Aztecs’ offense comes alive to clinch first win against UCLA


Kareem Jones

Senior linebacker Kyahva Tezino celebrates a tackle for loss during the Aztecs’ 23-14 victory over UCLA on Sept. 7 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

by Aaron Tolentino, Sports Editor

San Diego State football’s first drive started with a 3-yard run by sophomore running back Jordan Byrd, a sack on senior quarterback Ryan Agnew and a 2-yard run by Byrd to quietly end in a Brandon Heicklen punt.

“Oh no, here we go again.”

That thought could’ve been running through Aztec fans’ heads, considering the “ugly” – as head coach Rocky Long said – offensive performance it put up in last week’s 6-0 win over Weber State, when the Scarlet and Black put up 108 passing and 130 rushing yards.

Saturday was a different story.

The Aztecs – thanks to a much-improved passing game –  pulled away with a 23-14 victory against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, marking the first win against the Bruins in SDSU history.

Head coach Rocky Long said the win is a historic feat for Aztec football.

“If it had been two or three times, it would have been something not unusual,” Long said. “Since it was the 23rd meeting and to finally win one, that kind of makes it a special day.”

SDSU’s offense finally came alive after eight straight quarters without scoring a touchdown (dating back to the 27-0 loss to Ohio in last year’s Frisco Bowl).

After the struggles on offense last week, Agnew said he came into the UCLA matchup with a positive attitude.

“This week I went in with the message that I’m in the best situation possible,” Agnew said. “I get to play football for San Diego State, a Division I school, a top-notch program. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to enjoy this and have the best performance of my life.’”

He might have done exactly that.

Agnew threw for 294 yards, completed 23 passes and 74% (23-for-31) of his passes.

All those are new career highs for the Texas native.

The 294 yards were the most by an Aztec quarterback since Quinn Kaehler threw for 326 yards against Air Force in 2014.

Thirty-four of the yards came on a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Kobe Smith, who had a big role in Agnew’s success: seven catches, 131 yards and a touchdown.

Smith said this was a coming-out party for him considering he previously had 10 career catches for 121 yards.

“I feel like this is a breakout game,” he said. “This was a game I needed to have. I was very well-prepared and prepare the same way next week and hope to continue to have games like this.”

The Compton native added he wasn’t going to let the pressure of being in the Rose Bowl and playing in front of his hometown crowd get to him.

“That’s what stopped me last year,” he said. “I let this moment get to me a little bit too much.”

Another Los Angeles native, senior linebacker Kyahva Tezino, also did not let the big stage get the best of him – despite expecting between 60 and 70 of his family members and friends to watch him play.

“It’s really good to have all my family and friends, high school teammates here, college teammates,” said the graduate from Salesian High, which hails 11 miles from the Rose Bowl. “It’s a great deal. I just wanted to come out here and show out for them.”

Tezino recorded nine tackles, one sack and one forced fumble, which was made on UCLA’s first drive of the second half. The fumble was recovered by sophomore linebacker Caden McDonald. Two plays later, Smith scored on the 34-yard pass from Agnew to give SDSU the early second half lead of 17-7.

That wasn’t the only Aztec turnover to led to points.

Junior safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. knocked the ball out of UCLA junior tight end Matt Lynch’s hands around the midway point of the first quarter. Junior safety Tariq Thompson recovered the ball, and the Aztecs capitalized with three points on a field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Matt Araiza.

The Aztecs ended up scoring 10 points off of two UCLA turnovers.

“If they (didn’t) turn the ball over today, the outcome would’ve been completely different,” Long said. “Now, that’s one side of it. The other side is our kids caused the turnovers, so you’ve got to be happy that our guys caused the turnovers and gave us the chance to win.”

The win marked SDSU’s fifth win against a Pac-12 school since 2016 – that’s more than Oregon State, who has four during that span.

Power Five or non-Power Five, Long said the Aztecs should not be overlooked simply based on the conference they play in.

“We can play,” Long said. “If everybody would investigate the Mountain West Conference, you’d realize what a great conference it is. The first weekend of college football, teams in our league beat four Power Five teams. So it’s not unusual, it’s not unexpected. That’s what we do.”

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