BOULDER, Colo. — With starting quarterback Lucas Johnson and leading rusher Greg Bell sidelined by injuries, the San Diego State offense was limited to a field goal in a 20-10 loss at Colorado Saturday.
The Aztecs failed to reach inside the Buffaloes' 20-yard line, converted four of 17 third downs, were held to 155 yards and 10 first downs, had their lowest time of possession since 2011 and scored their fewest points since a 6-0 victory over Weber State in their 2019 season opener.
Carson Baker, San Diego State's starting quarterback the season's first four games of the season before being replaced by Johnson in last Saturday's 26-21 loss at Nevada, started in place of Johnson, but alternated with junior college transfer Jordon Brookshire, who had not thrown a pass at the Division I level before Saturday.
Baker completed four of nine passes for 26 yards and was sacked once. Brookshire completed seven of 19 passes with one interception for 50 yards and was sacked three times. He also rushed for a team-high 50 yards on 13 carries.
San Diego State's lone touchdown came when cornerback Darren Hall stepped in front of receiver K.D. Nixon on a sideline route to intercept a pass by Sam Noyer and raced untouched to the end zone on a 57-yard return three minutes, 18 seconds before halftime.
The Aztecs' offense scored its only points when it next had the ball on sophomore Matt Araiza's career long-equaling 48-yard field goal with four seconds left in the first half that cut the deficit to 14-10, four plays after Kaegun Williams' 22-yard run, their longest play of the game.
San Diego State's only sustained drive in its seven second-half possessions ended with Araiza's 50-yard field goal attempt being blocked with 12:59 to play in the fourth quarter. Araiza missed a 44-yard field goal wide right with 5:07 remaining.
The Aztecs' final drive ended when Brookshire's pass was intercepted by safety Curtis Appleton II at San Diego State's 39-yard line with 26 seconds left.
The Aztecs were outgained 272-155, trailed 19-10 in first downs and 37:28-22:32 in time of possesion, their least since they had the ball for 17:49 in a 23-20 victory at Army Sept. 10, 2011.
"I thought our effort was really good," San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. "From that standpoint, I'm very proud of how our guys came out. I like how they played the total 60 minutes.
"Now, did we play as well as we need to? We didn't. Too many penalties in the first half, especially on defense. Most of them were aggressive penalties that are the type you know you can live with to some degree, but we got to do a better job there. Offensively, we've got to find a way to convert third downs and got to keep working."
The Aztecs (3-3) were penalized seven times for 64 yards, including five times for 44 yards in the first half. The five first-half penalties consisted of three personal fouls, grabbing the face mask and defensive holding, all giving Colorado first downs.
San Diego State was called for a fifth personal foul in the first half but it was offset by a personal foul call against the Buffaloes.
Colorado drove 83 yards on 16 plays for a touchdown on its first possession, a 1-yard run by Noyer on fourth and goal.
The Buffaloes increased their lead to 14-0 on Noyer's 3-yard touchdown pass to Jaylon Jackson with 4:50 left in the first half, culminating a 13- play, 63-yard drive, where Colorado got three first downs on third-down penalties.
The Aztecs appeared to have forced the Buffaloes to punt after three plays when Jarek Broussard was stopped for no gain on a third-and-three play, but safety Dwayne Johnson Jr. was called for grabbing the face mask, giving Colorado a first down at San Diego State's 41-yard line.
Noyer threw an incomplete pass on third-and-20 from the Buffaloes' 49- yard line following a 12-yard sack by Cameron Thomas, but cornerback Tayler Hawkins was called for holding, giving Colorado a first down on the Aztecs' 41- yard line.
Hawkins was called for a personal foul when the Buffaloes would have had a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, giving them a fresh set of downs. Noyer threw the touchdown pass three plays later.
Evan Price kicked a 36-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 41- yarder in the fourth quarter for Colorado, which improved to 3-0 under first- year coach Karl Dorrell, a 1982 graduate of Helix Charter High School in La Mesa.
The start of the nonconference game at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado was delayed about a half-hour because San Diego State left its hotel later than planned because of coronavirus testing.
The game was scheduled Thursday night after the Buffaloes' scheduled game against USC was canceled because the Trojans did not have the minimum number of scholarship players available at a specific position group as a result of a number of positive COVID-19 cases and the resulting isolation of additional players under contact tracing protocols.
The Aztecs' scheduled game Friday at Fresno State was canceled last Sunday due to COVID-19 contact tracing within the Bulldogs' program.
"The staff and the players did a really good job of getting ready to play," Hoke said. "At one point in the week, we thought we were going to play Washington. That obviously didn't go that way.
"Then (athletic John David Wicker) worked his tail off helping to get this game. When we got it, we told the guys on Thursday night about six o'clock. We had practiced a couple days, so that we were working into whatever it was. More fundamentals than anything else. I thought the coaches did a great job of getting together and putting a plan together."