Twice this season the #22 Aztecs have played a top-10 passing offense. The first time they lost to Fresno State because they couldn't match the Bulldogs firepower.
The second time they made sure not to let the game get out of reach.
San Diego State edged out Nevada and superstar quarterback Carson Strong 23-21 on Saturday night, improving to 9-1 on the year and putting them in the catbird seat for a spot in the Mountain West Conference title game.
The Aztecs scored first on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Lucas Johnson to Daniel Bellinger that was set up by a 50-yard run by Greg Bell, who carried 16 times for 104 yards. Strong answered with a 28-yard strike to Tory Horton to tie it 7-7, then SDSU took control of the game for a while. Matt Araiza nailed a 48-yard field goal and Chance Bell ran in for a 5-yard TD to build a 17-7 lead.
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After that Strong really found his groove.
He connected with Romeo Doubs for a 5-yard score to cut the lead to 17-14. Araiza kicked another field goal but Strong used a beautiful play-action fake that had the entire Aztecs defense bite, leaving Doubs alone in the secondary for a 54-yard score and a 21-20 lead.
Strong, a redshirt junior playing with a banged up knee, showed everyone why most pro scouts think will be a 1st round pick in the NFL Draft, possibly even the first QB off the board. He threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers but SDSU held Nevada to just eight yards rushing and made the plays they needed to at critical moments.
After forcing a punt Johnson was able to put together his best drive of the night. On 4th and 4 he found Jesse Matthews for a 6-yard gain, then found Elijah Kothe for 19 yards and T.J. Sullivan for 17 more to get easily into Araiza range.
The All-American was true for 35 yards out so San Diego State led 23-21 with 1:21 left. Strong had one timeout to work with and started from his own 25 yard line, needing to move about 40 yards to get into field goal range. It didn't happen.
On 4th and 2 at midfield Patrick McMorris broke up Strong's pass and the Aztecs ended the game in victory formation. Next week they head to Vegas to play a very bad UNLV team then finish the regular season at home against Boise State.