Arizona really struggled to move the ball with Gunner Cruz at QB. He averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt and got sacked three times. Was he holding onto the ball too long because no one was open? Or because the Aztecs were muddying up the picture? It was probably a combination of the two. Either way, Cruz’s internal clock was not functioning sufficiently. Jedd Fisch went to Will Plummer late in the third quarter, and Plummer was slightly more effective than Cruz. Keep in mind, the game was basically decided at that point, so Plummer didn’t get the SDSU defense on full tilt.
At times, it felt as if the backs had no chance. On a couple of occasions, they were tackled as soon as they got the ball. Also, the score got so lopsided so fast that Fisch had to stray from the ground game. All of those factors led to minimal production. Michael Wiley and Drake Anderson combined for a mere 14 net yards on 10 carries. They had 10 yards in losses compared to none in Week 1. The backs provided a valuable checkdown outlet vs. BYU but were more often sent into the flats vs. SDSU. Wiley’s pair of receptions netted minus-2 yards.
Without access to the all-22 film, it’s difficult to determine whether receivers were getting open and how much that mucked up the offensive flow. It certainly was a factor. But the only big plays the Wildcats made were made by the wideouts, so credit where it’s due. Stanley Berryhill III’s 43-yard touchdown catch was a product of great individual effort; it was all YAC. Tayvian Cunningham’s 54-yard catch came against tight double coverage. He also scored a TD. Cruz’s interception appeared to be thrown slightly behind TE Alex Lines, but it was a ball he should have caught.
Poor line play was by far the biggest reason the offense couldn’t get much of anything going. The Aztecs whipped the Wildcats up front, leading to a parade of three-and-outs (10, not including the two-play drive that ended with the interception). Jordan Morgan returned from injury to start at left tackle but likely wasn’t 100%. Left guard Donovan Laie has been battling some leg issues, then exited the game after getting rolled from behind. Line coach Brennan Carroll tried various combinations, and none of them worked.
San Diego State rushed for 271 yards, which is about double what you want if you’re Arizona. The front was far too leaky against the run, especially in the first half (161 yards). But the effort never waned, and the front stiffened in the second half, when SDSU ran the ball almost exclusively and managed only three points. The pass rush was effective early, registering two sacks in the first quarter, but was seldom heard from thereafter. The front accounted for 5.5 of Arizona’s six TFLs, led by DT Kyon Barrs (1.5).
Arizona allowed Aztecs QB Jordon Brookshire to more than double his completion percentage and more than triple his efficiency rating from Week 1. That’s less than ideal. As in the BYU game, most of the damage was done against defenders not named Christian Roland-Wallace or Isaiah Rutherford. Safety Gunner Maldonado missed a tackle on Greg Bell’s 55-yard TD run on the first series. Jaxen Turner gotten beaten over the top on Brookshire’s 40-yard TD pass to Ethan Dedeaux. Overall pursuit to limit big plays was lacking.
One critical mistake undermined an otherwise strong performance by the special teams. That error was a breakdown in punt protection, which led to a blocked punt that the Aztecs returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was arguably the biggest play of the game, bumping SDSU’s lead from 14-0 to 21-0. Kyle Ostendorp otherwise punted well, averaging 52.2 yards on 10 attempts. Only five were returned, for 30 yards. In a surprise move, Tyler Loop handled placements. He went 2 for 2 on PATs. Lucas Havrisik was limited to kickoffs. All three went for touchbacks.
As Fisch said after the game, San Diego State “outcoached” and “outschemed” Arizona. The Aztecs came out throwing haymakers, and the Wildcats had no viable counters. It was a deeply disappointing start to the home slate. Fisch couldn’t find a way to overcome the offensive line’s blocking issues. Don Brown’s defense sprung leaks far too frequently in the first half before buckling down in the second. Special-teams coach Keith Dudzinski bears at least some blame for the blocked punt. The fact that the team kept playing hard spared the coaching staff from an F.