Column: Aztecs need to find consistency at quarterback position

Sophomore+quarterback+Carson+Baker+drops+back+and+prepares+to+throw+a+pass+during+the+Aztecs+28-17+loss+to+San+Jos%C3%A9+State+on+Nov.+6+at+Dignity+Health+Sports+Park+in+Carson%2C+Calif.

Courtesy of Colleen Humel, SDSU Athletics

Sophomore quarterback Carson Baker drops back and prepares to throw a pass during the Aztecs’ 28-17 loss to San José State on Nov. 6 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

by Amber Salas, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State football fans thought they finally found what they’ve been looking for when transfer Lucas Johnson took the field as the Aztecs starting quarterback last Saturday afternoon against Nevada. 

The Aztecs have never had consistency when it comes to having a quarterback that can throw the ball when the Aztecs are in need of a big play. They’ve always relied on having a strong ground game to make crucial plays by running the ball. 

But alas, Johnson entered the game versus the Wolf Pack throwing the ball on three consecutive plays on the Aztecs’ first drive of the game. 

The junior graduate transfer from Georgia Tech is a dual-threat quarterback in that he can run the ball as well as make huge throws which was evident in the Aztecs’ second possession of the game. 

Johnson completed a pass to sophomore wide receiver Jesse Matthews for 35 yards, immediately followed by a 35-yard run from Johnson himself to score the Aztecs first touchdown of the game. 

In total, Johnson generated 184 yards of passing which is a little more than six times what sophomore quarterback Carson Baker was able to do the previous week against Hawaii (30 yards). 

“The first half, I thought he played very very well,” head coach Brady Hoke said. “I thought he ran the offense, I thought he was accurate, I thought he pulled the ball when he needed to pull it (on run-pass options).” 

The second half was a different story in which the Aztecs had five consecutive three-and-outs, with four of them coming from Johnson. 

Hoke thought this was more of an injury issue given the fact Johnson wasn’t operating at 100% and senior running back Greg Bell was out with an ankle injury. He said it wasn’t due to Nevada making adjustments. 

“They really didn’t do anything,” Hoke said. “I think when you look at the tape and you look from the first half to the second half I think they really didn’t make any adjustments. I think we needed to block a little better.”

Johnson completed four of 10 attempts for 26 total yards and was sacked twice during the second half. Compare this to Johnson’s first two drives of the game where he completed 69 passing yards. 

After the Aztecs’ fourth second-half possession where the Aztecs’ still could not get anything going, Johnson was seen barely standing on the sideline with trainers holding him up on both sides. CBS broadcast announcers felt it could be a cramping issue, but head coach Brady Hoke later confirmed that Johnson dealt with a left hamstring flare up. 

“Offensively, we struggled a little bit in the second half,” Hoke said. “ Lucas (was) playing through a little bit of a hamstring (issue), but we’ve got enough playmakers on this team that we’ve got to play better.” 

Johnson left during the third quarter resulting in Baker entering the game, which ultimately resulted in a lack of offensive production as well. Baker only attempted one pass which was incomplete. 

Johnson eventually pushed through his hamstring troubles to return for the fourth quarter. He attempted a pass to a wide open Matthews to win the game, but it was underthrown resulting in an incomplete pass. It was evident Johnson was struggling as he wasn’t able to plant his feet to make the throw. 

“Obviously, he was slowed down a little bit in the second half and we’ve got to overcome that offensively,” Hoke said. “He slowed down with the hamstring and the cramping that was going on, but I was real happy that he got back in the football game. Now we’ve just got to work on getting him healthy.” 

The Aztecs have now used two quarterbacks. There’s Johnson who showed Aztec fans his potential before succumbing to an injury holding him back. Then there’s Baker who played consistent football before committing costly turnovers. The question is, who is the best option for the Aztecs to use? 

Hoke announced the team will continue to use Johnson for now, however it’s something the players are evaluated on each week at practice. 

“We evaluate the guys on everything,” Hoke said. “How they do in the weight room, how they do in conditioning, how they do in practice. We’ll go back and take a good look at the film, see where we’re at, see who gives us the best chance to be successful and we’ll go from there.” 

Baker started off with potential in the Aztecs’ first game of the season against UNLV. He showed his potential in being able to make complete passes as he went 12-for-24 for 137 yards and one touchdown. 

In the Aztecs’ game against San José State, Baker was able to connect with a teammate on 70% of his passes, completing 21 of 30 attempts for 261 yards. The difference in that game was the mistakes. Baker threw an interception in the end zone and a backwards pass to give the Spartans the ball at the Aztecs’ 17-yard line. 

Baker primarily relied on the success of the Aztecs’ ground game with four strong running backs. This oftentimes allowed Baker to hand off and sit back without having to worry much about throwing the ball. But when the run game struggles, Baker fails to produce. 

This season, Baker has thrown three interceptions with two of them coming from the Aztecs’ game against Hawaii. Johnson made his first debut in this fourth quarter and was named the starter the following week at Nevada. 

Johnson seems to still be the answer for the Aztecs, however his history with injuries raises the only concern. 

The hamstring injury is one he dealt with during fall camp according to Hoke. 

“He had a little bit of a problem earlier in fall camp with it, so I just think he tweaked it a little bit again,” Hoke said. 

When he arrived at the Mesa, Johnson was fresh off of a shoulder injury that limited him during practice in addition to his hamstring issues. Additionally, Johnson dealt with a foot injury at Georgia Tech two years ago that forced him to miss the season. 

Going forward, Hoke says both quarterbacks will continue to get the opportunities in practice, but for now Lucas Johnson will continue to be the Aztecs’ starting quarterback. 

“I think as the week progresses they’ll both be taking opportunities, but right now he’s our starter,” Hoke said. 

Johnson’s first half showing against Nevada was promising, but he needs to complete a full game to prove his consistency. Johnson has the opportunity to show what he’s truly capable of as the Aztecs head to Boulder, Colo. to take on the undefeated Colorado Buffaloes of the Pac-12 Conference.

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