopping the Spartans on 3rd and 4th down and 1-yard with 6:30 left in regulation. Cameron Thomas was a menace throughout and provided the most explosive play for the unit. All told, the line had 21 tackles, three tackles for loss, including one sack.

Offensive Line: F

For the first time this season, the line was completely overwhelmed by an opponent’s defensive front. The drop in production was surprising because of how well the group has played all season. SJSU managed six quarterback hurries, three sacks, and seven tackles for loss. Including last night, teams have not attacked the backfield with many all-out blitz packages. What made last night different from the other games is SDSU’s line lost a number of their one on one matchups.

Tight End: C-

Daniel Bellinger led the Aztecs in receptions on Friday and showed some elusiveness after the catch but did break off a huge gain. The difference between the Spartans offense and Deese compared to Bellinger, and the Aztecs was apparent. SJSU’s tight end was more of a downfield threat. He had only one more reception but 79 more receiving yards. SDSU considers their tight ends an extension of the offensive line, so their grade suffers with the line’s poor performance.

Credit: Quad-City Times

Wide Receiver: B-

The group finished with ten receptions for 136 yards and two scores, including both in OT. There were also a couple of plays they could have made and a number where Brookshire did not give them a fair opportunity. The 50/50 balls to Matthews were encouraging because the way opposing defenses are playing the Aztecs that should be available often.

Running Back: D

It is difficult to fault the running backs too much for their lack of production with the poor play from the offensive line and the coaching staff’s decision to feature the passing game against SJSU instead of a rushing attack that came into the game averaging 244.4 yards a game. Greg Bell was only given back-to-back carries once in regulation. Be that as it may, the ground game averaged 1.9 yards an attempt on the evening.

Quarterback: D

Whatever Jeff Hecklinski saw in practice to suggest the passing game was able to step into a central role in the offense was completely missing Friday night. Jordon Brookshire was terrible, missing open receivers throughout. Even when the passing game made some plays, they could not string together enough of them to find the end zone. Lucas Johnson was given the unenviable job of taking over in the fourth quarter deep in SDSU territory and nearly gave the game away. The group earned one higher letter grade because Johnson was able to lead the Aztecs on two touchdown drives in OT, including calling an audible on the game’s winning play.

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Coaching: C

There is a long list of reasons this grade should be lower and another list of why it should be higher, so meeting in the middle is probably the best bet. The bad: the passing game clearly was not ready to be more than a complement to the rushing attack, but the coaches made it the centerpiece of the game plan. Coach Hoke’s use of a time-out after first down late in the fourth quarter instead of waiting to see the result of the second down play allowed SJSU time for a game-winning field goal. The offensive line was not ready to play. The good: SDSU did not have the back-breaking penalties SJSU had all night, which was a stated area of improvement. All offseason, SDSU spoke about scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They did so twice in OT. On a Friday night on the road, the Aztecs never trailed in defeating a conference rival and all but eliminated the defending conference champions from title contention.

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