SAN DIEGO -- San Diego State’s stingy defense took all the pressure off redshirt freshman Carson Baker, who was taking his first college snaps against former conference rival BYU.
Tariq Thompson had a strip-sack fumble recovery and an interception, and Baker threw for the go-ahead score to lead SDSU to a 13-3 victory against the Cougars on Saturday night.
“We just want the ball more,” said Thompson, a junior who played at San Diego’s St. Augustine High. “We came out wanting to shut them out and we gave up three, but we said we're not going to give them a touchdown.
SDSU (9-3) rebounded from a loss at Hawaii that cost it the Mountain West Conference West Division title and a spot in the league’s championship game.
The teams didn’t come close to recreating their wild, high-scoring matchups in the wacky Western Athletic Conference. Ty Detmer famously rallied BYU from a 28-point third-quarter deficit for a 52-52 tie in 1991 at San Diego, throwing for 599 yards and six touchdowns.
Baker, who played at Helix High in nearby La Mesa, had never taken a college snap before getting the start in place of senior Ryan Agnew, who’s out with an injured left calf. Baker completed 19 of 24 passes for 172 yards and a 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Daniel Bellinger.
“It felt good,” Baker said. “I think the coaches did a really good job of keeping my nerves down, keeping me in the game and focused. It was really fun. The defense played terrific tonight. Seniors on the defense played really well. Ultimate goal was to get a win for them, so it felt really good.”
The defensive players were impressed with Baker.
“That’s my guy,” Thompson said.
“He stepped up big for us,” middle linebacker Kyahva Tezino said. “He played great. I'm pretty sure his future is bright from here.”
BYU (7-5) had its five-game winning streak snapped and lost to SDSU for the first time since 2005. The Cougars had beaten the Aztecs six straight times, including in their final regular-season matchup, in 2010 before leaving the MWC and going independent. BYU beat SDSU 23-6 in their most recent encounter, in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
BYU’s Zach Wilson threw for 316 yards, completing 31 of 53, but overall had a tough night against SDSU stingy defense. He was intercepted twice and lost one fumble.
SDSU’s defense has played well all season, overshadowing the Aztecs anemic offense.
“I think our defense played as well as any defense I've ever been around,” coach Rocky Long said. “In the 10 years I've been here that's by far the best defensive performance when you count from the first game to the last game. The players have to be commended for playing that well.”
After looking lethargic for most of the first half, Baker led the Aztecs on a two-minute drill capped by his 25-yard touchdown pass to Bellinger for a 7-3 lead with 13 seconds left before halftime. The Aztecs had punted on five of their previous six possessions and were stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the BYU 10.
The Cougars had the ball at the SDSU 40 late in the third quarter and tried a flea flicker, but Thompson hit Zach Wilson for the strip-sack and recovered the fumble.
Thompson intercepted Wilson with 4:43 to play.
“Tough loss. We didn’t anticipate that,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. We weren’t able to put points on the board on offense. They made their kicks and we didn’t make ours, and they caused turnovers and we didn’t.
“It was a defensive battle and you’re not going to win a lot of games scoring three points. I’ve got to do a better job getting our guys to score more points.”
Wilson moved the Cougars down the field early in the fourth quarter before the drive stalled and Skyler Southam shanked a 26-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. Southam missed again with 12 seconds left.
Southam kicked a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter.
BYU: The Cougars came in having won five straight, starting with a 28-25 win against MWC Mountain Division champion Boise State and ending with blowout victories against Idaho State and UMass. BYU still leads the series against SDSU, 28-8-1.
SDSU: Baker came from the same high school that produced Alex Smith and Reggie Bush. “I thought it was OK,” Long said of Baker’s performance. “I didn't know what to expect. I thought he handled himself confidently. He didn't look like he got frustrated. He stayed in the game. He did what he could. He made a couple really good throws. For the first time out and never playing in a college football game, he probably played really, really well.
BYU has accepted a berth in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.
SDSU is bowl eligible for the school-record 10th straight season and will learn its destination on Dec. 8.
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