First off, let’s start with the newest San Diego State quarterback, who was sort of the old one.
It’s Jalen Mayden, who has started the last two games at quarterback for San Diego State, engineering the Aztecs to two victories and breathing life into what appeared to be a dying season.
Mayden (6-3, 220) was a four-star recruit who began his career at Mississippi State and played sparingly in his two seasons there.
He transferred to San Diego State, and last season saw action in one game during the Aztecs’ 46-13 loss to Utah State in the Mountain West championship. In that title game, he completed 5 of 6 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown on his lone drive and rushed for 36 yards on nine carries.
Then during spring ball, he was moved to safety.
This season he appeared in one game at safety, playing 65 snaps and making eight tackles in a 17-14 win over Toledo on Sept. 24. Then after not seeing action in a 35-13 loss at Boise State on Oct. 1, Mayden was named the starting quarterback the following week after well-traveled Braxton Burmeister was in concussion protocol.
The day after that Boise State loss, with the Aztecs 2-3, 0-1, head coach Brady Hoke fired offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski and replaced him with associate head coach Jeff Horton. From 2015 through 2019, Horton also served as the Aztecs’ offensive coordinator. Ryan Lindley was brought in as quarterback coach, a job that Hecklinski also filled.
Keeping up with all of this?
At the time of the dismissal, SDSU was averaging 65.6 passing yards per game, or less than a quarter’s work for Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
So let’s get this straight, a new QB, OC, and QB coach near the midway part of the season for SDSU. That’s a lot of change, not to mention a lot of initials.
At the time of Mayden’s appointment, there weren’t many other options. Kyle Crum, who played one game this season at quarterback for the Aztecs, was not available due to injury. So that left Mayden to make his first start against Hawaii. He completed 22 of 34 for 322 yards in a 16-14 home win over the Warriors on Oct. 8.
How impressive was the passing total? It was only eight yards fewer than the passing yards that SDSU had accumulated in its first five games.
Then after a bye, Mayden completed 12 of 25 for 156 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in a 23-7 win at Nevada on Saturday.
Where Mayden really made his mark was on the ground. He rushed for 50 yards and a score on seven carries. This 32-yard touchdown run will be one of the better ones seen this season, especially in terms of the degree of difficulty.
Amid all the other changes, Burmeister, a former backup to Justin Herbert at Oregon and somebody who started 16 games in two seasons at Virginia Tech, was moved to receiver. He had one reception for 19 yards against Nevada.
You can’t make all this up, but what’s even crazier is that the Aztecs are very much in contention for the wild and wacky West Division in the Mountain West Conference.
San Diego State is 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the West, tied for first place with Fresno State and San Jose State. SDSU visits Fresno State in a Saturday showdown. It’s a Fresno State team that has managed to hang in there with its own adversity at quarterback.
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, considered an NFL prospect, has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury in the third game of the season. Sophomore Logan Fife has replaced Haener, leading the Bulldogs to a 2-2 record in his starts, although he has thrown just two touchdown passes compared to six interceptions.
No matter what happens, Mayden has helped at least momentarily save the SDSU season.
A year after being in the Mountain West title game, whoever thought the Aztecs would have a chance, especially at the beginning of the month, when they had to lean on a quarterback with very little experience, but plenty of determination.
Mayden is where he always wanted to be, even though it took an unconventional route to get there.