San Diego State looked like it could have used Ronnie Hillman and Ryan Lindley on Saturday night.
In its first game without them, SDSU’s offense sputtered early and a late rally fell short as the Aztecs fell 21-12 to Washington at CentuyLink Field in Seattle.
How much did San Diego State look like it needed Lindley and Hillman? The Aztecs had just 27 yards of total offense in the first quarter and spotted the Huskies a 14-point lead that they could not overcome.
And as for Lindley and Hillman’s replacements—quarterback Ryan Katz and running Walter Kazee—it was a first quarter and first half that they would probably like to forget.
Kazee ran for just 38 yards, 34 of those coming in the first quarter. He finished with 86 yards rushing.
Katz was a respectable 5-for-8 in the first 30 minutes. But his interception in the first quarter led to Washington’s first score. Katz finished the game with 128 yards passing and a touchdown and added 77 rushing yards of his own.
This is, however, not the San Diego State of old, and instead of folding when it was down 14-6 at half, the team made it interesting in the second half.
“I thought a team with less mental toughness would have given up,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long told reporters after the game. “I was disappointed with the turnovers in the first half and the way the defense played. For an experienced group in the secondary and linemen we weren’t very aggressive. We were a heck of a lot better in the second half.”
The second half saw the Aztecs hold Washington to just 108 yards of total offense, hold Keith Price to 76 yards passing, and hold the Huskies offense to zero touchdowns.
But just like how the game started, a turnover was key in turning the tide. Washington’s young defense scored on a fumble return, putting it up 21-6. Even though that score was early in the third quarter, it was gulf too wide for SDSU to overcome.
“We got out of ourselves and held onto the ball too much at quarterback and a credit to SDSU, they did a nice job of pressuring us,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said when asked why his offense stalled in the second half. “When they were blitzing and throwing the quick stuff we just couldn’t quite step out of the tackle to create some big plays that you need to do when a team is playing that way against you.”
The biggest question coming out of the game could be directed to Long. He chose to go for the two-point conversion after the first San Diego State touchdown. That attempt failed and the team had to go for another two-point conversion on its second touchdown.
“We went for two reasons: one, you should be able to get 50 percent of them, which gives you the exact same number of points, so if you make 50 percent of your two-point conversions you score exactly the same number of points,” Long said. “At the same time your improving your ability to make points on fourth downs. It’s extra practice time for when you want to go on fourth downs.”
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