Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good Win. Aztecs Now Bowl-Bound. Poinsettia?

Unlike a year ago, the Aztecs closed the regular season with a solid victory, and now await word on which bowl game. No “if” this time.

Granted, San Jose State had serious QB problems, which only got worse as the game went on. The Aztecs played with a determination from the start, making it clear there would be no let-up. In the first quarter alone, DJ Pumphrey had 150 net yards, and the team totals were 282 yards for the Aztecs; 42 for the Spartans. And possession time, about 2-1.

Our passing totaled only 34 yards for the whole game, prompting Rocky to comment the passing game wasn’t very good. True. And, while Quinn Kaehler’s four completions don’t look too good, his receivers share the blame with some dropped balls. Anyway, when you’re running the ball the way we were….

One of my favorite parts of this game was the running of Lucky Radley, who ran for 31 yards, averaging 6.2, and he topped it off with a well-run 11-yard TD. A graduate student transfer, Lucky was a quiet but important contributor on special teams all season. Oh, yes, Lucky also recovered a fumble in yesterday’s game!

Defense? You name it, they did it. Physically dominated the Spartans. As witness, unfortunately, the number of injuries resulting from clean hard hits.

Next: a bowl game. For all Aztec fans, I am rooting for it to be the Poinsettia Bowl!

Aztec RBs DJ Pumphrey and Lucky Radley (photos by Ernie Anderson)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Never Assume a Win! And Tomorrow’s Game Is Important

You look at San Jose State’s recent games and there’s a tendency to relax and think this will be the Aztecs’ seventh win, ensuring a bowl bid. That’s exactly how upsets are born. It’s OK if fans think that way, but Rocky can’t let the team make that mistake.

The Spartans started OK, and were 3-3 after their first six games, including a good OT win at Wyoming. Then injuries hit their QBs and they are now on a 5-game losing streak. There’s a lot of talk about who may or may not be their QB tomorrow in the game that kicks off at 12:30. Even rumors of a new offensive scheme. Hey, this game is off the betting boards.

The loss that really makes the Spartans look weak was their 13-0 shutout at the hands of Hawaii in a game played at San Jose. Hawaii can be tough in the islands, but they almost never win on the Mainland. And to shut out San Jose, well…

This series dates back to 1933, and the Spartans hold a 19-16 edge. Of all the games played, the Aztecs’ 25-0 upset win in 1966 at San Jose still ranks as one of the very best I’ve ever seen. Led by QB Danny Holman, San Jose already was playing at the major college level, and they were heavy favorites. Sports Illustrated was there to cover Holman. Instead, they ran a big feature story about our Aztecs, thanks to the defensive strategy created by John Madden and the offense led by QB Don Horn.

An Aztec win tomorrow, whatever the score, could get us an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl. I’m sure we’d all like that!

WR Craig Scoggins pulls in a Don Horn pass in the Aztecs’ 25-0 win at San Jose State in 1966 (Photo courtesy San Diego State)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Big Win! Bowl Eligible! ... and More!

Maybe not a perfect game. People always can find something to criticize. And there were things during the Aztecs' 30-14 win over Air Force that were worrisome. But what I saw was the most significant win in this whole season. It was the sixth win, which makes us bowl-eligible again … the fifth straight season.

Let’s start with the worrisome things. The Aztecs got off to a fast start, but made enough mistakes to not capitalize fully. Then, as they have before in this season, they gave up a momentum-swingjng TD with just 17 seconds left in the first half to give AF a 14-13 lead. Based on previous games with a similar script, you had to be concerned.

Not this time! They shut out the Falcons in the second half with great defense, including a 4th down stop that was crucial. Best effort all year. Against a very good team that was 8-2 and rolling.

Let’s quickly tick off some of the offensive highlights. Quinn Kaehler completed 17 of 30 passes for 326 yards, including four long ones. DJ Pumphrey ran for 131 net yards, and Chase Price, with fewer carries, added another 47. Team total was 176, compared with only for 140 for run-oriented AF. Ezell Ruffin led the receivers with 7 catches for 126 yards and a 35-yard TD. Eric Judge, 66 yards, including a 50-yarder. Lloyd Mills, a 32 yard great catch. Jemond Hazely, a 45-yard catch. They all helped make Kaehler’s night a big one.

The defense was tough all the way. They had one breakdown, letting AF score on a 74-yard pass play, but overall held them to 140 yards rushing, about half their average, one of the nation’s best. Even with their 189 yards passing, they totaled only 329 yards – about the same as our 326 passing. Aztecs’ total offense, 502 yards. Lots of good defensive efforts, but special praise to Calvin Munson for his team-leading 10 tackles, topped off with his 56-yard TD run with an INT to wrap up the game. Who knew he was that fast and hard to tackle!

This was a very significant win because it broke some of the patterns that had cost us games this year. And it was against a very good team. Now we need to repeat this same effort next Saturday afternoon to beat San Jose State and assure us a good bowl bid! Maybe the Poinsettia?

Jemond Hazely catches a pass from Quinn Kaehler for a 45-yard gain; Calvin Munson makes one of his 10 tackles vs. Air Force (Photos by Ernie Anderson)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Win, We’re Not “In,” But Bowl Eligible

One step at a time. A win over Air Force tonight and the Aztecs become bowl eligible. That does not guarantee a bowl bid, but it is an important first step. And it’s a challenging one.

The Falcons are vastly improved over last year’s 2-10 team, which beat only Colgate and Army. It is basically the same team as last year except for the QB. That’s a big “except.” Injured last year, Kale Pearson came back to ignite the Falcons. He’s both a good runner and passer, averaging 53 yards a game rushing and another 138 passing. And his smooth leadership has the Falcon’s quirky option averaging 282 on the ground. Right now they are 8-2, and already have captured the Commander in Chief’s trophy.

The series dates back to 1980, when the Aztecs won, 13-10 at Air Force. The next year, Air Force came from behind to win in the Mirage Bowl, with 80,000 watching in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium – the longest road trip ever! From there, the Falcons rolled off another eight straight wins. Right now, the Aztecs are on a 4-game win streak. At home we are an even 7-7.

Kick-off is at 6:30. Be there to add our support for an Aztec win that is vitally important to a bowl bid.

Adam Muema scored two TDs in the Aztecs’ 28-9 victory over Air Force at Aztec Warrior Stadium in 2012 (photo by Ken Ables)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Boiled Down: Our Aztecs Are Inconsistent

You can look at Saturday’s loss to Boise State and see two totally different Aztec teams. Early in the game, the Aztecs were dominant – unstoppable on offense; impenetrable on defense.

An exaggeration? No. Take a look at the first-quarter stats. Aztecs had 135 yards to only 27 for the Broncos. Six first downs to one. The score was 10-0, and that increased to 20-0 in the second quarter. Then the game changed.

Remember the Nevada game, where the Wolf Pack first lined up to punt on a fourth down near midfield, then took a time-out and went for it. They made it and it changed the momentum. Well, this time it was a fourth down deep in their own territory and the Broncos took a big gamble. Their faked punt worked. They ran for 24 yards and a first down. It was almost like a switch was thrown. Then, with only 17 seconds left in the half, they scored a TD to cut our lead down to a more manageable 20-10.

The second half offensive numbers – 236-140 – tell the story, and the Broncos ran away with a 38-29 win, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.

You can find some encouraging signs. Not surprisingly, DJ Pumphrey ran for 147 net yards, averaging 6.1 a carry and scoring on TD runs of 32 and 34 yards. Quinn Kaehler hit 17 of 23 for 173 yards and one TD. But had one damaging INT.

Let’s face it, the Aztecs need to be more consistent and play a solid game through four quarters. It better start Friday night at home because Air Force is a much improved team this season, as witness their win over the Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday.

DJ Pumphrey scores the Aztecs first TD on a 32-yard run; JJ Whittaker returns an INT 26 yards as Damontae Kazee leads the way (photos by Ernie Anderson)