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

Aztecs at a turning point after the bye week with a crucial contest at Hawaii

After seeing three of the nation’s top five defenses in their first six games, SDSU travels to the islands in search of their first conference win
Gabriel Schneider
San Diego State wide receiver Brionne Penny leaps to make a catch near the goal line against Boise State at Snapdragon Stadium.

Mired in their first four-game losing streak since the 2018 season, San Diego State football will be facing a potential make-or-break moment when they visit the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Saturday night.

Both teams are coming off a bye week following losses on the road.

The Aztecs (2-4, 0-2 Mountain West Conference) suffered their second-largest defeat by Air Force in program history, dropping a 49-10 decision in Colorado Springs. Hawaii (2-4, 0-1) gave up the first two scores of the game at UNLV and were unable to get back within a touchdown of the Rebels after the 4:56 mark of the second quarter in a 44-20 loss.

“That’s one thing you do during the bye, you get a chance to self-scout, look into what we’re doing and those things and correct the performance that we don’t want,” said head coach Brady Hoke.

Shoring up the Scarlet and Black

Seeing the SDSU defense rank so lowly in the Mountain West is jarring. After all, this is a unit that has finished with the fewest average yards allowed per game overall in eight of the conference’s previous 24 seasons.

Through the first seven weeks, the Aztecs have allowed the third-most yards of total offense (439.67), second-most rushing yards (184.33) and fifth-most passing yards (255.33) per game amongst Mountain West teams.

This will be the first weekend since facing Idaho State that SDSU will line up against a team that throws the ball more than it runs. The Rainbow Warriors have passed 63.46% of the time and thrown the third-most interceptions in conference. Defensive backs Cedarious Barfield and Noah Tumblin will have plenty of chances to add to their top ten individual interception totals.

It should also allow a defensive line that is tied for eighth in the conference in sacks to get after the quarterback, as the Rainbow Warriors have given up a Mountain West-worst 25 sacks. Opportunities will be there for defensive linemen Tupu Alualu, Daniel Okpoko and Garrett Fountain, as well as linebackers Zyrus Fiaseu and Cooper McDonald to pin their ears back.

“The coaches are putting us in great positions to make plays. It’s on us now,” McDonald said. “We need to go out there and make the plays that, when the time comes to us, we need to be able to make the play as a whole defense.”

Hawaii’s defense is the first the Aztecs have faced this season that is in the lower half of FBS in rushing yards allowed per game. Their 172.5 against on the ground is fourth-most in the conference and ranks 106th in the country. Running backs Keenan Christon, Jaylon Armstead and Martin Blake will need to take advantage of when the line creates lanes.

Big plays are a big deal

Explosive plays (passes of 20-plus yards and rushes of 12-plus yards) have been an issue for SDSU, particularly during the losing streak. The Aztecs have generated 34 explosive plays (18 passing and 16 rushing) with five going for touchdowns, while allowing 44 (26 passing and 18 rushing) with 10 big hitter scores against for the season.

Hawaii has had 37 explosive plays (22 passing and 15 rushing) with five touchdowns and allowed 44 (20 passing and 24 rushing) with 12 going the distance.

The Aztecs’ record with the advantage in explosive plays mirrors their overall record: 2-0 when they win the category, 0-4 when they lose it. Hawaii is 1-1 when holding the advantage in the stat and 1-3 when they don’t, with their win despite having fewer explosive plays coming against New Mexico State, who is 3-3.

Hawaii has taken steps forward under Chang

Rainbow Warriors head coach Timmy Chang has solidly put his imprint on the program in year two at the helm of his alma mater. This year’s team has returned to a pass-heavy play style, similar to one which allowed Chang to throw for the second-most yards in FBS history from 2000 to 2004.

Third-year quarterback Brayden Schager has passed for the second-most yards (1661) and touchdowns (14) in the Mountain West. Senior wide receiver Steven McBride leads the team with 469 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns, while redshirt freshman wideout Pofele Ashlock’s 38 catches are team tops; both are in the top ten in the conference in receptions and receiving yards per game.

“They like to spread their offense out and really let the rock fly,” McDonald said. “We’ve been in a little drought defensively, so we need to get the ball back for the offense, so they can go down and score.”

The ground game has been an issue for the Rainbow Warriors, as they have averaged 58.5 yards rushing per game and 2.79 yards per carry. Sophomores Jordan Johnson and Tylan Hines have had the most carries in recent games and are the only running backs with more than 100 net yards rushing.

Hawaii has taken a significant step on defense, as they’ve allowed an average of 89 fewer yards (60.67 passing and 28.33 rushing) and 5.83 fewer points through six games this season. This has come without the benefit of creating turnovers, as the unit has generated just two fumble recoveries and one interception.

The senior corps of linebacker Isaiah Tufaga and defensive lineman Andrew Choi lead the team with 4.5 tackles for loss, while linebacker Logan Taylor has added 4.0 TFL. Defensive backs Jojo Forest, Caleb Brown, Cam Stone and Virdel Edwards II have five or more passes broken up.

Final Number

Four of the last five games between the Aztecs and Rainbow Warriors have been decided by a touchdown or less, with three games decided by three points or fewer.

San Diego State kicks off against Hawaii at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Clarence T.C. Ching Complex in Honolulu.

“We have six games left that are guaranteed,” Hoke said. “We have to take each game one at a time and we want to play more than six.”

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Gabriel Schneider
Gabriel Schneider, Senior Staff, '22-23 Editor-in-Chief
Gabriel Schneider (he, him, his) was born in La Mesa and grew up in Hemet, California. He is the current editor-in-chief of The Daily Aztec. Before arriving at San Diego State University, he was editor-in-chief of City Times, the news organization of San Diego City College. Schneider was in the Marine Corps as an Infantryman before starting his journey in journalism. He loves finding different ways to express himself through creative techniques.