San Diego State coach Rocky Long said this week that the Nevada Wolf Pack beat up his Aztecs last year in Reno.
The Aztecs returned the favor Saturday night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.
The Aztecs completed a perfect 8-0 season in the Mountain West by devouring the Wolf Pack, 31-14, in front of 22,939 fans. San Diego State (8-3, 8-0) has now won eight games in a row and will face Air Force in the conference championship game on Dec. 5. The Wolf Pack fell to 6-6, 4-4 and will find out in a week where they will play in a bowl game.
“They are a championship caliber team and they showed it tonight,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said of the Aztecs. “That’s the type of football team I’d like to put out there.”
The Wolf Pack had just 35 yards rushing on 31 carries for its lowest rushing output of the pistol offense era (since the start of the 2005 season). It was the Pack’s fewest rushing yards in a game since the first game of coach Chris Ault’s final era (2004-12) as head coach when they had just seven yards on 34 carries in a 38-21 loss at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 6, 2004.
The game at San Diego State might be the Pack’s last as a full-time pistol team since offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is leaving to become the head coach at Hawaii. Polian said after the game that Rolovich, who called the plays against San Diego State, will not be with the program starting on Monday when he is introduced as Hawaii’s head coach.
Don Jackson led the Wolf Pack’s anemic rushing attack with 49 yards on 16 carries. Jackson, a senior, also went over 1,000 yards for the season and now has 1,029 yards. “I’d trade 1,000 yards for a win,” Jackson said.
James Butler saw his streak of four games in a row with 100 or more yards in a game come to an end. Butler, who now has 1,153 yards, had just 20 yards on just eight carries for his lowest output of the year and lowest since he had 15 yards on five carries in a 16-3 loss to Louisiana Lafayette in last year’s New Orleans Bowl. “Our run game was non-existent,” Polian said. “Give San Diego State credit but at some point we have to block somebody.”
The worst rushing game in the pistol era was also felt along the offensive line after the game. “I said all week that San Diego State was going to be a challenge that we had to meet and we just didn’t do it,” tackle Austin Corbett said. “That’s on us.”
“They brought it,” Jackson said. “They were composed and they were coming at us hard. It’s like Coach Polian says, it’s about how many one-on-one battles you win at the end of the day and we didn’t do too well today.”
The Wolf Pack, though, found itself in a 14-14 tie late in the first half. Backup quarterback Hunter Fralick scored on a 4-yard run on fourth down to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter and wide receiver Jerico Richardson recovered a Jackson fumble in the end zone to tie the game at 14-14 with just 2:42 to go in the half. San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey scored on a 1-yard run to give the Aztecs a 7-0 lead with 10:30 to go in the first quarter but the Pack held the Las Vegas native to just 22 yards over his first seven carries. That all changed in the final two minutes of the first half.
The Aztecs faced a 3rd-and-20 play from their own 28-yard line with about 90 seconds to play in the half. The Pack then called a time out. “We wanted to get the ball back and hopefully go down and score some more points,” Polian said.
The Pack got the ball back, all right. Pumphrey went 72 yards on a sweep for a touchdown on the very first play after the time out to give the Aztecs a 21-14 halftime lead. “It’s a toss sweep and it goes to the house,” Polian said. “That was not a very good look for us on defense. It was the single biggest play of the game.”
“At times we played well on defense,” said Pack linebacker Jordan Dobrich, who had 16 tackles. “At other times we had complete lapses. And that showed on their big plays. There were times there was no defense at all.”
The Pack then didn’t have much offense at all in the second half. The Aztecs blanked the Pack 10-0 in the second half on a 29-yard field goal by Donny Hageman in the third quarter and a 2-yard scoring run by Chase Price in the fourth quarter.
“Nothing went right in the second half,” Polian said.
Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart was just 12-of-23 for 228 yards through the air with two interceptions. Almost one third of his passing yards, though, came on a 72-yard pass to Jerico Richardson on the Pack’s first play of the game. “We decided three days ago to run that play and try to loosen them (the Aztecs’ defense) up a little bit,” Polian said.
All it did, it seemed, was make the Aztecs mad.
“You have to run the ball effectively to make them take that extra defender out of the box,” Polian said. “They did a great job but there’s no excuses when you can’t even get the ball back to the line of scrimmage.”
The Aztecs also sacked Stewart four times. “We didn’t protect the quarterback, we made some bad throws and we made some bad calls,” Polian said.
Pumphrey finished with 154 yards with almost half of those yards coming on his 72-yard run. The Aztecs threw just a dozen passes, completing nine for just 88 yards. The Aztecs out gained the Pack 408-263. The Pack now has just 527 total yards on offense in its last two games combined, losses at Utah State and San Diego State. The 263 yards is the Pack’s fewest since it had just 213 in the bowl loss to Louisiana Lafayette to end last season.
The Wolf Pack has now been outscored 55-14 in a little less than a game and a half since it jumped out to a 27-7 lead last week in the third quarter against Utah State.
“They (the Aztecs) are better than us,” Polian said. “That’s the bottom line.”