The SDSU Aztecs lose 26-21 in a close game against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Nevada came into this game undefeated with four wins. A quick dive deeper shows that they hadn’t faced much competition yet. Going into this week, teams that lost to Nevada have combined for a 1-14 record. The 3-1 Aztecs proved to be their first big test of the season.
After a few rough performances and an especially bad performance last week, Carson Baker lost the starting job to Lucas Johnson. A San Diego native, Johnson had transferred from Georgia Tech and impressed in the fourth quarter last week. With him as the starter this week, the expectation was to see a lot of quarterback options and to avoid many passing plays. That narrative was immediately thrown away when SDSU attempted four straight passing plays. One of those pass attempts ended up being a backward lateral that was dropped and recovered by the Nevada defense.
The Wolf Pack took advantage of the turnover. Quarterback Carson Strong was able to chip away at the defense with short passes that made up for a weak running game. They climbed up to the SDSU 14 before having to settle with for a field goal.
SDSU responded with a couple of big plays to get them a lead. Johnson showed off his arm with a 35-yard pass to Jesse Matthews. Matthews saved the play by going all out to catch this ball and get SDSU to the Nevada 35.
Then Johnson showed the nation why he is a big-time running threat. On a designed QB run, he found some space to the outside then turned on his wheels all the way to the endzone.
That dual-threat ability quickly made Johnson look like a star quarterback who was finally getting his chance. After the defense forced Nevada to settle for another field goal, he was back to it with some big-time plays.
Starting on their own 25, Chance Bell started the Aztecs off with a 12-yard rush. That set up a 19-yard pass to Elijah Kothe to get to the Nevada 44. C Bell once again took the ball, and this time for a 13 yard gain. This set up a 25-yard Johnson-Matthews connection to get the Aztecs with 10 yards of the endzone. Kobe Smith became Johnson is third different target of the drive to get another touchdown.
In the second quarter, the Wolf Pack had their own duo of Strong and Romeo Doubs as their response to the Aztecs. They had some momentum on their side. Their last three drives all resulted in field goals.
Initially, the Aztecs held the Wolf Pack to a three-and-out. A close roughing the passer call kept the drive alive. Strong and Doubs used that lucky break to connect for a 59-yard reception to get within five yards of the Aztec endzone. Once again, the penalties came back to bite SDSU. Two different automatic first down penalties gave the Wolf Pack six different opportunities to score. They took advantage of the situation and made it a 21-16 game.
No need to fear for Aztec fans. Their offense has also been on fire this game. Greg Bell had been not been getting his normal playing time than he normally would. An ankle injury kept him from making an impact up to this point in the game. Thankfully for the star offensive player, his teammates had been able to pick up the slack.
G. Bell would run the ball for 35 total yards and a touchdown on five attempts in this next drive. Of course, Johnson would make a 17-yard pass in the drive also. While this drive was great for the Aztecs, it highlighted an issue that would show up in the second half. G Bell finished the game with 29 yards on nine attempts. His backup, C Bell, would average 4.2 yards on 11 attempts all game. As a whole, the running game managed 109 yards on 35 attempts all game. This is a stark contrast to the same backfield that ran all over Hawaii.
The Aztecs would have loved to stop the game at the half because the second half would be brutal.
On Nevada’s first drive, Strong and Doubs would make yet another highlight play. This time a 50-yard touchdown catch. Doubs simply outran the Aztec secondary and was able to catch up to Strong’s pass that was waiting for him in the endzone. Doubs would finish the day with 133 yards on five receptions, while Strong had 288 yards on 31 completions. This was the big threat to the Aztec defense coming into this week. They simply were able to beat defense at any point, it seemed like.
The reason why many thought that Johnson would mainly run the ball became apparent in the second half. His first-half performance was great but was being held up by some good play calling and good blocking. To give some perspective, many of his passes weren’t great throws per se. He threw the ball very hard, which helped it reach the target fast, but he didn’t have a great spiral, so the receivers had to help him a bit.
The Wolf Pack did a great job at attacking the SDSU offensive line in the second half. On passing plays, they were able to put pressure on Johnson. Feeling the pressure, he was forced to rush some throws and miss his target. When SDSU returned to bread and butter of running the ball, the defense was holding them to minimal gains. In total, six of SDSU’s eights drives in the second half were three-and-outs.
The Aztecs did have a chance on their final drive, they were down 21-26 with the ball on the Nevada 26 and 3:23 on the clock. This was all set up by a clutch Darren Hall interception, the only turnover the defense forced. Carson Baker had received some reps in the previous drives after Johnson appeared to be injured for a short spell. However, with the game on the line, Lucas was back into the game. They drove up to the 4-yard line with a combination of short runs and passes. Then in the next four downs, Johnson would throw three incompletions, and C Bell would run for a 1-yard loss.
The Aztecs will take their 3-2 record to Fresno, where they will face the Bulldogs next week.
Evan is a student finishing up a degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. The ability to break down numbers and find the story behind them has lead to his first of writing for East Village times. He covers baseball which is the sport he grew up playing and has followed even after his playing years.