San Diego State dropped to 1-2 on the season in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. The main storyline that developed from the contest is the way SDSU chose to employ its QBs. Following Braxton Burmeister’s second early exit in three games due to injury, Will Haskell came into the game. Haskell was allowed to lead the offense for just one series before the coaching staff replaced him with Kyle Crum.
More than the players themselves, the contest called the staff into question. They either chose not to or were unsuccessful in trying to bring in a more experienced backup behind Burmeister. The entire conversation about Haskell and Crum would not have played out on national television if the roster had one more seasoned QB.
Jaylen Mayden’s decision to switch positions also is a factor. His choice left the program without another upperclassman at the most crucial position on the team. Challenges aside, the staff was aware of what they had when they left Spring Camp and did not address it, which set the scene for what took place on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
San Diego State Defense
Defensive Line: B-
Despite the lopsided victory, SDSU’s defensive line had its best game of the season. Jonah Tavai tied for the team lead in tackles with six. He was followed closely by Justus Tavai and Garret Fountain. They both had five. Fountain offered the highlights for the unit on the evening.
On the opening possession of the first quarter, defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix dialed up an exotic blitz. He lined up Caden McDonald over the center. At the snap, McDonald rushed and was picked up by Utah’s center. Michael Shawcroft was three yards directly behind his fellow LB and hit the open gap caused by McDonald’s blitz, which flushed Utah’s Cam Rising. Fountain, with his hand in the ground, acted like he was going to rush but stopped and covered, RB Micah Bernard running out of the backfield. Fountain ran with the running back twenty yards down the field, forcing an incomplete pass.
Fountain also brought the opening possession of the second quarter to an end with a sack. With a full head of steam, Fountain blew up Bernard before bringing down Rising.
In the loss, Shawcroft and McDonald starred again for the Aztecs. Physically, the duo is on a different level than the rest of their teammates. Shawcroft, in particular, is playing with a speed and purpose that is exciting to watch. He was everywhere on Saturday night.
Shawcroft’s highlight series occurred in the first quarter. On second and three, with Utah inside SDSU territory, the hometown hero locked his eyes on the tight end, disguising his intent. At the snap, he rushed, beat a pair of defenders, and brought Rising down for a 15-yard sack. On the next play, he broke up a pass fifteen yards downfield to bring the drive to an end.
Shawcroft’s brilliance could not make up for SDSU’s worst play of the night. With the game still in doubt, Cooper McDonald’s roughing the quarterback penalty extended a Utah possession that ultimately resulted in the game-winning TD.
SDSU needs more from this group than what they are getting so far in 2022. The safeties did not play poorly on Saturday, but they also were unspectacular. With Patrick McMorris and CJ Baskerville, this unit is arguably the one with the most NFL potential, but that duo has yet to make their mark on a game. Davaughn Celestine was targeted often on Saturday and mostly held up. True freshman Eric Butler also saw time at the Field Warrior Safety position. Kyron White made his 2022 debut in the loss and made a jarring hit on a receiver that knocked the ball out for an incomplete pass.
Rising only threw for 224 yards, completing 60% of his passes. Only seven of his completions went to wide receivers. The cornerbacks’ grade is due to the fact that three of Rising’s four touchdown passes went to his wideouts. The fourth caught by tight end Brant Kuithe came on a blown assignment from CB Dez Malone. With the poor play from the offense, there was likely nothing the defense could have done to get SDSU in the game, but holding Utah to field goals could have artificially kept the game close. Instead, the Utes went 4-4 in the red zone with four touchdowns by picking on SDSU’s CBs.
San Diego State Offense
The question of the day is why Will Haskell came in for only one series before Kyle Crum relieved him. Fans waiting for head coach Brady Hoke to publically speak poorly of his players will be disappointed. As he did following Cedarious Barfield’s benching, where he only spoke about why Celestine deserved the opportunity to play, postgame, Hoke only spoke about Crum’s virtues following Saturday’s game. While everyone would like more information, Hoke’s decision to avoid speaking negatively about amateur athletes is the correct one.
Without confirmation from the coaching staff, signs point to a very simple explanation of why Haskell went in for a series. Before the staff knew the extent of Burmeister’s injury, they elected to put Haskell in because his experience made him a better fit to play a few snaps before handing the ball back to Burmeister. When it became apparent their starter would be out for the game, they turned to Crum, the player they thought would be better overall.
Haskell’s three snaps could be summed up by one word, “uncompetitive.” On the first two plays, he missed very obvious reads, setting up his running backs for punishment. His final play, he did not even attempt to get away from the pressure, choosing instead to throw a short pass that had no chance of success. Haskell’s talent is undeniable, but he will only reach his potential if he approaches the game with passion on and off the field.
Crum competed but was clearly overmatched against Utah’s stellar defense. Still, there were a number of positive plays on SDSU’s final drive of the night. On a 4th and 7, Utah, trying to preserve their shutout, rushed seven. LB Justin Medlock came free on the edge, rushing into Crum’s passing lane. Opening himself up to take a big hit, Crum delivered a strike to Brionne Penny for a first down. Four plays later, he faced another 4th down and threw a very good ball to Penny again, who was interfered with for a first down.
On second and goal, Crum threw a fade to Penny for what would have been a touchdown, but RB Martin Blake committed a penalty threatening to wipe out anything positive from Crum’s evening. Crum responded to this adversity on the next play. Utah dropped seven defenders but still got pressure. Crum took a deep drop, stepped up into the pocket, protected the ball, and lofted a pass between two Utes defenders for a touchdown. It was easily the best throw by an Aztecs QB this season.
Running Back: C
The running game never really got going on Saturday night. They averaged only 3.3 yards a carry. Jaylon Armstead earned the start but, after receiving three carries in the first quarter, did not see the ball again until the fourth quarter. He finished with 31 yards on only five touches. Jordan Byrd continues to play at a high level. He had the longest run of the night, an 18-yard scamper. SDSU’s rotation at running back is interesting because no back is able to get enough touches to develop much of a rhythm.
Wide Receiver: Incomplete
Incomplete could have been the grade for the unit in each of the three games this year. They simply have not been given enough opportunities to know if they played well this season. As blockers, they did not open any long gains, but with only a handful of gains greater than ten yards, they did not have a chance to block downfield either. Phillippe Wesley and Josh Nicholson had the first receptions of their young careers.
Tight End: D
The 2022 Aztecs lack physicality up front. Much of that is due to Daniel Bellinger’s absence, but Jay Rudolph is also missed. Elite effort is typically the difference between a good play and a great one. Rudolph’s style of play is infectious, making everyone around him better. Mark Redman looked slow on Saturday to get his head around in the passing game. Aaron Greene fumbled a return that set up Utah to seal the game late in the first half.
Offensive Line: D
SDSU’s line had a challenging time with the noise of Rice-Eccles Stadium. Josh Simmons had at least two false start penalties. His replacement Jonathan Harrison had another. The rest of the line did not fare much better, with multiple members getting called for infractions. Utah overloaded the line throughout, trying to force the quarterbacks to make quick decisions and take hits as they delivered the ball. When the Utes rushed four, they were also successful at applying pressure.
San Diego State Special Teams
Jack Browning was officially added to the Ray Guy Award Watch List on Sunday. Browning currently ranks 14th in the NCAA with a 45.6-punting average. On Saturday against Utah, he had a busy day with eight punts. One was a long of 55 yards. Long snapper Ryan Wintermeyer had a pair of tackles in coverage and was generally among the first Aztecs downfield covering punts.
The fumbled kickoff already mentioned above by Aaron Greene allowed Utah to put away the game before the half. There were not many opportunities for Byrd and Penny to raise the grade much. With the Aztecs’ offense struggling, SDSU depends on their special teams to win the field position battle, but the returners for Utah clearly were better on Saturday night.