San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Defense sets tone as Aztecs defeat Nevada 23-7

SDSU sits atop the division as the defense shines and offense shows signs of life.
Olivia Vargo
Aztec football players celebrate following their win against the University of Hawaii on Oct. 8. They followed up the win with another impressive defensive performance vs University of Nevada Reno.

It was a stifling performance by the San Diego State Aztecs’ (4-3, 2-1 MWC) defense as they held the Wolfpack (2-6, 0-4 MWC) to only 227 yards of total offense in a complete performance in Reno.

With senior quarterback Jalen Mayden making his second consecutive start, it was the defense who provided the early spark as senior linebacker Ryan Shawcroft forced a fumble that senior safety Patrick McMorris picked up and returned for an Aztecs touchdown.

“When everybody gets to the ball, good things happen,” Shawcroft said. “Luckily someone else had him wrapped up and I came in and knocked it out, and Pat was right there.”

The early defensive play settled the Aztecs into the game, taking the pressure off an offense who had been ranked towards the bottom of the FBS in multiple different categories. Mayden and the Aztecs offense moved the ball efficiently down the field throughout the first half, as the newly minted quarterback showed chemistry with junior tight end Mark Redman on multiple third down conversions.

Senior Braxton Burmeister looked like a natural lining up at wide receiver in the second quarter and caught a 19-yard strike from Mayden. Burmeister, a transfer from Virginia Tech won the starting quarterback job in the offseason, but has struggled both with his health and with navigating the Aztecs offense. 

Although Mayden moved the ball effectively down the field, the Aztecs struggled in the red zone, moving inside the 20 three times but failing to score touchdowns on all three trips. Senior kicker Jack Browning converted three field goal tries to keep the Wolfpack at bay, but the lack of touchdown production allowed Nevada to stay within striking distance. 

Nevada decided to bench quarterback Nate Cox in favor of Shane Illingsworth, who provided a spark to an offense that struggled throughout the game. After a host of defensive penalties on the Aztecs that included a defensive pass interference on 4th down, Illingsworth found receiver Spencer Curtis in the back of the endzone for a 20-yard touchdown just before halftime.

With the offense putting up three points at a time, it was the defense that ensured that Nevada wouldn’t stage a comeback. Shawcroft was a force from the inside linebacker position, flying all over the field to lead the Aztecs defense in tackles, as well as racking up two tackles for loss and a sack. He was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. 

“It was a real point of emphasis for us today,” Shawcroft said. “A lot of the blitzes that were called and put in this week were made for us to get home and affect the quarterback.”

The Tavai brothers—seniors Justus and Jonah— put their stamp on the game in the third quarter. Justus batted a ball at the line of scrimmage and came down with the interception, and Jonah sacked Illingsworth twice to put an end to Nevada drives. 

Mayden showed off his mobility and put the finishing touches on the game on a 32-yard touchdown scramble where he stepped back multiple times in a collapsing pocket to evade pressure, before rolling left and tiptoeing the sideline to go in for the touchdown. 

“I just kept my eyes downfield. I want to give my receivers every opportunity to get the ball and get open. Everybody was covered so I just took it and ran with it,” Mayden said of his scramble.

It was a display of complimentary football as the defense forced two turnovers and the offense turned them into ten points. The Aztecs also were 6-16 on third down, not spectacular, but a marked improvement from their early season struggles. 

However, penalties were once again at the forefront on both sides of the ball. The Aztecs were flagged 11 times for 91 yards. The penalties were often discipline issues rather than the referees making questionable decisions. Aztec drives often stalled out because of costly false starts or holding penalties.

“We had way too many penalties,” head coach Brady Hoke said. “We had five false starts—we have to play a lot better and not hurt ourselves.”

Mayden has looked increasingly comfortable under center, and has provided a sense of stability to the position by not turning the ball over and executing on third downs to keep drives moving. 

“The game plan for me is just like the first week—just whatever I’m comfortable with. The offense moved smoother, we just need to get rid of the penalties,” Mayden said.

While it’s too early to say that Mayden is the answer at quarterback, he has performed the best out of a revolving door of players at the position. New quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley and interim offensive coordinator Jeff Horton will have another week of preparation under their belt with Mayden as the starter, and the converted safety will look to build on his last two performances. 

It also remains to be seen what Hoke’s plans are with Burmeister. Hoke alluded to Burmeister approaching him last week to try his hand at wide receiver, but no concrete plans are in place regarding his positional status. 

The Aztecs continue their conference slate on Oct. 29th, as they take on rivals Fresno State (3-4, 2-1 MWC) in the “Battle for the Old Oil Can” in Fresno. Jeff Tedford’s men are coming off a strong performance against New Mexico in a 41-9 victory, and sit in second place in the conference.

“It’s a rivalry game, it’s a game that’s really important and has been for years,” Hoke said. “The Oil Can is in Fresno right now, and we need to go get it.”

Once again, the story will be if Hoke’s offense will be able to execute against a Fresno State team that ranks 41st in the nation in total defense. All eyes will be on the Aztecs in Fresno as they look to solidify their hold atop the Mountain West Western Division. 

About the Contributor
Olivia Vargo
Olivia Vargo, '24-25 Photo Editor
Olivia Vargo (she/her/hers) is a first-year Television, Film, and New Media production major from Camas, WA. She loves photography and is excited to see what her future at SDSU holds. She was the team photographer for her local equestrian team all four years of high school and the photographer/student manager for her school’s varsity baseball team in the spring of her senior year. She loves music, art, animals, baseball (specifically the Dodgers), and California’s sunny weather. As a first-year Olivia hopes to gain lots of experiences with the Daily Aztec and explore what they have to offer.
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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Defense sets tone as Aztecs defeat Nevada 23-7