The Aztecs evened their record at 3-3 and control their destiny to win their 22nd conference championship by defeating the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, 16-14, on Saturday night.
For the second straight home game, the Aztecs saw a lead evaporate late in the fourth quarter, which required the offense to drive down the field for the winning score. This time, only needing a field goal, the Aztecs drove 56 yards on seven plays before Jack Browning nailed a 26-yd field goal with seven seconds remaining for the win.
The first game under new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, and quarterbacks coach, Ryan Lindley, saw drastic improvements in the passing game (passing for 322 yards after previously only averaging 65.6), but it did not translate on the scoreboard. The Aztecs came into the game averaging only 19 points per game, now dropping to 18.5.
Starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister missed the game, still recovering from a concussion sustained last Friday against Boise State. Junior Jalen Mayden started for SDSU eight days after playing safety in the previous game. Mayden, a transfer quarterback from Mississippi State last season, moved to safety at the start of 2022 to increase his chances to get on the field.
After Will Haskell’s decision to transfer and Kyle Crum’s broken collarbone, Mayden moved back to quarterback five days ago to replenish the depth at the position. With Burmeister’s injury, Mayden was thrust into the starting role immediately.
Mayden acknowledged postgame that once he made the transition to safety earlier this year, he was committed to the position and was not throwing or taking any quarterback reps.
“Me and coach had an agreement that whatever I need to do for the team, I’ll be able to do it,” Mayden said. “I just knew the team was going to embrace me, and I knew whatever it took to win, we were going to do it.”
Mayden also noted that Coach Ryan Lindley did a great job making him comfortable once he switched back, stating, “I felt right at home as soon as I got back.”
“I was happy with how quickly (Mayden) was able to pick up,” head coach Brady Hoke said. “Our offense rallied around him.”
Mayden completed 24-of-36 passes for 322 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions.
“I would really be lying if I said I have seen this from him,” said Hoke postgame when asked how surprised he was by Mayden’s performance tonight. “He’s a good athlete. He has played a lot of good football. He’s an intelligent guy, so he can pick up things really well.”
Tyrell Shavers set career highs with eight receptions and 149 receiving yards. Mayden noted his comfort level with Shavers during the postgame interview, as both transferred to SDSU from Mississippi State last spring.
Jesse Matthews added six catches for 68 yards.
On the final drive, Mayden completed all six pass attempts for 50 yards, plus a defensive pass interference. Three of those catches came from walk-on Mekhi Shaw for 17 yards and two by Brionne Penny, including a 16-yard reception in traffic that set up the winning field goal.
“We had talked about a lot of things that were coming open, and we put them one by one, piece by piece, and drove down the field,” Mayden said.
Against the second-worst rush defense in the country (Hawai’i came in, allowing 260.8 rushing yards per game), the Aztecs only rushed for 95 yards. They were led by Chance Bell with 53 yards on seven carries, his best moments of the 2022 season. It was tough sledding in the first half, as the team only rushed for 34 yards on 17 carries.
The offense drove 65 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on its opening drive of the second half behind 28 rushing yards. Mayden found Jordan Byrd for a 15-yard touchdown pass, Byrd’s 16th career touchdown.
Mayden threw behind Byrd in the flat, but the back made a one-handed catch in stride, turned upfield, and ran wide open down the right sideline for the score to give the Aztecs a 10-0 lead.
In addition to having the worst pass offense in FBS, SDSU also entered the matchup with the worst third down conversion rate (18.2%). That will change after they converted 7 of 16 (43.8%) against Hawai’i, including several third and longs in the second half.
Hawai’i quarterback Brayden Schager completed 20 of 34 passes for 196 yards in the game. He found wide receiver Zion Bowens deep down the middle of the field for a 66-yard touchdown on the Rainbow Warriors’ first drive of the second half. Bowens finished with 108 yards on nine receptions.
The Aztecs’ defense was without arguably their best player through five games, linebacker Michael Shawcroft, who sustained an injury in the second half at Boise State. Redshirt freshman Zyrus Fiaseu started in his place at WILL for his first career start.
“He was calm, cool, and collected the whole time,” senior linebacker Caden McDonald said about Fiaseu.
The Aztecs’ defense gave up two touchdowns in the second half and allowed 146 rushing yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run by Dedrick Parson (who finished with 70 yards on 14 carries.)
Both Hoke and McDonald noted postgame that tackling continues to be a problem for the defense.
“We take a lot of pride in stopping the run,” McDonald said. “We will work on that in the bye week, along with tackling.” When asked to expound on why the defense has been gashed up the middle the past two games, McDonald added, “we need to defeat blocks and make the tackle. It’s not a scheme thing; it’s a players thing.”
Cedarious Barfield led the defense with six tackles, and four of the top five tacklers in the game were players from the secondary, typically not a great sign for a defense.
Kicker Jack Browning made his first two field goal attempts, connecting from 45 and 30 yards out before missing a 31-yd attempt in the fourth quarter, his first miss of the season on nine tries.
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Starting right guard, Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli missed his third consecutive game due to a right injury. Dean Abdullah has started in his place for all three games but left due to an injury early in the second quarter and was replaced by Thomas Mirabella for the remainder of the game.
The announced attendance at Snapdragon Stadium was 33,073, not an official sellout.
The Aztecs have a bye next week before starting the second half of their schedule on the road against Nevada on October 22.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.