San Diego State seems to have the tools to be a power. The great weather, the fertile recruiting grounds, the decent conference, the big city, the chance to play right away, the, uh, scenery, but the program has never been able to put it all together on a regular basis and it doesn’t appear to be on the verge of turning any sort of corner in year three of the Chuck Long era.
| Head coach: Chuck Long
3rd year: 7-17
Off: 17, Def. 21, Ret. 0
Lettermen Lost: 22
|Ten Best SDSU Players
1. LB Russell Allen, Sr.
2. DT Siaosi Fifita, Sr.
3. FS Corey Boudreaux, Sr.
4. LB Luke Laolagi, Jr.
5. CB Aaron Moore, Jr.
6. DE B.J. Williams, Soph.
7. CB Vonnie Holmes, Sr.
8. RB Brandon Sullivan, Soph.
9. WR/KR Mekell Wesley, Jr.
10. WR Darren Mougey, Sr.
Aug. 30 Cal Poly
Sept. 1 at Wash St L 45-17
Bad luck has been responsible for a few of the recent down years, but you don’t have one winning season in 11 years without having a systematic breakdown and program-wide issues. The biggest problem has been talent. The Aztecs haven’t had enough of it.
There have been plenty of good talents passing through in recent seasons, but the lines have rarely been consistent and the skill players and defensive backfields have suffered. One year the offense was good and the defense lousy, another year the situation was drastically reversed, and then there was last season when nothing seemed to work on a consistent basis.
Things haven’t been all that great so far under Long, and there haven’t been any pleasant surprises over the last several seasons. Now the team has to hope beyond hope that it won’t be as predictably bad as other Aztec squads.
The defense was phenomenal this off-season with a change in attitude and more overall production with nine starters returning. While that’s a positive sign considering the Aztec D was among the worst in America, there’s an ugly possibility to consider: the offense could be really, really bad.
There’s no experience across the offensive board, but there’s promise at the skill positions. Unfortunately, the quarterback situation is muddled with none of the three top prospects stepping forward to grab the job by the horns, while the line, again, an ongoing issue for the program, could be horrendous with one average starter coming back and a slew of untested redshirt freshmen needing to shine.
The expectations aren’t going to be all that high, again, but if there’s just a little more patience, the Aztecs could be building toward something interesting. With so many new starters on offense, there’s a chance to blend together over the next few years. The defense, even with all its returning starters, is still relatively young. Rebuilding isn’t a bad thing as long as there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what 2009 is for.
What to watch for on offense: The line to be the key to the season. Even with so much turnover among the skill players, the running backs are strong and the receiving corps, even without Bret Swain and Chaz Schilens, should be excellent. Nothing will work unless the quarterbacks are efficient, and that’s not going to happen unless the line shocks the world. The front five was miserable last season and that was with experience. Long and his staff have been recruiting to upgrade the line, and it still might take a year or three for those prospects to come through.
What to watch for on defense: An emphasis on getting to the quarterback. It’s been years since opposing passers have had to worry about getting touched, but this year’s Aztec defensive front has good quickness all across the line. For a team that was among the worst in America in making plays in the backfield, it has to start selling out to make things happen. If big plays result from it, so be it. Something has to be done.
The team will be far better if … the defensive line is night and day better. Three starters return to a group that was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by anyone who could run the ball with any regularity. The defense finished next to last in run defense, only UAB was worse, and that was even after holding Portland State to just 13 yards. In the final three games the Aztecs allowed 569 yards and eight touchdowns to Air Force, 376 yards and six touchdowns against TCU, and 311 yards and four scores against BYU.
The Schedule: Long needs a break-through season, and that might be tough to come by with road games at Notre Dame, TCU, New Mexico and BYU. Don’t laugh, but the trip to face an improved San Jose State is no layup. There can’t be any misses at home against Idaho, Air Force, Colorado State and UNLV, and beating Utah is likely needed to have any hope of a winning record. A stretch of three road games in four weeks over the second half of the year means a hot start is a must.
Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Brandon Sullivan. This is sort of by default as the sophomore had a nice spring and appears ready to become a key factor in a rotation with Atiyyah Henderson and Davon Brown. There needs to be a few talents emerging from all the prospects, and it Sullivan isn’t one of them, the receivers, primarily Vincent Brown and Mekell Wesley, could be.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Russell Allen. While he makes too many plays down the field and isn’t disruptive enough, he’s one of the Mountain West’s best linebackers and is deserving of more recognition. All he has done is make 268 tackles over his first three years highlighted by a 22-stop day in last year’s loss to Utah. He’s the team’s unquestioned leader and star.
Key player to a successful season: The entire offensive line. Tackles Mike Matamua, Kurtis Gunther and Kellen Farr, guards Mike Schmidt, Ikaiki Aken-Moleta, and center Tommie Draheim have to not only overcome their overall youth and inexperience, but they also have to be far better than last year’s veteran front line. With a new quarterback and relatively green starters at running back and receiver, the line has give everyone time to work.
The season will be a success if … the Aztecs win six games. There are enough winnable home games, primarily against Cal Poly, UNLV and Idaho, to demand three wins without a question. With so much experience on defense, there has to be a sneaky-shocker of an upset somewhere, and there has to be wins over teams like Colorado State and San Jose State to flirt with the .500 mark. It’s not going to be as easy as it appears on paper.
Key game: August 30 vs. Cal Poly. SDSU needs so much time, so much work, and so much seasoning, it has to view the season opener against Cal Poly as a preseason tune-up game to get everyone some real live playing time. If by some chance this becomes a blowout considering the Mustangs went 7-4 last season with the FCS’s second best offense, the Aztecs have to keep playing the starters. They need the work.
2007 Fun Stats:
– Punt returns: Opponents 32 (8.2-yard average) – San Diego State 13 (10.7-yard average)
– Third quarter scoring: Opponents 125 – San Diego State 45
– Rushing yards per game: Opponents 241.5 – San Diego State 103.9