Three Observations: Aztecs lose big in Mountain West Conference Championship

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Noelani Sapla

Freshman wide receiver Mekhi Shaw in disbelief after dropping a touchdown pass.

by Andrew Finley, Assistant Sports Editor

The San Diego State Aztecs (11-2, 7-2 Mountain West Conference) got absolutely shellacked by the Utah State Aggies (10-3, 8-1 MWC) in the MWC Championship game 46-13.

The highest anticipated game in recent history for the Aztecs couldn’t have been more of a disappointment, as the Scarlet and Black came in as the favorites to win only to get absolutely clobbered by junior quarterback Logan Bonner and the USU pass attack. 

Junior wide receiver Jesse Matthews said the entire game was very frustrating. 

“Obviously, we didn’t do what we needed to do,” Matthews said. “Good props to Utah State for coming up with a good game plan and executing and doing what they needed to do, but we just made too many mistakes, missing the opportunities. We can’t allow that in a championship game.”

The Aggies were a well put together squad and had every right to win the game, but defeating the 19th ranked Aztecs at home by 33 points — after the Scarlet and Black had defeated a tough Boise State team a week earlier — was likely a product of more than just a good game plan. 

Here are three observations from SDSU’s big loss to USU. 

1. Twenty players ruled out because after testing positive for COVID-19

Throughout the week it had been known that the Aztecs would be without senior tight end Daniel Bellinger and three other tight ends due to a positive COVID-19 test. What wasn’t discussed were the 17 other players who had tested positive for the virus. 

Other key contributors sidelined because of the virus included junior receivers Tyrell Shavers and TJ Sullivan. Senior offensive tackle Chris Martinez was also sidelined for the game.

Despite missing key pieces, head coach Brady Hoke said there’s no excuse for not putting up a better fight. 

“We got to go out and fight with the hand we’re dealt,” Hoke said after the loss. 

The loss of key offensive players was evident on the field. Senior quarterback Jordon Brookshire — after a terrific game the week prior — was under pressure for most of the game against USU, getting sacked four times behind a less-prepared offensive line. Brookshire completed just 11 of his 23 passes for 117 yards without any of his tight ends on the field. Bellinger was one of Brookshire’s favorite targets in the win against Boise, as he found him three times for 61 yards. 

2. Failure to play disciplined football 

In addition to testing positive for COVID-19 days before the championship game, SDSU showed a lack of discipline on the field, leading to several shortcomings during the game. 

There were several promising drives the Aztecs had that were stalled because of penalties or turnovers. The Aztecs lost 120 yards on nine penalties, and committed three fumbles with two of them being picked up by the opposition. The seemingly endless penalties and turnovers killed drives, destroyed any momentum the Aztecs worked to establish and put them in situations to fail. 

Third-down plays were an issue all day as well, as the Aztecs converted just one of their 14 third-down plays in the game. The Scarlet and Black failed to convert on their first 11 third-down plays with the one conversion coming late in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. 

On the defensive side of the ball, late hit penalties and several dropped interceptions continued to keep the Aggies on the field en route to scoring the most points against SDSU’s stingy defense since the Scarlet and Black gave up 31 points against the eventual Pac-12 champions, Utah. 

Senior linebacker and captain Caden McDonald said the missed opportunities the defense had could have changed the outcome of the game.

“We could have had four or five turnovers today,” McDonald said. “We just have to capitalize on some of those opportunities, and that could definitely have changed the game.” 

3. Onto the next one

Despite suffering one of the biggest losses in SDSU football history, this Aztecs football team is still one of the winningest squads in school history. Hoke said there’s a lot to be thankful for despite the loss. 

“Lots of football teams would like to be 11-2,” Hoke said. “We have an opportunity to play in a bowl game, which is alway an exciting thing for me and also the players as a reward. 

“We can also set a school record for wins; we have an opportunity still play for that.” 

Like Hoke said, with an 11-2 record, the Scarlet and Black are on their way to represent SDSU in a bowl game. It was announced on Sunday, December 12 that they will play in the Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. 

The game will take place on Dec. 21 against the Conference USA champion University of Texas San Antonio Roadrunners. UTSA (12-1, 7-1 CUSA) won 11 straight games prior to falling to North Texas, but bounced back quickly with a close victory in their conference championship game against Western Kentucky. 

As a captain, McDonald knows he has to keep his teammates in the game, and looks to have a similar bounce-back game to UTSA this past week.

“It’s football; you win some and you lose some,” McDonald said. “It’s a real testament to your character when you’re losing to see how hard you fight.”