The good news: The San Diego State Aztecs (2-0) won their first two games of the season after defeating the Idaho State Bengals (0-1), 36-28, on Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 22,345.
The bad news: Considering an FCS opponent and a 34.5-point favorite, they played one of the ugliest games in the Brady Hoke era and face two Pac-12 teams next with a lot of things to fix.
“Well, there’s some good things and a lot of bad things,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke in his opening postgame statement.
At the top of the list of bad things, committing 14 penalties for 138 yards.
“That’s playing not very smart football,” Hoke said about the penalties. “Lack of concentration. Lack of discipline. … There’s no excuse for 14 penalties.”
More bad things: the offense’s 87 passing yards gave Aztec fans nightmares of last year’s offense before Jalen Mayden’s insertion.
Hoke explained the staff felt more comfortable relying on the rushing attack and didn’t attempt too many passes.
Fortunately for the Aztecs, the rush offense showed up on Saturday, gashing the Bengals for 303 yards and all four touchdowns. The Aztecs improved their record to 55-2 in their last 57 games when rushing for at least 200 yards.
“We did a good job up front,” Hoke said. “We are making progress there. I know we had some penalties that we don’t want to have, but we did some better things.”
Mayden (13/19 for 87 yards) broke the Aztec QB record with 132 rushing yards. His 24-yard TD run in the 1st quarter gave the Aztecs a 10-3 lead that they would not relinquish. But his exhilarating 56-yard TD run with 6:50 remaining in the game provided the Aztecs the final cushion they needed.
Jaylon Armstead and Martin Blake each added 58 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Blake’s three catches and 40 receiving yards led the team to go with the walk-on’s first career touchdown.
“It felt great,” Blake said when meeting with the media postgame. “You put in all that work, and finally, it pays off, and you are on the biggest stage that you could be right now. As a walk-on, you are overlooked most of the time, but I feel like that’s all talk. If you are a walk-on, you know you have to put in the work and be great every day you can.”
Hoke believes Blake’s success comes from the confidence he has in himself and the brotherhood developed with his running back mates.
The Aztecs took control of the game in the third quarter with nine quick points to extend their seven-point lead to 16. It started with a high snap over the head of Bengals’ punter Thomas Kopcho, that sailed through the back of the end zone and gave the Aztecs their first special teams safety since 2013.
On the ensuing kickoff, Martin Blake ran it back 35 yards to the Idaho State 42. A personal foul penalty tacked on 15 more. Five rushing plays later, Blake earned his first career touchdown (3-yard run).
Jordan Cooke (Diablo Valley College transfer) started at QB for the Bengals after battling with incumbent Hunter Hays and West Virginia transfer Matt Cavallaro during fall camp. Cooke played the first three drives of the game before Hays entered to start the fourth drive. Hays and Cooke shared snaps for the remainder of the game.
Cooke completed 18 of 41 passes for 164 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Hays completed 12 of 22 passes for 145 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
The Bengals didn’t attempt to run the ball much, giving their running backs only five carries total (18 yards). Hays added a 2-yard TD run.
WRs Chedon James (7 rec, 66 yards) and Christian Fredericksen (5 rec, 63 yards) each caught a TD.
The teams traded field goals early in the first quarter. The Bengals, aided by two defensive penalties including a Cedarious Barfield pass interference, opened the scoring with a 31-yard FG by Thomas Kopcho. Jack Browning tied it up with a 43-yard FG after a Martin Blake 29-yard screen pass and run got the Aztecs near the red zone.
The Aztecs first half consisted of eight penalties for 75 yards. Five of those penalties were on the offensive line, including two on RT Myles Murao. The line also allowed two sacks in the first half after not allowing one against Ohio last week.
Both teams turned the ball over three times. While the Aztecs scored ten points off turnovers, the Bengals were unable to score any points off theirs.
After a stellar opening game as a reserve, Noah Tumblin started at cornerback opposite Dez Malone, making two tackles and corralling an interception in the fourth quarter.
Malone picked up an interception in the second quarter and had a second potential interception overturned after replay showed his body out of bounds when he finally completed the catch. Cedarious Barfield added an interception as well, his second in as many games this season.
The Aztecs’ six interceptions in two games this season have come from five different players.
Malone felt like they left many more interceptions on the field.
“We feel like we are one of the best defenses in the nation,” he said. “We set the bar really high and try to execute that. We feel like we should have more (interceptions).”
S Marcus Ratcliffe led the Aztecs with six tackles. LB Cody Moon and DE Garret Fountain each had a sack.
The Aztecs improved their record against Big Sky Conference opponents to 33-13.
Mayden committed his first turnover of the season when fumbling after a hit by defensive lineman Logan George.
The Aztecs complete their three-game homestand to start the season when they host UCLA next Saturday at Snapdragon Stadium. Kickoff is at 430 p.m.
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.