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.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stanford Game Offers Opportunity

Without disagreeing with Coach, who stresses the importance of MW Conference games, I’m convinced Saturday’s game here with Stanford offers a special opportunity for our Aztecs to gain national recognition.

Year after year you will find the Cardinal ranked and in a bowl game. So it’s more than just being a Pac12 team. Rocky’s Aztecs have been making progress too. Three MW Championships, seven bowl games in a row. Great players, like DJ Pumphrey, Damontae Kazee, Nico Siragusa, Rashaad Penny.

Rashaad Penny (Ernie Anderson)
The 30-20 win at Arizona State, who was favored to win, on the heels of a predictable 38-17 victory over UC Davis, make the Aztecs 2-0. Still, we are 9-1/2-point underdogs as this is written, so an upset win would be very meaningful. Ranked #25 in both polls at the end of the 2016 season, and one of the teams also getting votes now, the Aztecs already are establishing themselves as a solid program.

Even though we lost seven key players to graduation, Rocky has successfully built depth, so we are not hurting. Best example, gone is DJ Pumphrey, the all-time NCAA leader in rushing yards. So, Penny steps right in. Against the Sun Devils, he rushed for 216 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown; had a 99-yard kick-off return for a touchdown; and added 38 yards receiving, including a crucial touchdown catch.

Noble Hall (Ernie Anderson)
For his efforts Rashaad was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, and the Aztecs swept the MW Player of the Week awards, with Noble Hall – 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss (20 yards), 2 forced fumbles – winning for Defense and Rashaad for Offense and Special Teams. Until then, no player in the history of the conference had ever won two Player of the Week awards the same week.

Stanford has given up 226.5 rushing yards per game; 205.5 passing; defense is not their strength. On offense they’re balanced, with a 228.5/270.5 split. You know they will be ready to make up for their 42-24 loss to USC. A big crowd at Aztec Warrior Stadium would help the Aztecs. So, be there.

As a plus, it’s the Aztec Hall of Fame game, with five new inductees honored at halftime: Steve Fisher and DJ Gay, basketball; Craig Penrose and Whip Walton, football; and NCAA discus Champion and 2016 Olympian Whitney Ashley.

Steve Fisher, DJ Gay, Craig Penrose, Whip Walton, Whitney Ashley (Fisher, Gay, Penrose photos by Ernie Anderson)