Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Great Win In Vegas – Penny Continues to Impress

I had every intention of going to the UNLV game. Flying is no longer an option for me, but road games within driving distance are still on my schedule. An unexpected trip to the hospital late Friday evening changed that plan and kept me in San Diego.

After a poignant, emotional pregame ceremony honoring the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas earlier in the week, and a 3-3 first quarter, the Aztecs took control and dominated the final three quarters to a 41-10 victory. The Aztecs are now 2-0 in MW games, 6-0 overall and bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season.

Rashaad Penny had another tremendous night – during and after the game. In addition to rushing for 170 yards, 2 TDs and a flattened Rebel DB, he gave one of the better post-game interviews I’ve ever seen:

Untitled Document
I’ve worked in public relations for 70 years and have seen every type of interview response imaginable. The way he turned the interviewer’s question about the Heisman into a thoughtful, sincere tribute to Las Vegas was masterful. And when he got to answering about the game, it was all about the team. Impressive young man.

Christian Chapman scored his first career rushing TD and completed 14 of 24, with 9 of the catches by Mikah Holder, back from a questionable targeting call in the NIU game. 

The hallmark of a Rocky Long-coached team is toughness, and no one personifies that more than Dakota Turner. He tore his ACL in August and played in the NIU game, a little over a month later. Against the Rebels he recorded 2 tackles and a sack.

Christian Chapman, Mikah Holder, Dakota Turner (Ernie Anderson)

The MW flagship football program is playing in San Diego on Saturday
Their opponent: Boise State. 

One thing that really annoys me is hearing broadcasters refer to the Broncos as the dominant program in the MW. That’s not true, and never has been. The dominant program is the Aztecs.

Yes, the Broncos have won some big bowl and non-conference games, but that was in the past, and most came when they were in the WAC. The Oklahoma/Statue of Liberty/proposal Fiesta Bowl win that made the Broncos famous was the 2006 season. They have not dominated the MW. Of the current MW members, no team has won more championships than the Aztecs. We have three: 2012, 2016 and 2017. Boise State has the same number of MW championships as Fresno State, and fewer championship game appearances than the Bulldogs.

The Aztecs and Broncos have only met four times – each team has won twice – but it has developed into a great rivalry. I’ll never forget our first game at Boise when Colin Lockett returned the opening kickoff for a TD and the Aztecs won 21-19. The next year, Colin did it again, catching a TD pass from Quinn Kaehler in OT to give the Aztecs a 34-31 win at the Q. The teams haven’t met since 2014 in Boise. They could have met in the MW Championship games the last two seasons, but the Broncos came up short in the Mountain Division each year. Shouldn’t the “dominant” team win at least their division each year?

Colin Lockett: Bronco Killer (Ernie Anderson)

Kickoff Saturday is 7:30, and a big crowd is expected. Marshall Faulk will be honored for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. It’s a Code Red game – wear your red Aztec gear.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Games at UNLV No Automatic Win for Aztecs

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game at UNLV, you might be tempted to assume a win. They aren’t bad, and they are a threat. Certainly not like Stanford. They are 2-2, losing to Howard in a game they were favored by 45 points and Ohio State; and beating Idaho and San Jose State.

The Rebels are balanced on offense with an average of 305.9 rushing, and 176.0 passing, and scoring 31.5 points a game. But their defense yields 192.3 rushing; 297.5 passing and 31.5 points. They had expected more by now and there are reports Coach Tony Sanchez, now in his third season at 9-19, is on the hot seat.

Maybe a reminder of past performance there would help the Aztecs and their fans to be prepared. Big upsets and other unexpected losses. It started in 1996, when a very good Aztec team went into Vegas expecting a fairly easy win. The Aztecs were fresh from an impressive 28-24 win over nationally ranked Wyoming (16/15). Surprise! The Rebels broke loose to win 44-42 – the only loss the Aztecs suffered in the final five games of that 8-3 season.

Four other unexpected losses at UNLV in recent years include 45-13 in 2013, 28-24 in 2009, 13-10 in 2005, and 31-3 in 2001. And, yes, Rocky remembers the 2013 loss. It was his third year and the Aztecs were on a 4-game win streak, expecting a sure win to top what had been good season, right off a thrilling 34-31 OT win over Boise State.

Tariq Thompson (Ernie Anderson)
So let’s concentrate on UNLV, yes, but hard to forget the emotional win over NIU, marked sadly by the vicious injury to Rashaad Penny’s eyes. He has since been very sportsmanlike in accepting their apologies. But in the heat of the game I think it led to some penalties on angry Aztecs, plus some very questionable calls by officials. Highlights of the defense were three Aztec INTs – two of them by true Freshman DB Tariq Thompson, a local star from St. Augustine. Looking far more polished than you’d expect, Tariq took one back 83 yards for a TD, the other stopped an NIU drive, ending the game!

Most important, it was a WIN. I’m convinced they will carry over this toughness and determination – and come home 6-0, ready for a home game with Boise State. Happily, I will be there for this road game.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Saturday Could Be Toughest Test

Arizona State: good win, Pac12 opponent, on the road. Stanford: even better win, ranked opponent. Air Force: to me, best of the three, horrible conditions, come from behind, more than once, hold on at the end. Upped our rankings to 19 and 22.

Now Northern Illinois right here in our own stadium. We are 11-point favorites. We beat the Huskies solidly last year in DeKalb. But they are a good football team, offensively and defensively. They beat Nebraska in Lincoln. They’d love to upset Aztecs, a team with a target on their back.

So, be ready to see a close, hard-fought game. I’m convinced this year’s Aztecs team will win. What would make the win even better would be a huge crowd. Be sure you are there. Get others to go.

Rashaad Penny (Ernie Anderson)
Even with focus on Saturday’s Northern Illinois game, it’s hard not to keep thinking back to the Air Force game. And, of course, Rashaad Penny, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week – again, and again, and again. His runs, his touchdowns, of course. But, to me, his play of the game was his spectacular one-hand catch of a pass on 3rd and 3 for a first down at a crucial point in the game. Also, you have to give credit to the defense – they held the Falcons to far below their yardage average.

You can bet Rocky will have our Aztecs up and ready for what I think will be the toughest test so far.

To clarify my missing the Air Force game, I wasn’t “sick.” Appreciated well-wishes, but it was more a question of oxygen shortage, both flying and at Air Force 7,000-foot-elevation. They tell me 91-year-olds have to be careful. I will be at our game here, of course, and at UNLV a week later!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Memorable Games Highlight Coryell and Rocky Aztec Eras

Rashaad Penny carries vs. Stanford, 2017
(Ernie Anderson)
Frank Aronoff (whose Aztec files have proved so helpful to me), my son Ken and I got together to single out special games played under Coaches Don Coryell and Rocky Long. Games that were upsets, were milestones, created national awareness and respect, or provided special features.

Start with the 20-17 upset win over Stanford last Saturday: a last-minute come-from-behind victory, after a 22-minute blackout. Or just back to last year’s Vegas Bowl upset of highly regarded Houston. We think you will agree with these, orchestrated by Rocky, along with others.

Craig Scoggins vs. North Dakota State
(San Diego State)
Going back half a century, we found these in the Coryell Era, all in one season, 1966. The 25-0 upset of San Jose State that resulted in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED feature; a come-from-behind win at Weber State, when coaches installed a new offense at halftime, an offense QB Don Horn says was forerunner to the “West Coast” offense; and topped by the 36-0 win over North Dakota State, before the all-time record crowd in Balboa Stadium, to capture small-college National Championship (also featured in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED).

27 total. In his 12 years here, Don racked up 14; and still in his 7th year, Rocky has 13. Of special meaning to me, 11 games have been on the road, which makes me glad I’ve traveled a lot.

These are our choices. You may have your own. Let us hear from you.

Don Coryell
1961 Aztecs 18, MCRD 13, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs win final game to finish 7-2-1
1962 Aztecs 29, Fresno State 26, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs beat Bulldogs in first "Fog Bowl"
1962 Aztecs 32, Pacific 18, Aztec Bowl: Aztecs score 32 on D1 #8 defense
1966 Aztecs 38, Weber State 34, Ogden, UT: birth of Air Coryell
1966 Aztecs 25, San Jose State 0, San Jose: Aztec D shuts out D1 offense leader on the road
1966 Aztecs 36, North Dakota State 0, Balboa Stadium: Aztecs ranked #1 after beating Bison
1967 Aztecs 16, Tennessee State 8, San Diego Stadium: first game in new stadium
1968 Aztecs 68, Southern Miss 7, San Diego Stadium: Alabama had only scored 17 on the Golden Eagles that season
1969 Aztecs 70, New Mexico State 21, San Diego Stadium: 3 NCAA records set, 2 still stand
1969 Aztecs 28, Boston U. 7, Pasadena Bowl: Aztecs win bowl and end 1st season in D1 11-0
1970 Aztecs 31, BYU 11, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs dominate Cougars in first game since 1948
1971 Aztecs 39, Arizona 10, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs dominate Wildcats in first game since 1948
1972 Aztecs 17, Oregon State 8, San Diego Stadium: 1st win vs. a member of the PAC-8/10/12
1972 Aztecs 27, Iowa State 14, San Diego Stadium: Aztecs win Coryell’s last game as coach

Rocky Long
2011 Aztecs 23, Army 20, West Point, NY: Aztec D makes last-minute stand to preserve win 
2011 Aztecs 42, Washington State 24, Qualcomm Stadium: first win over a Power 5 team since 1999
2012 Aztecs 39, Nevada 38, Reno, NV: Aztecs go for 2 in OT and win
2012 Aztecs 21, Boise State 19, Boise, ID: Aztecs let Broncos know they aren't impressed by their WAC success or their ugly blue rug
2012 Aztecs 42, Wyoming 28, Laramie, WY: Aztecs first MW championship

2013 Aztecs 34, Boise State 21, Qualcomm Stadium: come-from-behind OT win
2015 Aztecs 27, Air Force 24, MW Championship Game, Qualcomm Stadium: Aztecs win 1st MW Championship game
2015 Aztecs 42, Cincinnati 7, Hawaii Bowl: Rashaad Penny returns opening kick for TD and Aztecs dominate favored Bearcats
2016 Aztecs 45, Cal 40, Qualcomm Stadium: Aztecs beat a Power 5 team for first time since 2011
2016 Aztecs 27, Wyoming 24, MW Championship Game, Laramie, WY: Aztecs become first team to win back-to-back MW championship games
2016 Aztecs 34, Houston 10, Las Vegas Bowl: DJ Pumphrey sets NCAA rushing record; Aztecs become first team in history with a 2,000- and 1,000-yard rusher
2017 Aztecs 30, Arizona State 20, Tempe, AZ: first Power 5 road win since 1975
2017 Aztecs 20, Stanford 17, San Diego Stadium: 1st win over ranked Power 5 since 1981, 3 in a row vs. Pac-12

Meanwhile, Rocky, add some more!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stanford Win Was Great, But Tough Air Force Awaits on the Road

Rocky might not approve, but let me continue to savor the 20-17 victory over Stanford. Late as it was, it still got the nation’s attention. It boosted the Aztecs to #22 in the AP Poll; #25 in Coaches Poll.

Our game-winning drive at the end deserves review. Aztecs, trailing 17-13, took over on their own 25 with 6:15 left. From there they launched an almost perfect drive to the winning touchdown. Five plays (with just one incomplete pass) carried them to the Cardinal 42. Moving well. Good momentum.

And then the stadium lights went out! A momentum changer? Maybe, but 22 minutes later, the lights are back, and so were our Aztecs. 6 successful plays.

Blackout in the stands and on the field (Ken Ables)

Rashaad Penny ran 3 times for 11 yards; Christian Chapman completed 3 of 3 passes. The final one, a classic play-action pass from the 8. While the Cardinal concentrated on Penny, David Wells broke clear, Chapman hit him clean and Wells barreled his way over a defender for the winning touchdown.

Rashaad Penny, Christian Chapman (Ernie Anderson)

With 54 seconds left, Stanford still had a shot. But on first down a long pass was intercepted by Kameron Kelly.

In the Holder Twins battle, our Mikah did great, with 7 catches for 85 yards, but not always covered by Alijah. Looking at scores so far, here’s an oddity: in losing to the Aztecs, UC Davis and Stanford each scored 17 points. If they played each other, do you think it would be a tie?

David Wells game-winning TD; Mikah Holder has bragging rights for life (Ernie Anderson)

Now, let’s get serious about this week’s tough MW Conference game at Air Force. The Falcons are good this year. And they share the advantage Wyoming has at home, with nearly 7,000 feet elevation.

The Falcons rely on the run, averaging 320.5 yards per game, 7th best in the NCAA after two games (Rashaad Penny, by the way, is leading the nation with 588 rushing yards; no Falcon is in the top 10). They played Michigan tough for three quarters in Ann Arbor on Saturday, losing to the Wolverines 29-13.

As Coach emphasizes, the key is to forget Stanford, play tough and make sure we beat Air Force. Early betting line: Aztecs favored by 3-1/2 points.