The last four minutes in the first quarter of San Diego State’s football game against Hawaii were ticking down on Saturday afternoon in what was developing into a punting contest.
That’s when one of the announcers for Hawaii’s broadcast team said: “At this point, Hawaii coach Todd Graham has to be happy with his defense.”
Famous last words.
Moments later, San Diego State running back Jordan Byrd took a handoff from quarterback Carson Baker, turned the corner along the left sideline and sped off on a 51-yard touchdown run.
On the Aztecs’ next offensive play, running back Greg Bell raced up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown run.
A game that Rainbow Warriors head coach Todd Graham described as a must-win went down in the scorebooks as an easy 34-10 victory for the hosts, who had to travel 112 miles one way from San Diego to play in Dignity Health Sports Park, home to the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, in Carson, Calif.
The Aztecs (3-1, 3-1 Mountain West), coming in ranked seventh in the FBS at 265 yards rushing per game, kept their offense on the ground with 326 of their 356 yards. Carson Baker was only 4-of-13 passing for 30 yards and two interceptions, but the Aztecs still snapped a two-game losing streak to the Rainbow Warriors (2-2, 2-2). The 30 passing yards by SDSU was the least allowed by UH since a 2016 win over Air Force when the Falcons passed for 20 yards.
“We win and lose together as a team, and that was a disappointing performance,” Graham said after his team’s chances of returning to the Mountain West title game took a major hit.
No matter for the one-dimensional Aztecs when that one weapon is so effective. San Diego State demonstrated why it’s one of the better run offenses behind a solid line and a stable of running backs who could all start for Hawaii. As he often is, Bell, a Nebraska transfer, was the ring leader, carrying the ball 19 times for a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns.
His first score extended the Aztecs’ lead to 14-0 late in the first quarter. The Aztecs also produced a 71-yard interception return for a score by Segun Olubi before intermission.
The Warriors return home just in time to play another marquee opponent in Boise State.
“I walked in and told the kids that that’s on me,” Graham said. “We did a poor job of coaching and preparing them. That’s ultimately what we’re responsible for. We have to get better. We have to go to work because you don’t have long to do it because were playing the best team in our league next week.”
UH will have to do a better job on all fronts to have any shot. Turnovers in the first half led to 14 points for the Aztecs. Two mistakes in the third quarter by San Diego State on its own end of the field resulted in a 27-yard field goal by UH’s Matt Shipley with 5:13 left to make it 28-3. Not a good net result.
Especially when the first play of the fourth quarter was a strip sack fumble of UH quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, giving San Diego State a first-and-goal at the 10. The UH defense held, forcing a 27-yard field goal by Matt Araiza to make it 31-3 with 12:51 left. Hawaii countered with a chunk play of its own on the ensuing series as Cordeiro hooked up with slotback Calvin Turner, who turned the short flat route into a 75-yard touchdown pass to cut SDSU’s lead to 31-10 with 12 minutes left.
But it was too little, too late as San Diego State used up nine minutes of clock that led to 3 more points by Araiza with 2:59 remaining to round out the scoring. For the game, Cordeiro hit 17 of 35 passes for 209 yards. He had one TD and one pick. The sophomore signal-caller also had 20 carries for 20 yards as he was harassed for most of the game by an athletic front seven. The Aztecs’ running attack was predictable enough to produce 15 tackles for loss for UH, normally a number that would produce a win.
The Aztecs had seven sacks led by Jonah Tavai with two.
Graham bemoaned his team’s mistakes.
“We’re self-destructing, it’s the same things,” he said. “We did a better job last week with lesser penalties, we didn’t have the same amount of them, but this week there it comes back again.
“The main thing is just putting the ball in jeopardy and turning the ball over and the inability to consistently move the sticks.”
Miscues on special teams came to the forefront once again as well for UH. Already down 14-0 and the defense making a good stand, Melquise Stovall fumbled on a punt return deep in his own end, giving the Aztecs field position they didn’t need to score touchdowns. Bell thanked the Warriors anyway, scoring from 3 yards out to culminate the three-play, 13-yard drive and make it 21-0 in the blink of an eye.
And the Aztecs weren’t done trying to figure out ways to score. The last touchdown of the half came courtesy of Olubi. The zone dog appeared he might blitz, then dropped back into coverage where Cordeiro never saw him. His pass down the middle was easy pickings as he stepped in front of the intended target and returned it untouched for the score. Untouched is a word that described most of the Aztecs’ scores in the first half en route to a 28-0 lead.
Hawaii 0 0 3 7 — 10
San Diego St. 14 14 0 6 — 34
SDSU—Byrd 51 run (Araiza kick), 3:26.
SDSU—G.Bell 62 run (Araiza kick), 1:08.
SDSU—G.Bell 3 run (Araiza kick), 10:25.
SDSU—Olubi 29 interception return (Araiza kick), 1:20.
HAW—FG Shipley 27, 5:13.
SDSU—FG Araiza 27, 12:51.
HAW—Turner 75 pass from Cordeiro (Shipley kick), 12:00.
SDSU—FG Araiza 36, 2:59.
First downs 14 15
Rushes-yards 35-66 51-326
Passing 209 30
Comp-Att-Int 17-35-1 4-13-2
Return Yards 18 81
Punts-Avg. 8-40.8 5-42.2
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 4-63 4-48
Time of Possession 28:34 31:26
RUSHING—Hawaii, Turner 6-39, Cordeiro 20-20, Hunter 2-6, Reed 7-1. San Diego St., G.Bell 19-160, Byrd 7-61, L.Johnson 4-47, C.Bell 9-47, Williams 8-21, (Team) 1-(minus 1), Baker 3-(minus 9).
PASSING—Hawaii, Cordeiro 17-35-1-209. San Diego St., Baker 4-13-2-30.
RECEIVING—Hawaii, Turner 4-116, Smart 4-24, Bussey 4-22, Cephus 1-29, Bowens 1-8, Panoke 1-5, Reed 1-5, Mardner 1-0. San Diego St., C.Bell 1-14, G.Bell 1-9, Kothe 1-8, Byrd 1-
MISSED FIELD GOALS—
Hawaii, Shipley 42.