The San Diego State football team has an intriguing situation on its hands.
Seemingly everyone from Chula Vista to Carlsbad and from Lakeside to La Jolla — at least those active on social media or emailing the local newspaper — is frustrated by and focused on the Aztecs’ quarterback play.
They’ve seen enough of SDSU starting quarterback Jordon Brookshire and backup Lucas Johnson, both senior graduates, and want to get more than a fleeting glimpse of true freshman Will Haskell.
In a preseason scrimmage at Carson’s Dignity Health Sports Park, Haskell was definitely the most dynamic player on the field. He also was the most inexperienced.
Beyond raw athleticism there is reading defenses and everything else that goes with being a successful QB.
If he gets an extended opportunity to play, Haskell may light the world on fire. He also could fall on his face.
Sure, the Aztecs would like to be completing more of their passes, for more yards and more touchdowns.
But what would compel SDSU head coach Brady Hoke to make such a move when the team has everything else going for it?
It would have to be a loss or two or three, or significant regression at the position.
SDSU (5-0) is ranked No. 24 in the nation. It is one of just 13 undefeated FBS schools. It is a win away from being bowl eligible for the 12 straight season.
The Aztecs have one of the best defenses in the country, ranked No. 2 against the run (50 ypg), No. 7 in total yards (270.4 ypg) and No. 16 in points (16.6 ppg).
They have a running back, Greg Bell, who has averaged 100 yards a game at SDSU, and a punter, Matt Araiza, who is on track to set a single-season record for punting average (54.1 ypp).
This season has been much like the past decade: SDSU doesn’t need the quarterback to go out and win a game. The Aztecs require only that he not lose it.
And so it goes.
SDSU ranks 126th in passing offense (121.0 ypg), 117th in passing efficiency (110.60) and 105th in passing yards per completion (11.0).
In an era when quarterbacks have a better completion percentage than ever, the Aztecs rank 117th (52.9 percent) in the category, with Brookshire (27-for-57, 47.3 percent) and Johnson (27-46, 58.7 percent) well below the national average.
NCAA statistics list 71 quarterbacks completing at least 60 percent of their passes.
It includes the QBs for three upcoming opponents — Fresno State’s Jake Haener (69.5), Nevada’s Carson Strong (69.3), Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier (65.1)
Brookshire returned against New Mexico from an ankle injury that sidelined him two games and completed 11 of 24 passes for 130 yards.
He had a shaky start against the Lobos, completing only three of 11 passes in the first quarter, with several errant throws.
“I thought he really started to pick it up,” SDSU offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski said. “I thought he really started to settle in and thought you really started to see him kind of get his feelings back.
“It was good to see him just continue to improve and get better and really get back in the flow of playing a game. It really helped us break the game open in the third quarter.”
Johnson replaced Brookshire with just under 12 minutes remaining — and the Aztecs leading 31-7 — and directed the offense for two series.
Haskell played the final minute — two plays — against New Mexico.
He handed off to running back Jaylon Armstead on one play. He rushed for a 1-yard gain on the other.
Haskell’s limited playing time this season led to the assumption that he would redshirt. Players can participate in up to four games without giving up their redshirt year.
“I don’t think that anybody’s ever said redshirt him,” Hecklinski said. “I know Coach (Hoke) has never talked about that and that has never come out of my mouth.”
So Haskell won’t redshirt? Not necessarily.
“I think it’s a byproduct,” Hecklinski said, “of what happens over the next seven games. … We’ve got to assess exactly where we are, because the best player’s going to play.
“Who’s going to put ourselves in position to win if Jordon goes down again, and then how do we manage all that?”
Said Hoke: “I don’t plan to redshirt anybody. In this day and age of football with transfers and everything else, it’s different. It’s much different. …
“You’ve got four games you can play him in (to still redshirt) and if we play him in more, we play him in more.”
Through the season’s first four games, Haskell had played just once. He debuted in the final series against Towson, rushing three times for 20 yards and completing his only pass attempt for 20 yards.
What was the value of playing just two plays against New Mexico?
“I think the whole thought process was he was going to get that last series when Coach and I had talked,” Hecklinski said. “It happened that New Mexico ran some time off the clock and that just happened to be how much was left in the game.
“He needs reps. He needs snaps, whether it’s two snaps, 10 snaps or 20 snaps, the goal is to get him ready to play and if he has to go in and win us a football game, he’s ready to win a football game.”
“Every rep you get as a freshman is of value. It’s a snap. It’s a read. It’s something we can teach off of. It’s something we can coach off of.”
If the Aztecs keep rolling, then expect the status to remain quo.
There’s no way a coach is going to change something when it’s working.
“We have two guys we feel pretty good about and right now we’re going with those two,” Hoke said.
But what happens if Brookshire really struggles in an upcoming game?
Or the Aztecs suffer a couple of losses during a much more challenging stretch of the season?
SDSU’s five wins this year are against teams with a combined 8-20 record. Utah (3-2) is the only one with a winning record.
The Aztecs’ remaining seven opponents include the defending Mountain West champion (San Jose State) this week, a challenging triple-option team (Air Force) next week and two teams picked to win their respective divisions (Nevada and Boise State) down the road.
UNLV (0-5) is the only team left on the schedule with a losing record.
At some point, it figures SDSU will need more from its passing game.
Does Brookshire come into his own down the stretch?
Does Haskell pass Johnson, move into a backup role and get more reps while waiting in the wings?
The depth chart for Friday’s game at San Jose State lists Brookshire as the starter, Johnson as the backup and Haskell as the third-string quarterback.
Hecklinski was asked if Haskell has improved to the point where he could move ahead of Johnson on the depth chart.
“Yes,” Hecklinski said.
Is that imminent?
“I don’t know if I could speak to that right now,” he said.
It all makes for an intriguing situation the second half of the season.