Trying to win a conference championship is hard enough when your team is at full strength. Trying to do it without a third of your roster increases the degree of difficulty exponentially.
San Diego State met Utah State in the Mountain West Conference championship game missing about 20 players due to COVID-19 protocols, including their top three tight ends and number two wide receiver. It's the first time since the pandemic started that SDSU has had to deal with a substantial COVID issue in any of its athletic programs and it could not have come at a worse time.
The undermanned Aztecs got blasted in a 46-13 loss to the Aggies, giving Utah State its first conference title in a game where nothing went San Diego State's way.
In the 1st quarter they had a 4th and 1 at the Utah State 12 yard line. Instead of taking the easy three points head coach Brady Hoke went for it. Greg Bell took the handoff three yards behind the line of scrimmage and was swarmed immediately, losing a yard and turning it over on downs.
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Things went so badly for the Aztecs, even their usually dominant special teams underperformed.
All-Universe punter Matt Araiza had a kick blocked (of course, he's so good the ball still went 27 yards forward) that set up the Aggies on their own 47 yard line. They went 53 yards in 10 plays, the last one a 5-yard pass from Logan Bonner to Derek Wright for a touchdown and a 7-0 Utah State lead.
Short fields for the Aggies was a theme in this game. SDSU's next possession stalled and Araiza pulled a 54-yard field goal just wide to the right, setting up USU at their own 37. They scored six plays later on a 1-yard TD run by Calvin Tyler that made it 14-0. Both of those scoring drives were helped by 15-yard personal foul penalties on SDSU defenders (the Aztecs were flagged for a ridiculous six personal fouls in the game).
The Aztecs needed a big drive to get some momentum back. It looked like they had one. Quarterback Jordon Brookshire led them to a 1st and goal at the five yard line when it went haywire again. Brookshire was sacked at the 10 then scrambled back to the six yard line.
On 3rd and goal he had redshirt freshman Mekhi Shaw wide open in the end zone but threw the ball late and high. Shaw, who had just four catches on the year and was playing because Tyrell Shavers was out, got his hands on it but safety Monte McGary had time to get there and knock the ball free.
It was a missed opportunity on an afternoon full of them for the Aztecs. Araiza kicked a short field goal to make it 14-3 at halftime.
The Aggies took the opening half kickoff and put the game on ice when Bonner hit Brandon Bowling for a 59-yard touchdown on a busted coverage that made it 21-3. SDSU went 3-and-out and then the special teams faltered again.
The three blockers in front of Araiza got pushed straight backwards into him and his punt hit right off the back of his own player. It flew backwards into the end zone for a safety and a 23-3 lead.
Defensive back Patrick McMorris, who had a pair on interceptions in a comeback win over Boise State a week ago, tried to spark a comeback with another pick that set up the Aztecs at the Aggies 40 yard line. SDSU would earn a 1st and goal at the three ... and after an offensive pass interference penalty end up with 4th and goal at the 19.
Araiza made another field goal but the fact the Aztecs took the ball inside the 15 yard line three times and 1st and goal inside the five on two different drives but came away with just six points was the defining part of this game.
The Aggies scored a couple more times to make it 39-6 when backup QB Jalen Mayden came in and led a TD drive, finding Jesse Matthews for a 5-yard TD. Matthews, the former walk-on, was the Aztecs best offensive player with eight catches for 82 yards and their only touchdown.
The Aztecs fall to 11-2 and lose any hope of appearing in a New Year's Six bowl game. On Sunday afternoon the Aztecs learn which postseason affair they will be attending.