Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Aztecs Determined to Return to Their Strengths

After an impressive roll through the first six Mountain West Conference games, our Aztecs hit two bumps in their road to the Championship with losses. First was the one-point loss at Wyoming after an amazing 99-yard TD drive in the last minute. Then, even more surprising, the huge loss at home to Colorado State. Now back to Laramie, determined to return to the strengths that had made the Aztecs so dominant. 

Last week’s 63-31 loss to the Rams was startling. No part of our game worked well. Our devastating running game, led by DJ Pumphrey, was nowhere to be seen. The rugged defense that had given up only 35 points (the offense coughed up one other TD) in the 6-game win streak, suddenly could not stop either the Rams’ passing or running game. To round it out, special teams, another bright spot all year, was hardly there. Result, Aztecs gave up 42 points in the first half alone! 

Add to that Rocky’s own admission, our coaching was not good enough. Finally, the lack of a supporting crowd, afraid of a little rain, and there wasn’t much to smile about. Especially because Wyoming had been upset by New Mexico, 56-35. If we had won, Saturday’s Championship game would have been played here! 

The Aztecs are 7-point favorites on the betting line, and I am confident we will regain our toughness and win. The temperature will be below freezing the whole game. That does not scare me but, sadly, due to complications, I cannot make this trip. So, for the second time in two years, I will be watching from home, instead of with my Aztecs.
DJ Pumphrey set the Aztec record for rushing yards in a season vs. Colorado State. With 1,908 yards so far, he’s the first Aztec to rush for more than 1,900 yards in a season. (Photo by Ernie Anderson)



Monday, November 21, 2016

Questions? Questions? Questions! Answers?

After Saturday’s heartbreaking 34-33 loss at Wyoming, there are all kinds of questions and opinions being asked and offered. The sad, absolute fact is that we lost by one point.

The encouraging thing to me, after so many things had gone wrong, was the amazing 99-yard TD march with just a minute left in the game. Whatever you may feel about the 2-point try, think back to the game at Nevada in 2012. In that one, Rocky’s call for a 2-point was hailed as brilliant because we won. The gamble was the same; the result was different.

Right now the important thing is for our Aztecs to be focused on winning their home game Saturday against an unpredictable Colorado State. The Rams are 6-5 and hot off a big offensive win over New Mexico, 49-31. Two of their losses were to a very good Colorado and Minnesota from the Big 10. In the MW, they lost tough ones to Boise State, 28-23, and Air Force, 49-46. For direct comparison, they lost to Wyoming, 38-17, playing at home.

The Rams are a very good offensive team, with a well-balanced attack -- 2,520 yards passing; 2,385 rushing. They started the season with a brilliant QB in true Freshman 6-5 Collin Hill, who already had passed for 1,096 yards before he tore his ACL against Utah State and is out for the season.  But Nick Stevens, a 6-3 Junior, has stepped in smoothly and has thrown for 1,281 yards, with 64.3% accuracy.

Running the ball, they don’t match our Pumphrey-Penny-Washington trio, but they do have three good backs. Dalyn Dawkins has run for 698 yards; Izzy Matthews, 602; and Freshman Marvyn Kasey, 486, averaging 6.1 a carry.

Questions for this game: Will our Aztec pass defense get back to its old form or let another good passer duplicate Wyo’s Josh Allen and his 282-yard effort? And will our usually impregnable run defense do better than the 205 yards run up by the Cowboys, with Brian Hill leading the way with 131 yards and not one yard lost in 31 carries?

Better be there to find out. 10-2 would be a nice way to end the regular season! With 7-1 in winning the West Division title of the MW. Kick-off is at 6:00 pm.

Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington both returned KOs for TDs vs. Wyoming. It was the first time in Aztec history that multiple kicks were returned for TDs in the same game. Fifth career KOR TD for Penny (Aztec record); first for Washington (photos by Ernie Anderson)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Comparative Scores Aren’t Always Reliable

Our Aztecs play an important MW game against the Wyoming Cowboys Saturday in Laramie, so you start looking at scores against common opponents as a guideline.

Start with the Aztecs against UNLV in their first MW game. The Rebels were fresh from a convincing 45-20 win over Fresno State. By contrast, the Aztecs had just been upset by South Alabama, 42-24. Counter to comparative scores, the Aztecs whipped Vegas 26-7, and the Rebels’ TD was not against our defense.

Now look at Wyo’s game against UNLV the other day. The Cowboys lost that one, 69-66 in three OTs, just one point short of the all-time FBS scoring record.

So, an easy win for the Aztecs, right? No way. Betting lines favor us by about 8, but this game may well be closer. We are playing in Laramie. The elevation is 7,220 feet, as they are quick to remind you with a big message on the upper deck opposite the visitors’ bench. (OK, Rocky says elevation not a big factor in football, just basketball with more constant action.) And Wyo has been surprisingly good this season. They were 5-0 in the MW before that UNLV game, including an impressive 30-28 upset win over Boise State. They are averaging 44 points a game.

The Cowboys have a balanced offense, with 6’5” QB Josh Allen throwing for 2,216 yards, with 21 TDs and 10 INTs. Running the ball for them is one of the nation’s top RBs, Brian Hill, 6’1”, 219 lbs. Hill has run for 1,417 yards and a 5.7 average. For comparison, DJ Pumphrey tops the country with 1,779. Second to Hill is their QB with a noteworthy 429 yards.

Should be a tight game, and it’s a day game, which I like, starting at 12:30 PT. I expect us to win, of course. But not without a top effort from both our offense and defense.

The Aztecs’ 46-16 win at Nevada was impressive enough to move us into the Top 25 in both polls -- #24 in the AP and #25 in the Coaches Poll. Among the eye-popping stats were the 620 yards of total offense, with 474 on the ground. Penny was the leader this time with 208 yards; DJ next with “only” 198; and Juwan Washington had 70 on just five carries. Even with the big ground game, QB Christian Chapman completed 11 of 16 passes for 146 yards and two TDs. The defensive effort was highlighted by three key INTs against a surprisingly good Wolf Pack passing game. Holding the Pack’s running game to 90 yards was a typical effort by Rocky’s aggressive defense.

Off to Laramie where we hope the temperature will stay above freezing.

Mikah Holder TD; Aztec D (photos by Ernie Anderson)