SDSU’s loss to Nevada was a Comedy of Errors

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Mark Redman fails to make a contested grab. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

On Sunday afternoon at the Otay Mesa-Nestor library, the Old Globe performed an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. The free event, part of the “Globe for All” series, featured a community dinner, play, and a Q&A with the cast.

The night before, at Snapdragon Stadium, SDSU and Nevada put on their own adaptation of the 1623 production. Shakespeare used confusion, mistaken identity, and slapstick to tell the unforgettable story of reuniting two pairs of twins. The Aztecs and the Wolfpack, acting like long-lost twins, utilized the same devices to produce a 6-0 contest that most present would love to forget.

The errors began on SDSU’s third drive. SDSU QB Jalen Mayden missed a wide-open WR Josh Nicholson. What should have been a trip into the red zone turned into a missed 34-yard field goal by PK Jack Browning. The Aztecs next three possessions started at the Nevada 49 (twice) and the Nevada 44, and they failed to even get into field range.

On the final of the three drives, a QB sneak was called on 4th and 2. As they had the week before, Mayden and C Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli had trouble connecting on the snap, and the offense failed to convert.

With 50 seconds left in the half, Nevada’s offense, which had one play longer than nine yards to that point in the game, had rushes of 16 and 10 yards, bookending a pass interference by S Josh Hunter. It allowed UNR’s PK Brandon Talton to make a 37-yard attempt on the last play of the first half.

After halftime, neither team played winning football. SDSU held Nevada to a three and out to get the ball back in great field position at their own 48. Six plays later, WR Brionne Penny dropped an easy pass from Mayden on fourth and three at the Nevada 34. Mayden also missed RB Kenan Christon on the play, who was wide open in the flat.

UNR’s ensuing drive lasted nine plays but ended when CB Dez Malone came untouched on a corner blitz to sack QB Brendon Lewis for a ten-yard loss that pushed the Wolfpack out of field goal range. A three-and-out gave Nevada the ball back at midfield. They grinded out 20 yards over seven plays before Talton missed a field goal that bounced off the left upright.

With new life and 1:34 left in the third, SDSU took over. Following four consecutive runs by RB Lucky Sutton, Mayden found normally sure-handed WR Mekhi Shaw deep down the left side for his nicest pass of the night. Shaw dropped the game-changing opportunity. A hold by UNR on the punt gave them the ball back at their own seven.

Three plays later, S JD Coffey was called for unnecessary roughness for laying out UNR WR Dalevon Campbell. Whatever the controversy around the call, CB Noah Tumblin had already broken up the pass, making Coffey’s hit, by definition, unnecessary. SDSU head coach Brady Hoke burned a timeout with the sole purpose of talking to the head referee about the call.

Nevada, which lost 16 straight games coming into the night, reverted to its bad habits. They allowed a sack and committed a delay of game, setting up a 3rd and 21. Inexplicably, Tumblin, in great position, did not make a play on a 44-yard jump ball down the sideline to allow the drive to continue.

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Four plays later, on fourth and 1, SDSU jumped offside. Lewis saw the infraction and beat Tumblin again, this time for 27 yards down to the SDSU three-yard line. The reception was waved off, however, because UNR committed an illegal motion to offset the penalties. After what should have been a delay of game, but the refs gave Nevada a timeout, UNR head coach Ken Wilson elected to have Talton attempt a 48-yard field goal. Talton missed wide left again.

Facing the prospect of losing to one of the worst FBS teams in the country, SDSU had the ball with 8:16 left at their own 30. Offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley called six straight rushing plays (one play was technically a shovel pass to Nicholson). The first pass called was a screen to RB Cam Davis, that went for a first down but was called back because of a hold by Shaw. Four plays later, with the clock a factor because of SDSU’s slow tempo, Mayden dropped back to pass and, under slight pressure, fumbled the ball to end any chance of a victory.

“I can’t explain it,” Hoke said postgame when asked how his offense could not score a point against statistically the worst defense in the country, “Obviously, they played better than we did, and that’s part of it.”

Saturday’s performance was inexplicable because it was a Comedy of Errors.

The Old Globe has seven more shows scheduled in its Globe for All tour. With the Aztecs on a bye week, Saturday’s noon show at the Central Library could be a perfect opportunity to support the arts in San Diego.

SDSU head coach Brady Hoke contests a call against Nevada. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Loss to Nevada, a fireable offense

Administrators, by their nature, are risk averse. They are not in the speculating business and make decisions based on concrete realities played out in front of them.

Despite the omniscient claims of many on social media, from the perspective of trying to avoid a huge mistake, Saturday was the first unquestioned outcome that raises the question if keeping Hoke outweighs the risk of letting him go. SDSU’s head coach has been far from perfect, but there have been plenty of positives mixed into numerous situations that were outside his control.

The loss to Nevada, though, and the listless manner in which it occurred is a different matter.

Make no mistake, there is tremendous risk in firing Hoke. SDSU has made only two clear-cut good head coaching hires in the past four decades. The first was when they hired Hoke for his first tenure, if only because he brought Rocky Long to the Mesa. The second was convincing Long to take over after Hoke left for Michigan. That Athletic Director JD Wicker attempted to keep the Hoke/Long dynasty intact was the safe pick four seasons ago.

If Wicker decides to fire Hoke, there is no guarantee his replacement will do better. The Aztecs hired a former USC head coach and a pair of coveted P5 coordinators but only had nine winning seasons in thirty years from 1980 to 2010, including zero in the decade before Hoke’s first hire. The reality is as dismal as last season was for SDSU, it would have been among the best seasons for all of Hoke’s predecessors, not named Rocky Long, Claude Gilbert, and Don Coryell.

Wicker has an important decision in front of him. Hoke could make it easy for him by winning three of the next four to become bowl-eligible. Due to the loss of Nevada, anything short of that could make keeping Hoke too risky.

There are still opportunities remaining for the Aztecs. While the play against Nevada would not suggest a turnaround is probable, SDSU’s inconsistency could swing in a positive direction over the final month of the season.

SDSU defenders converge on the ball. The missed tackles of previous weeks were less of an issue. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Defense’s Night Goes Unnoticed

Air Force and Navy played this past weekend. Both teams run versions of the triple-option. The Falcons and Midshipmen passed for a combined 247 yards. SDSU and Nevada threw for 145 yards total. AFA QB Zac Larrier beat that number by himself with 151 yards. He attempted five passes, completing four, including a 94-yard score.

The mystery of the contest is how SDSU’s offense managed just 204 yards and zero points against a defense that came into the game, giving up over 500 yards and nearly 40 points. Hoke said postgame that nothing surprises him when it comes to football anymore, even if he can’t explain how the offense played so poorly.

“Extremely,” OL Cade Bennett said postgame when asked how frustrating it is to waste such a great showing by the defense. “I feel like we kept driving down the field, getting nothing out of it every time. Completely unacceptable from us.”

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Still, there is room to appreciate what the defense brought to the table Saturday night. The Aztecs surrendered the fewest points since giving up a half-dozen to UNLV on October 24, 2020, in the first game of Hoke’s second tenure on the Mesa.

The 242 yards given up were the fewest all season. The next closest was against FCS Idaho State. They had 344 yards. In the previous five contests, SDSU gave up an average of 477 yards per game. The Aztecs’ defense showed significant improvement Saturday.

Stopping big plays is the easiest factor to point to in explaining why they were so much better. As SDSU hopes to improve following its second bye, it will need its defense to build off the outing.

Postgame, S Cedarious Barfield did not want to divide the team between offense and defense. A great team player, he lamented not creating any turnovers. Winning was what mattered.

“I could see no one really had their heads down,” Barfield explained about the defense’s ability to keep responding even when the offense faltered. “We kept fighting. But one thing we wanted was to get that turnover to help the offense out. I know that people are going to try and blame the offense, but we could try to force a fumble (and) get an interception to make it closer for them. Last week, we had a lot of turnovers. We had an interception for a touchdown. That could have helped us this week.”

Quick Takes

  • Pregame, the specialists took turns punting from the 50-yard line. After Jack Browning booted two beyond the endzone and out of the field of play, with one landing in the stands, they moved back to the 35. Browning landed his next punt eight yards deep in the endzone, about 75 yards from where he stood.
  • RG Myles Murao hobbled as he tried to jog across the field during warmups. He participated in drills but was clearly hampered. Dean Abdullah started in his place. Toward the end of the third quarter, Thomas Mirabella replaced Abdullah.
  • S Josh Hunter earned the first start of his career. He played well. Despite being short in stature and light in weight, he was stout against the run. Hunter finished with four tackles.
  • Before the game, JD Wicker and Brady Hoke spent some time together at the 20-yard line as the Aztecs warmed up. It looked like a show of solidarity in front of the home crowd.
  • The number of fans in their seats at kickoff was reminiscent of a well-attended game when the team played in Carson. As the first quarter wore on, lots of fans poured in. Most of the lower bowl filled up. The 27,122 official count was the second-highest of the year, trailing only the UCLA contest.
  • Lucky Sutton led the RBs in carries with 12. He had 48 yards.
  • The game was lost in the second quarter when SDSU wasted their average starting field position of the Nevada 47.
  • Dom Oliver had an explosive sack. It was the first of his career.
  • Early in the third quarter, DE Garret Fountain made a touchdown-saving play. Nevada ran a perfect screen. Their RB had three blockers and only one SDSU defender between him and the end zone. Fountain hustled into the play to make a stop.
  • Hoke said postgame he thought the offensive design was good leading up to the game and, even after watching the performance, thought it was fine.
  • SDSU’s WRs had half as many penalties called on passing plays as they had receptions. The group had a hold and a pass interference called against them. They caught four passes.
  • Mark Redman has disappeared of late. He dropped a contested pass on his only target on Saturday.
  • SDSU was shut out for the first time since the 2018 Frisco Bowl. Since November of 2006, they have only been shut out twice.
  • Since 1969, the six total points are the fewest between two FBS teams in SDSU history.

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