SDSU Two-Deep is full of surprises

SDSU at a water break. They play for real on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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SDSU’s lines up in practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

After months of wondering what shape the 2023 Aztecs would take, game week is finally here. SDSU plays Ohio University this Saturday. 

On Monday, the university held its weekly press conference and released its two-deep for its first game. It contained a number of interesting developments. 

One cautionary note before jumping into what it revealed. Depth charts are often intentionally misleading. Coaching staffs do not want to provide any advantage to the opposition by revealing too much information. This is especially true for the first game of the season.

No clarity on the offensive line

All offseason, competition for three offensive line spots played out. Saturday will be the unveiling of who won that competition because the two-deep provided no details. LG Cade Bennett and C Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli are the only known starters. 

There are two or three players listed with the never helpful “or” designation at the rest of the positions. Myles Murao, who started at right tackle at the Fan Fest scrimmage and at practice at the beginning of last week, is not listed as a tackle on the two-deep. Murao, Thomas Mirabella, and Dean Abdullah are “or-starters” at right guard.  

Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson is listed first at right tackle but failed to play the majority of snaps there during spring and fall camps. He is an “or-starter” with Drew Azzopardi. Left tackle lists Christian Jones and Joey Wright as “or-starters” 

Kyle Crum in practice last week. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Kyle Crum, backup QB

Despite a tough Fan Fest scrimmage, redshirt freshman Kyle Crum is listed as the backup QB. Crum is an athletic QB with a good arm. He has the competitive spirit the staff is looking for. Turnovers have been an issue for him in the two scrimmages open to the media. Jalen Mayden’s understudy is important because it also shows the pecking order for the 2024 starter. 

Defensive line rotation takes shape

Garret Fountain, Tupu Alualu, and Wyatt Draeger are listed as the starters. Dominic Oliver, Darrion Dalton, and Keion Mitchell are the reserves. Those six, plus Ryan Henderson and Brady Nassar, have been the best linemen in camp. SDSU is facing a veteran offensive line on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how many snaps each gets. 

Zyrus Fiaseu (6), Cody Moon (58), and Brady Anderson (42) compete in special teams drills. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Who is starting where at linebacker?

Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix always looks for the best mix of players at every position. At LB, the shuffle resulted in a formation that had not been seen much during fall camp. 

Vai Kaho and Zyrus Fiaseu competed all year for the starting MIKE LB role but are now listed as starters with Kaho sliding over to WILL linebacker. Cody Moon and Brady Anderson played WILL but are listed as the reserves. Anderson at MIKE and Moon at WILL.  

It will be interesting to see the LB rotation. Specifically, will Anderson and Moon play together? If they do, holding up against the run inside will be a question. 

Youth is served in the secondary

SDSU’s starting front six has 14 career starts as Aztecs. What they lack in number of games started, they make up with in years playing college football. As it’s presently configured, SDSU will start four seniors, a junior, and a redshirt sophomore up front. 

On the back end, Mattix went in the opposite direction. He lists sophomore Chris Johnson and true freshman Marcus Ratcliffe as starters over more experienced upperclassmen. Even with one more season in the program, Johnson’s inclusion in the starting lineup is more surprising. 

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The aztec safety position from 2022 was decimated. CJ Baskerville, who is in contention to start in Texas Tech’s version of aztec, and Patrick McMorris, who is starting for Cal, both left via the transfer portal. 2022 backup aztec, Kyron White, is no longer on the team. The university confirmed to EVT that White’s absence from the roster is related to a medical issue.

Johnson beat out three excellent corners in Dallas Branch, Noah Tumblin, and Noah Avinger. Avinger was not mentioned anywhere on the two-deep. Among the corners, only Branch will be without eligibility in 2024.

Jay Rudolph catches a pass against Deshawn Mccuin. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Jay Rudolph is back

Senior Jay Rudolph was held out of contact periods frequently during spring camp. He is one of the few players who can be too physical for his own good. Back healthy this fall, he was a difference-maker at the Fan Fest scrimmage.

His versatility as a receiver and blocker also gives new offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley plenty of options in his game plan. Rudolph’s ascension back to the starting role opposite senior Mark Redman means sophomore Cameron Harpole moves to the third spot. 

High-impact transfers are hard to come by

This offseason, SDSU brought in transfers from Washington, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, and New Mexico. None of them is the first name listed on the two-deep. Last season, Mark Redman, Cooper McDonald, Cade Bennett, and Braxton Burmeister started the opening game.

Odds and ends

  • Cam Davis was mentioned as a co-starter with team captain Kenan Christon at RB
  • Davis also was listed as the starter in SDSU’s two tailback sets
  • Mekhi Shaw is the holder after Zechariah Ramirez was the holder at the start of camp 
  • Shaw is also the punt returner ahead of Dez Malone

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