SDSU dominated New Mexico 31-7 in a game that felt even more lopsided than the final score indicated. The Aztecs moved up to #24 in the rankings in both major polls. They will look to move to 2-0 in the conference on Friday with a game at San Jose State.
Special Teams: A
The unit turned in another fantastic performance. Matt Araiza averaged 48.2 yards on five punts, which dropped his NCAA leading mark to 54.1 a kick. The coverage teams saw plenty of action and were terrific, giving up only 20.5 yards per kickoff return and 5.5 yards per punt return. Jordan Byrd is proving to be sure-handed, putting to rest one of the weak spots on the team the past few years. Byrd’s best kickoff return of 33 yards came following New Mexico’s only touchdown and started the momentum swing back in SDSU’s favor.
With the return of Dallas Branch and Tayler Hawkins from injury, the Aztecs’ cornerback ranks were the deepest they have been all year. Branch’s plays, in particular, jumped out because he made them with one hand wrapped in a club. The junior from nearby Redondo Beach had five tackles on the night, one tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery in his season debut.
The numbers for the safety group were not eye-popping, but their impact on the game was substantial. New Mexico’s game plan was to utilize their slot receiver with short and long passes, putting pressure on Warrior Safety Trenton Thompson, who responded well. He led the team with two pass breakups, and his interception ended the Lobos’ best drive of the night.
“I am a big Trent Thompson fan. You know he’s a little ornery sometimes, but I can promise you he is a football player,” SDSU Head Coach Brady Hoke said postgame. “You like guys who go and have a toughness to him and who work hard at it. It has been cool to look at his maturity, from when I first got here in 2019 to where he is at now.”
When a team shuts out an opposing offense, there is lots of praise to go around, and the linebackers deserve their fair share. Andrew Aleki returned from injury bringing the unit to full strength. As a group, they had 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. Michael Shawcroft did what he has done frequently the past two seasons. He played a role in a turnover. Shawcroft’s forced fumble was the sixth turnover he caused or cleaned up in his last 12 games. He has three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception in that span. A blocked punt last season would raise that total to seven, but officially that is listed as a punt return.
Defensive Line: A+
Another game, another dominating performance by the defensive line. The number of players who contributed from the unit was outstanding. It shows the embarrassment of riches at the position for the Aztecs. Keshawn Banks (0.5), Cameron Thomas (2.0), Jalil Lecky (1.5), Sefo Mailangi (1.5), and Jonah Tavai (0.5) all had at least partial tackles for loss. The seven tackles for loss by the group is more than most teams get in an entire game. For example, only once all season has New Mexico bettered SDSU’s defensive line total from Saturday.
Offensive Line: A+
After the Aztecs’ first drive of the night, where all 63 yards came on the ground, the Lobos ran the ball with as much effectiveness as SDSU. They rushed for 121 yards the rest of the game, while SDSU rushed for 147. The difference was that in between their rushing attempts, New Mexico lost 57 yards, and SDSU only lost seven, which significantly skewed the final numbers. The Lobos finished with 66 rushing yards on the night. The Aztecs rushed for 203. If the offensive line had allowed one sack on the evening, SDSU would have likely dropped below the 200 yard mark for the first time this season.
Tight End: B+
Daniel Bellinger was the most targeted Aztec on the evening. The past two seasons, he has been a focal point for the offense, mainly with Jordon Brookshire under center. For the past two games, the Las Vegas native was MIA in the passing game, but with the return of SDSU’s top signal-caller, he was given opportunities Saturday that he had not been receiving. The Aztecs’ tight ends spent a lot of the night split out, which allowed the group to show their versatility.
Wide Receiver: B
With the return of the team’s starting quarterback, the wide receivers had a productive day. It would have been a much better day if Brookshire had been accurate with the football on deep balls in the first half. The receivers did their job, so their grade should not suffer. The group did have one drop, but their play was encouraging as SDSU moves into conference play. Late in the game, they even were on the receiving end of a couple of explosive plays. Tyrell Shavers had a 23-yard catch, and BJ Busbee added a 36-yard haul.
Running Back: D
Another game, another costly fumble for Greg Bell. The hometown hero’s game-changing ability is evident, but his star will only rise so far if he develops the reputation of being fumble-prone. Bell’s miscue opened the door for New Mexico to get back in the game and accounted for the Lobos only score on the night. Aside from that play, Bell had 40 yards on his first touch and 73 on his next 20. He scored one touchdown, as did backup running back Chance Bell.
A more detailed look at Brookshire’s play is forthcoming in the analysis of the game. In brief, SDSU’s QB contributed 130 yards passing, 45 yards rushing, and 25 penalty yards to the Aztecs win. A 200-yard performance is not world-changing, but coupled with his two touchdown runs and no turnovers, it was precisely the type of play the Aztecs need from the position. Brookshire’s inaccuracy turned what should have been a banner day into an average one. However, for a school that has not had many solid performances from their quarterbacks in recent seasons, Saturday was something to build upon.
The return of Rocky Long did not distract the team from dominating in this one. SDSU’s staff used the Towson game and the bye week effectively to help injured players mend. Kurt Mattix adjusted how the defense covers players in the slot, and that proved effective. Jeff Hecklinski allowed Brookshire to throw his way out of a slow start. He also moved his tight ends off the line, which helped SDSU win the numbers game in their screen passes and should allow for more space to open up inside with the rushing attack moving forward.