Okay, so it’s not Utah football, but it’s football. FOOTBALL!
Here’s a few inexpert observations from the game today.
+ The Aztecs’ previously abysmal running game looks to be improving. Ronnie Hillman seems like a Jacquizz Rodgers-style runner – a tiny little guy who can slip between the tackles, then cut on a dime, break your ankles and leave you eating his dust. He picked up 65 yards on 15 touches in like a quarter and a half – I’m impressed. Davon Brown looks to be a pretty good running back as well, and the offensive line was opening pretty good holes for the running game. I’d love to see the option happen – Lindley is a smart enough quarterback, and Hillman is fast enough, that I think they could make it work. I don’t know if Coach Hoke agrees with me though.
+ The passing game is just as good as everybody thought it would be. Rivals.com has the Aztecs’ receiving corps ranked like 11th in the nation, and with talent like DeMarco Sampson (7 catches for 179 yards tonight!), you can see why. San Diego also has some impressive tight ends, and I’m not just talking about the ladies in the audience. (That’s right, I just went there.) Gavin Escobar, a freshman, had a really nice 27-yard reception in the first quarter, where he simply ran over some dude who tried to tackle him. Ryan Lindley is accurate and dependable and generally makes good reads (though a couple times he didn’t see the open guy in the end zone).
– There’s room for improvement in the pass rush. Sure, there were a couple of sacks, but none early in the game before Nicholls State’s undersized o-line had been ground down and tired out – and this is Rocky Long’s blitz-happy defensive scheme, where you should be getting like 63 sacks a game. Also, the defensive backs need to do a better job staying at home – Caston, the Nicholls State quarterback, picked up a heck of a lot of yards on broken plays and QB keepers.
+ I was nothing but impressed with the secondary. They were largely untested, but they did a good enough job of covering up receivers that Caston had to scramble out of a lot of broken plays. I’ll be interested to see how they perform against a team that presents more of a vertical threat.
– Special teams were kinda scary. No muffed punts (I’m looking at you, Shaky Smithson!), no stupid blocks in the back, but no really good punt returns either. Also, tack on Abel “Shankopotamus” Perez’s missed FG and missed extra point, and the fact that none of his kickoffs (there were many!) made it into the end zone, and a really brain-dead penalty for roughing the kicker, and you’ll see there’s some work that needs to be done.
So let’s look at the future of the Mountain West. With Utah and BYU gone, the top of the league will be TCU and Boise State, in some order. Then there’s going to be a lot of scrapping for 3-5. With the new coaching staff, a much-improved running game, and some real toughness on defense, I don’t see why SDSU won’t be in contention with Wyoming (I know, right? But Carta-Samuels is an animal, and they’re much better coached now) and Air Force for #3. And who knows? Maybe they win some of those inevitable 50-50 battles and shock some Broncos or some Froggies. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised.
Edited to add: Brady Hoke’s stated season goal is a conference championship. I don’t honestly see this happening; I think the conference is too top-loaded for the Aztecs to sneak in above maybe #3, but more likely #4. However, I think this is the season where they finally get back to a bowl.