SDSU Football needs a comeback, but prevails over New Mexico State 28-10

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Noelani Sapla

Senior Andrew Aleki (6) celebrates with his teammates after returning an interception for a touchdown

by Jason Freund, Sports Editor

Like last year, the San Diego State Aztecs struggled to pass the ball at the start of this season. However, just like last year, the running game picked up the slack.

After missing two games and rushing for just 100 yards in the last three games of the 2020 season, senior running back Greg Bell exploded for a career-high 165 yards on 20 carries as the Aztecs scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to beat the New Mexico State University Aggies 28-10.

At first, it was looking like SDSU’s 2020 struggles through the air would come back to haunt them at Dignity Health Sports Park. After winning the starting job over senior Lucas Johnson and sophomore Jaydon Maylon, senior quarterback Jordon Brookshire appeared flustered in the first half as constant pressure forced him to scramble out of the pocket and make ill-advised and off-target throws.

Passes that Brookshire did complete were short passes for little yardage. Even though his receivers dropped catchable passes, Brookshire did complete a 42-yard pass to the wide-open senior Kobe Smith, which was immediately negated due to a holding call.

Undisciplined play resulted in unnecessary penalties that set the Aztecs back on offense, while a soft zone defense was picked apart by Aggies junior quarterback Jonah Johnson, who went 34-for-56 while passing for 326 yards and a touchdown. 

Head coach Brady Hoke was upset about his team’s wayward first-half mistakes but noticed the improvements made in the second half.

“In the first half, we had way too many mistakes. We made too many penalties and we did not have enough discipline in all areas,” Hoke said. “At the same time, Coach Kurt Mattix did a really good job in the second half with change-ups. I am proud of our football team.

With SDSU defenders either giving too much space or getting beat in man-to-man coverage, the underdog NMSU squad shut out the Aztecs en route to a 10-0 halftime lead.

Coming out of the locker room, SDSU made necessary adjustments to counter NMSU’s quick pass-oriented offense.

After receiving the ball to start the second half, Brookshire completed passes of 18 and 24-yards to put the Aztecs in scoring range. Bell did the rest, breaking away from the NMSU defense to score a 23-yard touchdown, his first since the Nov. 21 matchup with Nevada.

Bell’s touchdown rejuvenated the Aztecs as both sides of the ball showed marked improvement in the second half. Brookshire, who ended the game 7-for-20 with 115 passing yards and an interception, used his feet to score an 18-yard stumbling touchdown.

Senior Andrew Aleki’s pick-six and senior Jordan Byrd’s 43-yard touchdown on a reverse sweep gave SDSU a commanding 18-point lead.

After being repeatedly thwarted in the first half, the SDSU defense broke through in the second half. After being put under constant pressure, Johnson was intercepted three times, including the aforementioned Aleki interception.

The Scarlet and Black won the battle in the secondary as well, breaking up seven passes while senior corner Taylor Hawkins intercepted a 50/50 pass intended for redshirt junior Terrell Warner.

The unheralded hero of the game was junior punter Matt Araiza, who punted nine times during the game. Since 1996, 2,087 punters have punted the same amount of times. Araiza’s average of 56.8 yards per punt? Good for second-best amongst those punters. 

Two of the junior’s nine punts went for over 70 yards, including a 77-yarder in the second quarter to pin the Aggies to their own four-yard line. His feats didn’t go unnoticed by both his teammates and his coaches.

“He did a great job and flipped the field position, helping the defense,’ Hoke said. “I am really proud of how he did, even kickoffs, every one of them was in the endzone. His ability is definitely a weapon for us.”

Still, the mistakes made throughout the game were noticeable. Junior offensive lineman William Dunkle was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a play was completed and a missed communication on special teams caused a muffed punt to bounce right back to the Aggies.

The offense cannot rely on running plays alone to supplement the offense and needs Brookshire to realize his potential to avoid becoming one-dimensional and predictable.

SDSU will be on the road next week and will be in Tucson, Arizona against the 0-1 Arizona Wildcats, their first of two Pac-12 opponents this season.

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