November 10, 2011

Behind Enemy Lines: San Diego State

The bowl hopes and the future of the Colorado State football staff is on the line this weekend in Fort Collins as the CSU Rams host the San Diego State Aztecs at Hughes Stadium. This week we are joined by Edward Lewis - publisher of the site affiliate, - to learn more about SDSU. The casual MWC fan knows Brady Hoke left SDSU last season for Michigan and Rocky Long was promoted to head coach. How has the transition gone over the past season and how is Long good for the Aztecs? Does the program feel like it is trending in the positive? What goals are out there for the Aztecs this season moving forward?
Lewis: I got this question a lot over the summer, when Aztecs fans couldn't see what was happening on the fields during training camp. Now I don't get the question ever. The transition has been about as seamless as anybody could have ever imagined and fans have noticed. The practice schedule is almost exactly the same, the schemes - even though they have a new offensive coordinator and several new coaches all around - are almost identical and the players play as hard for Long as they did for Hoke. Long has a five-year plan for SDSU, and he counts his first two years as defensive coordinator with the Aztecs in those five years. So this is year three, and by year five, he wants this team to be a national powerhouse like Boise State or TCU. It certainly seems like he's on his way to doing that. As for the goals this season, SDSU punted its chances at winning the Mountain West Conference when it lost to Wyoming, but it can still make a bowl game, which is always the team's goal. Ryan Lindley (225 yards per game) has been known as one of the top quarterbacks in the Mountain West and the region as a whole for the past two seasons. He did lose a couple of strong receivers to the NFL this season and his completion percentage is hovering around 50 percent. What has made the passing game a little inconsistent this season and what has Lindley done to improve that effort? Also, tell me about the receivers who have taken over for Sampson and Brown this season? 
Lewis: The thing about Lindley is he's huge, he has a bazooka for a right arm and he's one of the best leaders I've seen at State, but he's just quite frankly not accurate at times. And this year, SDSU is wafer thin at the receiver position. It lost its projected starters Jay Waddell and Dominique Sandifer before camp even started to knee injuries. Then it lost talented redshirt freshman Ezell Ruffin to grades. Then it lost true freshman Larry Clark, who was having a stellar training camp, to a knee injury. All of that has resulted in the Aztecs starting a converted cornerback in Colin Lockett and a walk-on in Dylan Denso at the wideout spots this season. And they really, really struggle to get open at times, and with Lindley's tendency for inaccuracy, it's been just a terrible recipe for missed throws, dropped passes and a whole lot of missing Sampson and Brown. Ronnie Hillman's numbers (1198 yards rushing, 149 yards per game, 13 touchdowns) have been simply outstanding this season.  What does he do so well and talk about the offensive line in front of him? Colorado State's defense has been suspect to giving up big yards on the ground this year. Is the Aztec coaching staff putting more emphasis on the run this week given the combination of a strong SDSU running game and a weak CSU rush defense?
Lewis: Ronnie Hillman is like a running back you control with an Xbox controller from your sofa. He makes cuts and jukes and sprints that are just pure video game material. He's very comparable to Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. He's small, but teams have trouble tackling him in a hallway. The offensive line has been shaky at times this season, but Hillman really makes it all work. As for more emphasis on the run game, there's no such thing at SDSU. With the lack of depth at receivers, the Aztecs are looking to ground and pound everybody, no matter if it's Michigan or Colorado State. Defensively, San Diego State is allowing nearly 200 yards rushing per game. What is the root cause of other teams' running success against the Aztecs this season? The Aztecs do have 22 turnovers caused this season. What do they do well in terms of getting the ball from the opposition?
Lewis: This stat is skewed because SDSU has played three triple-option teams this season in Cal Poly, Army and Air Force, and it's also played one of the best rushing teams in the country in TCU. The Aztecs are no where near as bad against the run as their stats indicate. In reality, they're probably more of a middle of the road rush defense. They can get gashed sometimes, but most of the time they don't really get run on by traditional teams. As for turnovers, the Aztecs sure know how to cause them. They practice tip drills, stripping the ball, falling on incompletions - everything to promote turnovers in practice, and it's working. Finally, what are your keys to the game this weekend and what is your prediction on a final score?
Lewis: It sounds simple, but if SDSU stops Pete Thomas and Ronnie Hillman has his usual 150-yard day, the Aztecs will take that all afternoon. My prediction is that Thomas will outplay Lindley, but Hillman and CSU turnovers will be too much for the Rams to overcome. I'm going SDSU 30, CSU 20.

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