After a crazy weekend of Mountain West football, San Diego State captured a win against San Jose State to remain the only remaining undefeated team in conference play, sitting atop the West division.
The 30-7 victory against SJSU was the third consecutive win for SDSU, bringing its conference record to 3-0, as the Aztecs continue to improve week by week.
This was the first game SDSU played liked a team that deserved to be atop the MW.
Graduate transfer quarterback Maxwell Smith has been a driving force in the team’s resurgence.
While the running game and defense have taken steps in the right direction each coming week, Smith has shown up recently after much criticism to begin the season.
In last week’s victory against University of Hawaii, Smith completed over 50 percent of his passes for the first time since the Aztecs played UC Berkeley, when he went 11-for-15 with a touchdown.
Against Fresno State, Smith showed flashes of improvement with two touchdowns, one to junior wide receiver Eric Judge and one to sophomore running back Rashaad Penny.
After the game, Smith looked and sounded, confident in his team’s ability for the first time in the young season.
“It felt good to get back to Aztec football,” Smith said of his team’s dominant showing that night. “We’re in conference now. It’s time to step up and play good football.”
Since the victory over Fresno State, Smith and his offense have moved a little farther up the ladder each week.
With Smith’s recent impressive performances, he’s also breathed new life into junior running back Donnel Pumphrey, who has had more running room with less defenders in the box.
Besides Pumphrey, Smith has rejuvenated the team as a whole as the Aztecs sit in the driver’s seat in the West division of the MW.
In the win Saturday night in San Jose, Smith completed his first eight pass attempts for 129 yards and one touchdown.
His first incompletion was a dropped pass by junior tight end Daniel Brunskill in the end zone with 0:20 left in the first half.
Smith’s recent success has increased offensive coordinator Jeff Horton’s confidence in him.
Three weeks ago against Fresno State, the offense ran on the first 15 plays of the game, and did not record a pass attempt until the 18th play.
Inversely, the Aztecs came out slinging Saturday, dialing up a 28-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Mikah Holder on the game’s opening play.
Two weeks ago, Horton would not risk letting Smith control the fate of the offense until Pumphrey had already racked up 75 rushing yards.
Long and Smith both assured media this was part of their offensive strategy, to establish the running game coming into conference play.
Not that giving the ball to Pumphrey is a bad play, as it is the best play in all of the MW. But it’s hard to compete against quality opponents with a one-dimensional offense.
And it didn’t take binoculars to notice the struggles Smith endured in non-conference play.
After three weeks of conference play, Smith has finally shown himself to be the quarterback the Aztecs expected when he transferred from University of Kentucky in the offseason, and one that could lead them to a MW championship.