Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Look Back at the Aztecs’ 2015 Football Season

Well, maybe we’ve all stopped shouting and waving our Red and Black, and bragging about the Aztecs’ dominating 42-7 victory over a good University of Cincinnati team in the Hawaii Bowl. Remember, in the opening betting line the Bearcats were 2-point favorites. 

Now it’s time to look back and review all that made this what I believe has been one of the most impressive seasons ever.

Yes, there were questions going in. Who would be our quarterback? It was not like knowing you have a solid leader at that key position. And would the receivers improve over last year? Defense looked promising, but good enough to carry the load?

On paper, the first game looked OK, 37-3 over USD. But it really wasn’t that impressive.  At least it was a win. Then the problems began and we lost three in a row, including a really bad overtime loss at home to South Alabama, 34-27. The losses to Cal and Penn State were more understandable, but should have been better.

Without spelling them all out, time after time in these games the Aztecs made horrific errors that cost them a chance to win. Best example: at Penn State, the Aztecs were leading 14-13 with about a minute left in the first half. Boom, errors led to two quick PSU scores, and they opened the second half capitalizing on another Aztec error to score again. In effect, game over!

At that point, fans were grumbling and not showing up in big numbers to support their team. And one U-T columnist made it clear he thought the time had come to dump Rocky. Premature judgment, to say the least. He and the grumbling fans did not appreciate the solid dedication of Rocky, his staff and the team. They knew they could turn it around and they did – with 10 straight wins, including the vital 27-24 MW conference championship victory over Air Force and the annihilation of the Bearcats in Hawaii.

Here are some of the significant factors that went into this amazing turnaround…
- Two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in program history (DJ Pumphrey, 1,653; Chase Price, 1,008)
- Red Zone conversion: 48-51, 94%
- No INTs in last 12 games (In the first 2 games Aztec QBs threw 3 INTs with 0 INT return yards. Compare that to 23 INTs for 258 yards and 4 TDs for the Aztecs.)
- +22 Turnover margin

Chase Price (photo by Ken Ables)

Aztec Records Set:
- Kickoff returns for TD in a season: Rashaad Penny, 3
- Team KO returns for TD in a season: 3
- Interceptions for TD in a game: Calvin Munson, 2 (USD)
- Team Interceptions for TD in a season: 4
- Most Extra Points in a season without a miss: Donny Hageman, 57
- Games played in a career: 53 (Jon Sanchez, Jeff Overbaugh, Pierre Romaine)
- Most rushing yards in a season, team: 3,266
- Most games played in a season: 14

Calvin Munson (photo by Ernie Anderson)

Aztec Records Tied:
- KO returns for TD in a career: Rashaad Penny, 3 (Colin Lockett)
- Wins in one season, 11 (1966, 1969)
- Interceptions for TD in a season: Calvin Munson, 2
- Interceptions for TD in a career: Calvin Munson, 3
- Team Interceptions for TD in a game: 2 (USD)
- Interceptions in one season, D-1 era: Damontae Kazee, 8
- Extra Point percentage, season: Donny Hageman, 100% (57-57)
- Extra Point percentage, career: Donny Hageman, 100% (94-94)

Donny Hageman (photo by Ken Ables)

Other Notables:
- DJ Pumphrey became the second Aztec to gain 4,000 career rushing yards (4,272; only 317 yards short of Marshall Faulk’s Aztec-record 4,589)
- DJ Pumphrey has 22 career 100-yard rushing games. He was one yard short of tying Marshall Faulk’s career record of 23 (99 rushing yards vs. Cincinnati)
- Donny Hageman kicked two 54-yard FGs; tied for second-longest in Aztec history, and longest at sea level.
- Rashaad Penny’s 804 kickoff return yards is second all-time (Monty Gilbreath, 880 yds., 1987)
- The Aztecs finished just out of the Top 25: #27 in the Coaches Poll and #29 in the AP Poll.
- The Aztecs finished as the #2-ranked in California and the #1-ranked team in Southern California.
- The 2015 MW Offensive (Pumphrey), Defensive (Kazee) and Special Teams (Penny) players of the year all return, as does the 2015 Coach of the Year.

Aztec MVP Grand Slam (clockwise): DJ Pumphrey, Damontae Kazee, Rashaad Penny, Rocky Long. They're all back for 2016! (photos by Ernie Anderson)

Our goals for 2016: end the season winning the Mountain West again, play in our 7th straight bowl game and win it...  and be ranked in the Top 25!

2015 Mountain West and Hawaii Bowl Champs (photo by Ernie Anderson)