It was the same old problems -- defense and special teams -- that killed San Diego State in a thrilling 38-34 loss to San Jose State at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday night.
Just not in the ways you'd come to expect from SDSU (2-2).
The Aztecs finally kicked some field goals (Chance Marden went 2-for-2), and the defense started out fast and played well for the first three quarters of the game (limiting SJSU quarterback David Fales to 77 passing yards and holding the Spartans to only 171 yards of total offense).
But when the fourth quarter started, everything fell apart.
San Jose State torched the SDSU defense for three quick touchdowns (on drives that each lasted under two minutes and 30 seconds), including the go-ahead 14-yard scoring pass from Fales to Chandler Jones with 50 seconds left in the game.
"I can't say enough about how hard our kids played and how hard San Diego State's kids played," SJSU coach Mike MacIntyre said. "It was just one of those games where both teams fought and fought and fought. It was an exciting game to watch and I'm glad we came out on top, but I tip my hat to how hard San Diego State fought and how well they're coached."
The Aztecs also struggled with their coverage on kickoffs, allowing a 97-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter and a 67-yard return shortly after which set up another Spartan touchdown.
"I think the defensive effort was bad the last two drives," head coach Rocky Long said. "I think until the last two drives it was pretty good, because they scored on a kickoff return, and they scored after a kickoff return to about our 18-yard line. I mean, I thought the defensive effort was pretty good except for the last two drives, and then I think it stinks. You can blame me for that.
"Obviously, we're trying to make our players do something that they can't do, and that's a coaching thing. So that's totally on me."
But what hurts the most for the Aztecs is that they were in the perfect position to win after Ryan Katz (17-for-27 for 213 yards and two touchdowns) found Colin Lockett for a 40-yard touchdown strike with 2:24 left in the game.
All SDSU had to do was make one defensive stand to win, and that's when Fales turned it on. The SJSU quarterback went 5-for-6 on the Spartans' final drive, which resulted in the winning touchdown.
"We just didn't pay attention to our technique, I guess you could say," senior cornerback Leon McFadden said of the defensive collapse. "We didn't execute the defense as we're coached to, and that's what happened. We were caught slipping."
The Aztecs still had one more chance to win the game, but Spartan defensive end Travis Johnson sacked Katz on fourth-and-15 from the SDSU 22-yard line, and the game was over.
"It was a tough loss," Katz said. "Whenever you lose it's tough. it was a hard-fought game and we just didn't pull it out."
The Aztecs will travel to Fresno State (2-2) next week and open up Mountain West conference play.