Once mighty SDSU defense will search for answers during bye week

SDSU's captains at midfield for the opening coin toss. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Josh Nicholson runs away from an Air Force tackle attempt for his first TD of the season. (Don De Mars/EVT)

In Rocky Long’s tenure as SDSU head coach, the Aztecs won all seven meetings against Air Force.

In five meetings under Brady Hoke, the Aztecs have lost three of five games. Hoke’s two victories bookended Long’s tenure as part of a nine-game winning streak against the Falcons. 

The past two losses could not have played out any differently. 

In the final regular season game of 2022, the Aztecs surrendered a big run to FB Brad Roberts and a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. They yielded only two field goals for the remainder of the game. Any semblance of offense (the Aztecs tallied 3 points, -1 rushing yards, and 3 turnovers) would have propelled the Aztecs to their tenth straight victory over the Falcons.  

This past Saturday, the Aztecs forced a punt on the Falcons opening drive. The only other drive in the game the Falcons didn’t score a touchdown was the final kneel-downs to conclude the game. 

In between, the Falcons had six possessions. They scored six touchdowns. 

The shortest scoring drive went 53 yards. The other five went at least 75, including the final one that lasted 10 minutes and 20 seconds over 16 plays (85 yards). 

“They did a couple of things adjustment-wise,” said Hoke postgame when asked about the shift in the game starting with Air Force’s second drive. “But we adjusted. I thought we did a good job with it, but it just got out of hand.” 

Air Force RB Dylan Carson runs for a big gain as he tries to evade LB Cody Moon. (Don De Mars/EVT)

In the prior two years, Hoke and defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix’s defense was able to contain Air Force’s triple-option offense to only 4.0 and 4.1 yards per carry, well below their season averages of 5.1 and 5.3. This year, the number ballooned to 5.4, right on par with Air Force’s season average.

Fix one leak, find another

The main defensive storyline heading into the Air Force game was poor tackling. The team missed 11.6 tackles per game per Pro Football Focus (PFF), including an unbelievable 19 against Boise State in the most recent performance. 

Given that standard, one had to wonder how many rushing yards the Falcons would rack up if another double-digit missed tackle performance emerged. 

True to the word of Hoke, senior captain Cedarious Barfield, and sophomore LB Zyrus Fiaseu during weekly media availabilities, the Aztecs fixed the issue, only missing three tackles against the Falcons. 

Unfortunately, if you don’t have defenders in position to tackle players at the point of attack, missing tackles is the least of your worries. Numerous times throughout the game, the Falcons’ ball carriers raced through the line of scrimmage with no Aztec defender in sight and weren’t met with would-be tacklers until after picking up large chunks of yardage. 

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“We aren’t living up to the way we work here as a program,” said DE and captain Garret Fountain postgame. “It starts with us as players. We have to hold each other accountable. It’s lacking right now, so we need to figure that out.”

DE Garret Fountain tries to knock down a pass attempt from QB Zac Larrier. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Through Week 5, only 11 FBS teams allow more yards per game than SDSU’s 432.4, and 26 allow more than SDSU’s 30.83 ppg.

Air Force’s dominant passing Game?

Giving up yards against Air Force on the ground is no surprise. They have led the nation in rushing the past three years. Allowing Falcons QB Zac Larrier to complete six of seven passes for 189 yards after entering the game only completing eight passes (for 221 yards) all season is a head-scratcher. In contrast, Jalen Mayden completed 13 passes (in 24 attempts) for only 122 yards.

One of those completions, a 26-yd pass to Jared Roznos from the SDSU 29 in the second quarter, was the result of nobody lining up opposite the receiver as they broke the huddle. CB Noah Tumblin stayed inside in a bunched formation and didn’t realize anybody was lined up out wide. Larrier immediately threw Roznos’ way as soon as the ball was snapped. 

Fortunately for the Aztecs, the ball hung in the air long enough for safety Josh Hunter to race over and down Roznos at the three to prevent the score (the Falcons ran it in on the next play). Unfortunately for Hunter, his hustle and sure tackling earned him the distinction of allowing the completion and yardage per PFF’s advanced statistics, even though it was clearly not his missed assignment. 

The two biggest pass plays came in the third quarter. Larrier found Cade Harris for a 54-yd TD and Roznos for a 53-yd TD on consecutive possessions. Both receivers beat safety Davaughn Celestine on the scores. On Harris’ TD, Barfield ran over to double the outside receiver covered by CB Dez Malone, leaving the middle of the field open for the untouched run to the end zone.  

S Cedarious Barfield looks to bring down a ball carrier while Eric Butler provides reinforcement. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“We don’t cover one guy, we don’t have the corner out there,” said Hoke postgame when asked about the big passes. “Obviously, you can’t play football that way. Our discipline with our eyes wasn’t where it needed to be on those two other long passes.”

SDSU has been outscored 45 to 9 in 3rd quarter action this year. The halftime adjustments have clearly not paid dividends for the Aztecs.  

Class of 2024 Recruiting

The first bye week of the season will not only allow the coaching staff to reassess and reevaluate the schemes and personnel but provide an opportunity to hit the recruiting trail.

The Class of 2024, which can officially sign National Letters of Intent (NLIs) during the early period of December 20-22, 2023, currently has ten players verbally committed. 

Seven are from California, including local star RB Anthony McMillian, Jr. from Mater Dei Catholic. 

Eight of the ten committed prior to the start of the summer, while the most recent commits, DB Tayten Beyer from Centennial High School in Corona, CA, and OL Kai Holec from O’Dea High School in Seattle, WA, committed in July and August, respectively. 

All ten are considered 3-star recruits per 247Sports.

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3 thoughts on “Once mighty SDSU defense will search for answers during bye week

  1. Just a reminder; a disgruntled alumni made Rocky Long miserable enough to leave his head coaching position over what they believed was a really boring offense.

    All he delivered was winning seasons resulting in repeated bowl appearances. All he wanted was to be left alone to manage his team. The deluge of criticism became a real source of irritation for him. The lack of discipline and toughness we are used to seeing is certainly lacking.

    We have some real talent in many of our freshmen and sophomores. I just hope we can retain them during their development. As our ranking sinks, so does our ability to recruit. If receiving an offer to join a power five conference is our goal these performances does nothing to support our argument that we belong at that level.

  2. Air Force outplayed Aztecs on every aspect!
    You have to Stop their BONE 1st! Have to maintain control of clock! Have to Pass when not Obvious! Go Aztecs!

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