San Diego St routs Buffalo 49-24 in Potato Bowl

San Diego State had its best performance in its season

finale.

Behind a swarming defense, an offense fueled by big plays and

opportunistic special teams, the Aztecs rolled to a 49-24 victory

over Buffalo on Saturday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

For coach Rocky Long, it’s the kind of game he has been waiting

for his team to put together all season, a win where all three

phases worked together, avoided costly mistakes and took full

advantage of the miscues of others.

”I thought that’s the best we’ve played all year,” Long said.

”We moved the ball well, we caused turnovers. I thought the

turnover battle would decide who won and that’s exactly what

happened. We just happened to be on the right side of that

battle.”

Takeaways weren’t the only factor playing in San Diego State’s

favor.

Adam Muema scored three touchdowns and rushed for 230 yards, his

fourth career game with more than 200 yards on the ground.

Quinn Kaehler threw for two more scores and ran for another in

leading an offense that generated 460 total yards. Kaehler, who

made his first start in the third game, was 15 of 28 for 211 yards,

and his two TD passes helped the Aztecs (8-5, 6-2 Mountain West)

pull away early.

Taking advantage of a pair of costly Buffalo turnovers, the

Aztecs put up 21 straight points during a 5-minute span in the

second and third quarters.

With less than a minute left in the first half, Aztec safety

Marcus Andrews intercepted Joe Licata’s pass near midfield and

returned it to the 25 to set up Kaehler’s first TD pass, a

25-yarder to Dylan Denso that put San Diego State up 28-10 heading

into halftime.

Buffalo coughed up the ball on the opening kick in the third

quarter, setting up the Aztecs at the Bulls 26. Five plays later,

Kaehler fired an 11-yard pass to tight end Adam Roberts at the back

of the end zone to stretch the lead to 35-10.

The Aztecs won eight of their last 10 games. The bowl victory is

the first in the postseason since 2010 when they beat Navy in the

Poinsettia Bowl and the first postseason victory outside San Diego

city limits since 1969.

For Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn, the turnovers were too much to

overcome.

”I’ve always said, you’ve got to take great care of the ball,

and right then and there, it turned into a three score

difference,” he said. ”It was a very disappointing loss

today.”

Buffalo (8-5, 6-2 Mid-American Conference), playing in its

second bowl game in the team’s 100-year history, also was hobbled

by an offense that took too long to get rolling and a defense that

failed to create its own turnovers.

The Bulls didn’t get their first first down until the 10:42 mark

in the second quarter. They pulled to 14-10 late in the second

quarter when Patrick Clarke kicked a 38-yard field goal.

But the defense, led by MAC Defensive Player of the Year Kahlil

Mack, didn’t have an answer for Muema and the Aztecs on the

following possession. San Diego State marched 67 yards in five

plays and scored when Muema sped around left end from 8 yards

out.

Moments later, Licata threw his only interception.

”In that situation, I took a risk I shouldn’t have taken.

That’s all on me,” said Licata, who was 13 of 30 for 196 yards and

was sacked four times.

Bulls running back Branden Oliver had for 114 yards on 28

carries, but the rest of the offense only managed 309 total

yards.

Mack, who was the focus of San Diego State’s game plan, had just

six tackles, as the Aztecs ran the other way or double-teamed him

throughout. The Bulls came into the game with a plus-1.3 turnover

margin, among the best in the nation. Mack recovered a fumble near

midfield in the first quarter, but the offense couldn’t capitalize

against a defense that pressured Licata and bottled up Oliver

early.

San Diego State started the season with three straight losses,

but showed throughout an ability to overcome adversity. Three wins

came in overtime and the Aztecs came from behind in the fourth

quarter to win games.

On Saturday, they didn’t need any late-game drama and

heroics.

”Guys decided tonight we were going to play up to our abilities

and it showed,” Aztecs safety Nat Berhe said. ”It’s kind of sad

we didn’t play like that all year. But at the same time, I’m glad

it happened today.”