In their first official road game, San Diego delivered another impressive win, trouncing Utah State 38-7.
The Aztecs moved to 2-0 on the season and face San Jose State on Friday.
Quarterback: B –
On Monday, Coach Hoke admitted what is evident: At this point in his career, Carson Baker is more of a “game manager.” Early in the season, Hoke was reluctant to use such a phrase to describe his starting quarterback, but on Monday conceded, “[Baker] has to manage the offense before mastering it.” As a “game manager,” Baker did a good job on Saturday. He threw two touchdowns, including one in the red zone, converted key third downs to keep drives alive, and, most importantly, took care of the football. For most of the first half, SDSU depended more on the pass than the run and were successful moving the ball.
Running Back: A+
If there were a higher grade than at A+, the SDSU running backs deserve it. As a group, they have been nothing short of sensational. On the season, they are averaging an insane 7.0 yards per rushing attempt. The turning point in the game was on the final possession of the first half. SDSU moved the ball from its own 12 to the USU 24 on five runs, including a 30-yard burst by Chance Bell. While the drive ended with a field goal, it was a preview of the second half.
The Aztecs came out running and scored touchdowns on four straight possessions. Jordan Byrd’s 73-yard sprint through a massive hole put the finishing touches on an incredible performance. Running the ball also keeps the clock running, and SDSU won the time of possession by almost 15 minutes. When one team has the ball for an entire quarter more than the other, it amounts to a lopsided win.
Wide Receiver: B-
As mentioned above, the Aztecs opened the game trying to exploit Utah State’s secondary weakness. The Aztecs never punted during these drives, but their offense stalled when they were deep in USU territory. Too often, with the Aggies focused on the run, SDSU was unable to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups between the receivers and the corners. For the Aztec offense to reach a proper balance, they will need more production from the receivers.
On the other hand, SDSU’s receivers continue to be willing blockers in the run game. Their contribution was most evident on Chance Bell’s 27-yard TD run late in the third. Bell bounced his run on 4th and inches to the outside. The only player who had a chance to stop him before reaching the end zone was Utah State corner Cam Lampkin, but Kobe Smith perfectly walled him off, and Lampkin did not lay a finger on Bell.
Tight End: C+
It was another uneven performance by the SDSU tight ends. As with the rest of the team, their impact was felt more in the run game than in the passing game. Daniel Bellinger was involved in one of the game’s most important plays. As time expired, USU’s improbable touchdown brought the Aggies to within three points of the Aztecs at the half.
The opening possession of the second half could not have started worse for the Scarlet and Black. A holding penalty and a sack put SDSU in a second and 26 situation. A Greg Bell rush for 16 yards brought up a consequential third and 10 from deep in the Aztec territory. Failing to convert would keep the momentum in the Aggies’ favor and likely give a short field to their offense. Instead, Bellinger got separation for his defender and Carson Baker delivered an accurate ball for a 16 yard gain. It gave the Aztecs a fresh set of downs, the momentum, and was the prelude to the “Greg and Chance Bell Show” that followed.
Offensive Line: A+
This week, San Diego State’s offensive line was the curve setter for the entire nation. Pro Football Focus, which rates every player and position group in college football, gave the offensive line a grade of 92.3. No other offensive line in the country received a grade in the 90s. SDSU was followed by Iowa, whose grade of 84.1 looks impressive except when compared to the Aztecs. The OL was so dominant, Kyle Spalding, Jacob Capra, and Zachary Thomas were all named to the PPF National Team of the Week.
Defensive Line: A+
In 2016, Kahi Neves was a four-star recruit at inside linebacker, and the third-best prospect in the state of Utah. Originally committed to the University of Utah, Neves was an early enrollee at the University of Arizona. More than a year later, in the summer of 2017, Neves left Arizona. The Arizona Daily Star listed Neves among a group of “high-profile misses” from the 2016 class. Expected to make an immediate impact at SDSU after transferring from Snow College in 2019, Neves underwhelmed in his first season with the Aztecs. Now a junior, the athletic Neves is the unheralded member of the starting defensive line. On Saturday, we got a glimpse of how potential, matched with perseverance, can shape a young man into a terrific player. Neves had four tackles (the game-high was five tackles), one tackle for loss, a QB hurry, and he teamed with Cameron Thomas for the only sack of the night.
Through the first quarter of the season, the linebacker group — a question mark heading into the year — has proven to be a strength. A week after Caden McDonald had a breakout performance, he continued his solid play. His most important contribution came late in the third quarter. McDonald hit quarterback Jason Shelley just as he released the ball. The ball fluttered in the air before landing in the hands of fellow linebacker Seyddrick Lakalaka. The production for the position was not limited to these two. Andrew Aleki had five tackles, Segun Olubi had four, and Michael Shawcroft forced and recovered a fumble. Statistics aside, watching this unit punish ball carriers and receivers from sideline to sideline makes watching the Aztecs must-see TV.
Coming into the season, the only starter who needed to be replaced in the secondary was Luqman Barcoo. Through two games, sophomore Cedarious Barfield has filled that role admirably. On the other side, Darren Hall continues to look like the next Aztecs’ corner bound for the NFL. Both have been strong in run support and stopping the screen game to the wide receivers. On Saturday, Hall was tied for the team lead in tackles with five, Barfield chipped in four of his own.
The Aztecs demand a lot from their corners — more than most teams, and to date, Barfield and Hall have been up to the task. It will be interesting to watch the cornerback rotation in the coming weeks. Tayler Hawkins continues to be listed as the starter, but Barfield has started both games this season.
We live in a data-driven age that has invaded every aspect of our lives. In the World Series, Blake Snell was pulled from his start despite completely dominating because the numbers before the game dictated the pitching change. Looking at the numbers from Saturday’s game, the Aztec safety group had an underwhelming performance. Against UNLV, the safeties were involved in nearly 40% of the tackles; on Saturday, that number dipped to 24%. However, it was apparent that USU almost completely ignored attacking the middle of the field. The dynamic duo of Dwayne Johnson Jr. and Tariq Thompson impacted the game before it even started.
During the game, substitute starter Tayler Hawkins made the biggest impact. He tied for the team lead in tackles (5) and passes defended (1). Hawkins replaced Trenton Thompson, who was out with an ankle injury. Another backup safety, Rashad Scott, added an interception late in the game. The interception did not effect the outcome of the contest, but was probably the game’s most important play.
Special Teams: (as a whole) D
Special Teams Coordinator, Doug Deakin, has been a busy man. If there has been a weak link to this Aztec team, it has been his special teams unit. Saturday, Matt Araiza, missed two first-half field goals, one of which was blocked. SDSU has had trouble with its holder this season. Ethan Dedeaux dropped a snap against UNLV. On Saturday, Punter Tanner Kuljian was the primary holder and on Araiza’s two misses and he had trouble catching the snap, placing the ball on the ground and then, spinning it to bring the laces of the football away from the kicker.
More repetitions in practice was Coach Hoke’s remedy for how to improve the field goal unit. The coaching staff also decided to have Araiza focus solely on field goals this week. Kuljian, a graduate transfer from USD, will be the starting punter. He had one punt last week that traveled 58 for a touchback.
Impressive wins like the one the Aztecs had on Saturday do not materialize from nothing. The game plan created by the coaches put their players in the position to succeed. A point of emphasis for the coaching staff this week was correcting the lull to start the second half. Against UNLV the first week, the third quarter’s beginning was the only time the team did not play with the customary Aztec enthusiasm. It is always a positive sign when players respond to their coaches. Against USU, the third quarter was the best quarter of football on the season, with SDSU out-gaining USU 199-6. Watching the new coordinators and learning their personalities is a treat. Kurt Mattix’s defense was not as aggressive as it was in week one, but it was just as effective. In two weeks, Jeff Hecklinski’ offense has one noticeable tendency: he finds something that works, and he keeps doing it!