There's no doubt San Diego State can run the football. There's no doubt they have a stellar defense. But, if they want to become an elite program they're going to have to throw the football.
It took them a while to realize it but they did just in time to salvage a thrilling 33-31, triple-OT win over Utah to beat a second straight Pac-12 team and start the season 3-0.
Utah took the lead on a punt return touchdown in the 1st quarter and led 10-3 in the 2nd quarter when Jordan Byrd gave the Aztecs a spark. The senior running back grabbed a kickoff on his own goal line and went 100 yards to the other goal line to tie it 10-10. That was the score at halftime and in the 3rd quarter it looked like the Aztecs put a stanglehold on the game.
Quarterback Lucas Johnson, who started in place of a banged up Jordon Brookshire, took off on a 54-yard run inside the Utes 10-yard-line. Greg Bell scored from seven yards out to make it a 17-10 game.
Senior defensive back Tayler Hawkins picked off a Charlie Brewer pass and took it back to the Utah seven, setting up another 7-yard TD run from Bell. The Aztecs led 24-10 to start the 4th quarter. After that two things changed: Utah put in a new QB and SDSU head coach Brady Hoke got way too conservative.
The Aztecs ran 10 offensive plays in the 4th quarter. All of them were runs. They scored no points. The Utes went to sophomore Cameron Rising, who started picking apart a very good defense. Rising threw a pair of touchdown passes, the last one with 16 seconds left, to tie it at 24 and force overtime.
That's when things got really nutty.
Johnson hit tight end Daniel Bellinger for 15 yards, then connected with tight end Jay Rudolph for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 31-24. Rising answered with another scoring strike, then both teams missed a field goal try to get to a third overtime and a new way of doing things.
At the start of OT3 each the NCAA made a rule saying team has one shot at a 2-point conversion. Offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski reached into his bag of tricks. Wide receiver Jesse Matthews took a pitch on a reverse and threw a pass to a wide open Johnson, putting SDSU on top 33-31. Rising thought he had the equalizer when he hit Connor O'Toole in the corner of the end zone but replays showed the ball hit the ground before he made the catch.
The officials overturned the call. The Aztecs sideline went bonkers.
SDSU was sitting in the "Others Receiving Votes" part of the Top-25. A second straight win over a Power-5 school just might get them into the national rankings. The Aztecs host Towson next week with a really good chance to go 4-0 heading into Mountain West Conference play.