Photo courtesy goaztec.com
December 21, 2019 (Albuquerque) - Coming into the New Mexico Bowl, San Diego State's defense was the focus. The Aztecs ranked second in the nation in rushing defense and second in rushing yards allowed per carry. But San Diego State's offense, with only an average of 19 points-per game, ranked among the nation's worst. Something had to give against Central Michigan and its strong defense.
So the Aztecs offense stepped it up Saturday.
Ryan Agnew passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns, Jesse Matthews caught three passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns and San Diego State won a bowl game for the first time since 2016, beating Central Michigan 48-11 on Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl.
"We don't listen to the stuff outside the locker room," Matthews said. "It all came together."
Jordan Byrd ran for a career-high 139 yards and a touchdown to help the Aztecs (10-3) cap their 10th straight bowl appearance with a victory. San Diego State opened 7-1 record, then dropped two of its last three conference games to fall out of contention for a Mountain West title game berth.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long said he and his coaching staff did nothing differently to prepare the offense or get them motivated.
"We just played a whole lot better today," Long said with a shrug.
San Diego State prevented Central Michigan (8-6) from sustaining consistent, with quarterback Quinten Dormady under pressure and forced to throw into tight coverage. He passed for 164 and threw three interception.
Central Michigan's Jonathan Ward, who came into the game with 1,082 yards and 15 touchdowns, was held to 7 rushing yards and 26 yards receiving.
Kobe Lewis ran for 97 rushing yards, with a 66-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Despite the loss, Lewis credited Chippewas coach Jim McElwain for changing the culture of the program that went from 1-11 to 8-6 in one year.
"I didn't care what the score was," said Lewis. "I wanted to play hard and finish hard."
McElwain said he still felt Central Michigan had a successful season even through the team finished with losses in the Mid-American Conference Championship and New Mexico Bowl.
"You learn from your failures," he said.
McElwain said he was returning next season as head coach despite talk linking him to over jobs.
The victory served as homecoming for Long. He last won the New Mexico Bowl in 2007 as New Mexico's coach. Long is 4-9 in bowl games and used to look at the field from his office. "It was real special to me because I have ties to this place," Long said.
The Aztec came into the postseason with its highly touted defense but concerns about an offense that took a lot of time off the clock to score. San Diego State attacked Central Michigan in the air and on the ground in a balanced attack to end with its 11th double-digit win season in program history.
Cornerback Luq Barcoo is graduating after a strong season that included nine interceptions. That's a significant blow for a defense that was ranked among the top 20 in various categories nationally. Yet, the defensive line and secondary remain young, and most starters are scheduled to return. The Aztecs open next season Sept. 5 at home against Sacramento State.