Red Hot Aztecs look to continue win streak, end Pac-12 drought, at home on Saturday
The San Diego State Aztecs football team hasn’t beaten a current Pac-12 Conference team since 1995.
They’ll have an opportunity to change that on Saturday when they face the Washington State Cougars at Qualcomm Stadium.
For both unproven teams, this will be their toughest contest yet.
The Aztecs are off to a hot 2-0 start after beating the likes of Cal Poly and Army but now begin a tough stretch of schedule that includes Michigan, TCU and Air Force. Before thinking ahead to those games though, SDSU must first battle a Washington State team that’s also 2-0 and leading the nation in scoring after hanging 64 points on Idaho State in their first contest and dropping another 59 on UNLV this past weekend.
For the Aztecs, this will also mark the first time this season that they will match up against a team that doesn’t run the triple-option offensive scheme.
“We’ve been working against a triple-option (offense) for two weeks and now we have a team that’s going to come in here and throw it 60 times,” head coach Rocky Long told the media during a press conference this week. “We haven’t rushed the passer or covered anybody for 15 or 16 days. Now you’re trying to penetrate the line of scrimmage, get up the field, put pressure on the quarterback, try covering wide receivers . . . it’s a big time change. We’ll see how we handle it.”
It’s not like the Aztecs don’t have a few weapons of their own though on both sides of the ball.
Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman is the currently the nation’s second-leading rusher with 306 yards on 45 carries, while chipping in with four touchdowns. Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, after breaking the all-time school record for passing touchdowns in his first game of the season, hasn’t been slowed down too much either, throwing for 349 yards and five touchdowns so far this year. However, it may be the play of the receiving core that has made the most sizeable contribution to the Aztec’s success so far this season.
By far the biggest question mark of SDSU’s offense after losing two senior receivers to the NFL this past offseason, the Aztec receivers have stepped it up in a huge way.
After catching his first ever pass in a NCAA game, a 59-yard bomb from Lindley on the opening series, scoring his first ever touchdown, and then scoring another by returning a kick-off, sophomore Colin Lockett had a huge first game against Cal-Poly, and hasn’t slowed down since. After hauling in another five passes, including a 68-yard grab just 33 seconds into the game against Army, Lockett now leads all Aztec receivers with eight catches for 195 yards on the season. Senior Dylon Denso has elevated his game as well, catching five passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns so far this year.
“Every day in camp they got better and better,” Lindley said of his receivers on Tuesday. “Week-to-week and game-by-game they’ve gotten better too. They’re going to continue to improve and have been maturing a lot faster than I thought they would. It’s happened a lot quicker and that’s due to the offensive line play and the way we’re running the ball.”
While the Aztec’s defense is giving up an average of 365 yards of total offense to opponents this season, most of that has come on the ground as SDSU has only allowed an average of 190 yards passing so far this year. Though that number may be skewed a bit by the fact that they’ve come up against two very run-heavy offenses, they’ve also managed to record three sacks, two of which have come at the hands of SDSU defensive beasts Miles Burris and Jerome Long.
The Scarlet and Black’s defense has also forced 11 fumbles so far in its first two games, eight of which occurred in the Aztecs most recent win against Army. Four of those fumbles were recovered by SDSU.
How that defense handles the spread offense of Washington State remains to be seen.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” senior defensive lineman Larry Gibbs said of WSU’s style of offense. “Regardless of whatever else we have to do, we have to attack. It’s a pretty big deal when a team can put up 64 and 59 points; they’re doing something right.”
After beating their opponents in nearly every offensive, defensive and special teams category so far this year while owning the nation’s seventh longest active winning streak carried over from last season, the Aztecs appear to be doing something right as well.
One other factor SDSU should have in its corner as it tries to end the 15-year schneid against Pac-12 teams? A huge crowd, due in part to the KGB SkyShow fireworks display that is set to immediately follow the game.
“It’s always fun to play in front of a lot of fans,” senior offensive lineman Tommie Draheim said. “Hopefully we get that crowd noise up so we can get them out of rhythm, force a couple of penalties and put them in situations where we can bring pressure and force turnovers.”
Hey, whatever gets the people in the stadium. Hopefully though, it will be the Aztecs who will be putting on a little display of their own.