On Saturday afternoon in Corvallis, Oregon, San Diego State took on Oregon State in the newly redesigned Reser Stadium. SDSU entered the game as massive underdogs to the No.16 team in the country.
Betting lines expected the Beavers to defeat the Aztecs by 24.5 points.
Hints that SDSU might play OSU tougher than predicted came just before kickoff. Ohio University, whom the Aztecs defeated in Week Zero, moved to 3-1 on the year with a 10-7 win over Iowa State.
“I thought our fight was good,” head coach Brady Hoke said postgame. “I thought the intensity was good. They had some big plays. We’ve got to get that corrected defensively. And then, we had some critical drops that we’ve got to get better there. Overall, it was a team loss. Special teams was terrible. … We’ve got to be better.”
Temperature at game time was in the mid-70s. OSU wore its home black uniforms. SDSU donned white tops over black pants for the first time this season.
Sophomore walk-on running back Martin Blake led the Red and Black onto the field wielding the traditional Aztec shield. The honor is given each week to the player who most embodied the program’s culture in the week leading up to the contest.
SDSU lost the coin toss and received the ball to open the game. Starting QB Jalen Mayden showed his versatility on the opening drive, completing two short passes and breaking off a 24-yard run. The opening drive stalled due to a pair of dropped passes by WR Josh Nicholson.
Following a Jack Browning punt to the ten, Oregon State’s potent offense took the field. They entered the game averaging 48.5 points a game. On the Beaver’s first possession, all of their tools were on full display.
QB DJ Uiagalelei completed three passes for 35 yards, and RB Damien Martinez rushed a pair of times for 50 yards. As OSU came into the red zone, a tripping penalty on starting LT Joshua Gray pushed the Beavers back, and they settled for a Atticus Sappington 48-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 7:57 left in the first quarter.
Mayden continued to shine when SDSU got the ball back. Overcoming a third drop of the game by an SDSU wideout, the Aztecs’ signal caller stood poised in the pocket, surveying the field for open targets. He found WR Baylin Brooks for ten yards, WR Phillip Wesley for five, and TE Mark Redman for 24 yards.
Unlike OSU, who converted a long attempt on the previous possession, Browning missed on a 48-yard try. The Aztecs’ 10-play, 44-yard drive ate up 5:39 on the clock but produced no points.
Oregon State continued to find success on the ground as the first quarter came to an end. Starting on its own 31, the Beavers picked up a pair of first downs rushing. Uigalelei and Martinez each moved the chains for the home team on the ground, setting up a promising start to the second stanza for the home team. OSU had the ball first and ten at the Aztecs’ 36-yard line.
As their opening drive went, so did the second. The Beavers gnawed their way to the 25, but DE Garret Fountain dropped Martinez for a two-yard loss, and a pair of Uigalelei passes fell incomplete. Sappington hit another field goal, this time from 44 yards, to extend OSU’s lead to 6-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, RB Kenan Christon faked a handoff to RB Cam Davis and made a nice return to the 37-yard line, giving SDSU its best-starting possession on the afternoon. An OSU LB Makiya Tongue injury on the play delayed the game for a few minutes. Tongue left the field on a cart.
Christon’s return was the lone bright spot for the Aztecs as OSU forced a three-and-out with a pair of sacks.
Two big passing plays moved OSU from inside its own 20 into the red zone. Unlike its previous trips deep into the Aztecs’ territory, the home team came away with a touchdown.
One first and goal, Uiagalelei faked a hand-off and rolled to his right before throwing a screen pass to the opposite side of the field to Gray for a touchdown. Gray, the team’s starting left tackle, became an eligible receiver in the Beaver’s jumbo package. He could have walked in for the score.
OSU tried to extend its lead to 14, but SDSU held Uiagalelei short on a two-point conversion. The Beavers led 12-0 with 8:32 left in the opening half.
On the brink of the game turning into what prognosticators predicted, the Aztecs needed a score. It did not come.
SDSU mustered 27 yards, but the offense stalled in the middle of the field. The Aztecs punted the ball back to OSU. The Aztecs’ defense, though, forced OSU’s first punt of the game.
SDSU’s starting WR Mekhi Shaw did not travel to Corvallis. Officially listed as an “undisclosed injury,” Hoke said postgame that Shaw aggravated it last week on an awkward tackle. Sources told EVT that Shaw injured his quad. His absence was more precautionary. Hoke said he expected Shaw back for conference play.
The Aztecs missed Shaw in the first half. Brooks dropped a pass on an RPO. He was wide open. It was the fourth drop by an SDSU receiver in the half.
“He’s always a guy that gives us a lot from special teams to his play at receiver,” Hoke said when asked about Shaw. “He has great character and a great work ethic. He, obviously, starts for a reason.”
Despite Brooks’ miscue, Mayden led the offense to its first score of the game. The big play on the drive was a 24-yard completion to Brionne Penny. Mayden also found Penny for a short gain that moved the chains. The duo almost hooked up again for a touchdown, but Mayden overthrew his wideout in the end zone. Penny looked to have a step on the defender.
Postgame, Mayden recalled three misses to open receivers that could have gone for scores. The throw to Penny was the first.
Browning connected on a 52-yard attempt, salvaging the drive for the visitors. The Beavers missed a field goal as time expired and went into the half with a 12-3 lead.
They held a 262-139 yardage edge. Most of that came on the ground. OSU had 121 yards on rushing yards. SDSU had 23.
Mayden played well for the Aztecs. He threw for 116 yards on 10-15 throws. He also rushed for 38 yards, but sacks reduced the official total by 33. Penny paced the Aztecs with 37 receiving yards. LB Zyrus Fiaseu and S Marus Ratcliffe led the defense with four stops each. Fiaseu, CB Dez Malone, and DE Garret Fountain each had a tackle for loss.
Overall, SDSU showed improvement from its game a week ago against UCLA but remained in a precarious place as it emerged from the locker room at intermission.
For the first time this season, K Gabriel Plascencia handled kickoff duties for the Aztecs. Plascenia kicked to the Beavers to start the third quarter.
A quick three-and-out set the tone for the final two quarters. The Red and Black would not go without a fight.
Mayden found Brooks for a deep pass down the sideline for a 24-yard completion on the offense’s second play of the half. Brooks, a true freshman, beat single coverage on the outside with a skillful reception in front of OSU’s bench.
The play did not lead to points, but it changed field position. Browning downed a punt at the 16-yard line.
As teams have throughout the season, OSU attacked the center of the field through the air on its second possession. Uiagalelei found TE Jack Velling for 20 yards. Two plays later, a middle screen to WR Silas Bolden netted the Beavers 31 yards. Bolden rushed for 18 yards on the next play, following his screen, to take the ball down to the one. Uiageleli finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
SDSU trailed the No.16 team in nation, 19-3.
Beginning their next drive on its own 35, the Aztecs got a nine-yard run by Christon. Mayden followed that with a beautifully designed play-action pass that he took 16 yards to OSU’s forty. Two more short runs left Mayden with a third and five. The home crowd rose to its feet.
As it had throughout the day, the offense stalled again near midfield. Mayden could not find a receiver and took another sack. This time by DL Takari Hickle. It was the fourth of the game for the Beavers.
“We hurt ourselves,” Mayden said postgame when asked why the offense could not finish drives. “We can’t have a false start. We can’t miss a block or assignment. Especially with a team like this, you’ve got to be on your p’s and q’s.”
LB Brady Anderson made a diving stop at the nine of Browning’s ensuing punt. With OSU deep in its own end of the field, SDSU nearly had a game-changing turnover, but LB Trey White could not find the football in the air after he knocked down a screen pass. It floated near the redshirt freshman before falling harmlessly to the ground.
With the game clock slipping away and with it any chance for the Aztecs to make the game a contest, the offense took control with 2:30 left in the third quarter. They needed a touchdown to climb back into the game.
Another drop by Nicholson, however, ended the drive for the Aztecs.
“I think you just have to have confidence,” Hoke said when asked about Nicholson’s drops and how the young receiver can bounce back. “Confidence in yourself, in who you are. They catch the ball all the time. I’ll have to go back and see how tough one of them was, but he’s young. He’s a good football player, a good athlete; we just have to keep coaching him up.”
Faint hope remained for the Aztecs because S Cedarius Barfield recorded an interception on OSU’s next possession. It was his third interception of the season. Uiagalelei attempted a deep pass that sailed high, was tipped by his intended receiver, and fell into Barfield’s waiting arms. It was the seventh interception of the season for the Aztecs, and the ninth turnover caused this year.
With some momentum, the Aztecs marched into OSU territory. A facemask penalty gave SDSU its first plays just outside the 20. Mayden found Christon for a nine-yard pass to get into the red zone and followed with a two-yard run to set up first and ten from the 13.
Three consecutive rushes by Armstead silenced the home crowd. The last, a six-yard touchdown, gave Armstead his second score of the season. SDSU’s two-point conversion failed. The Aztecs trailed 19-9 with 9:01 left in the game.
SDSU was back in the game for just two plays and thirteen seconds. Following a touchback, a middle screen to WR Anthony Gould went for a 75-yard score. OSU reclaimed a 17-point advantage. The big plays that haunted SDSU against UCLA a week ago showed up again at the most inopportune time on Saturday.
“I just felt we shot ourselves in the foot with the big plays,” Barfield said. “We (are) a bend but don’t break type of defense. They drove, but we still held them to a field goal. They got us with a trick play to the lineman. Other than that, it was the big plays that hurt us.”
The Aztecs did not quit, however. Their offense, playing in the hurry-up, quickly responded. Mayden found Penny for receptions of nine, 22, and nine yards that sandwiched a pair of completions to Wesley and Redman. The last of Penny’s catches was terrific. He elevated and made a tough catch.
Three plays later, OSU closed the door on SDSU. Mayden attempted a pass to Redman for a score. The tight end had a step on the defender. Instead of throwing a jump ball, Mayden tried to fit it in past DB Akili Arnold. Arnold dove and intercepted the pass in the end zone.
OSU attempted to prove the betting world correct by putting up more points on the Aztecs, but SDSU’s defense stood tall. CB Noah Tumblin intercepted Uiagalelei on a deep 50/50 ball. Tumblin made a terrific play on the ball for his second interception of the year. It ran the total of INTs by the defense to eight.
Mayden found Redman to start the next drive for 29 yards, and the Aztecs had the ball just outside the red zone again. Three plays later, down 17, Hoke decided to kick a 49-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth and 14. Browning missed his second long attempt of the game.
The Beavers ran out the clock and handed SDSU its second loss of the year. There are no moral victories for a program like SDSU, but there were some bright spots. Aside from the interception, Mayden played well. He finished 20-32 for 256 yards. Penny had a career-high in receptions (six) and yards (77). His big play potential was on display on Saturday.
The Aztecs ended the non-conference portion of its schedule 2-2. It has one good win over Ohio (3-1) and two losses to Top-25 teams. SDSU has a short week to prepare for Boise State, who comes to Snapdragon Stadium on Friday.
“The good thing is we start conference play next week, and the championship is what we play for,” Hoke said. “We get to start that and learn from this. We’ve got a short week.”
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.