Enlightening the Dark Side

Known as "The Dark Side," the San Diego State defense is notorious for stifling offenses with the 4-2-5 scheme that seems to have been pioneered in the Mountain West Conference. This Saturday, the Aztecs look to silence a Cougar offense that boasted a prolific attack against TCU, one of the Mountain West's top defensive units.

"We're looking to put up a lot of points," said quarterback John Beck. "It doesn't matter who we're going against or what our defense may do, we feel that we can score and make a lot of yards regardless of the situation or the opponent. That's our job."

After mediocre output in the first two games, the Cougars exploded against TCU. Going deep often to Watkins allowed other receivers to run open underneath and was complemented by a productive running attack. After scoring 50 points and gaining well over 600 yards of total offense, the Cougar offense looked more like the well-oiled machine that it is intended to be rather than the schizophrenic offensive attack that has painfully slugged it out in Provo over the past three seasons.

Is the offense now set to be a prolific attack game-in and game-out? "We hope so," responded receiver Todd Watkins. "We put it all out there against TCU and they were supposed to be a pretty good defense. We can't rest on that though; we have to do all we can to get that much better with every week.

"They run a 4-2-5 scheme like TCU, but it's a lot different. They run a lot of cover three while TCU was primarily a man-to-man attack."

"They're going to be a challenge," said Beck about the "Dark Side" defense. "But every team will be a different type of challenge and you have to be ready for it. We feel that we're putting things together and had a good game last week, but we have to be that much better this week."

Coming from San Diego, Watkins is very familiar with a lot of the current players on the Aztec football team. "I know a lot of those guys," said Watkins. "Me and Joe (Griffin) spent some time running skellies with them in the off-season. I know their strengths and what they do well."

So can Watkins beat them given their strengths? "I know what they do and I know what I can do against them," responded Watkins with a faint smile.

The deep ball is back

After a two-game hibernation against Boston College and Eastern Illinois, quarterback John Beck was again going deep often against the Horned Frog defense. "I love going deep to Todd," said Beck. "More so for those guys on the line as I get to run with them to the next spot down field and I can see how excited they are. They do such a good job giving me time to throw the ball deep and I don't think they get enough credit."

"Going deep is what I'm best at," said Watkins. "So yeah, I love going deep as often as possible. I don't know why we didn't do it for the first two games, it just wasn't part of the game-plan for whatever reason and it was against TCU. The coaches know best and I trust them, but yeah, I want to go deep and I think it helps the team when we go deep."

The deep attack will get better and more refined, according to Watkins. "I wasn't running a lot of the routes like I should have," commented Watkins. "There is still some tweaking that I need to do. John [Beck] had the ball where it needed to be just about every time. I just need to make sure I'm there."

One side benefit of throwing the deep-ball to Watkins often is that it opens up the coverage underneath. Zac Collie found himself so wide-open on his second touchdown pass on a short underneath route that he was able to cruise more than 20 yards to the end zone without a Horned Frog laying a finger on him. "That's what the deep attack does," said Collie. "I wasn't surprised to find myself that open or on any other pass when you have a guy like Todd as such a threat deep."

So how do you defend against the long ball to Watkins? TCU tried their best, according to Coach Patterson, as they set their safety more than 15 yards off the line of scrimmage and shaded to Watkins' side for the duration of the game last week. "Even though he was over there it doesn't really matter because he can just move ever so slightly the wrong way and Todd and I can take advantage of it," said Beck. "I feel we did take advantage of it for the most part and we'll look to do the same this week."

Watkins agreed: "They were playing man mostly and I can beat man coverage. The cover three will be different this week, but I'm confident we can beat that coverage as well."

Lessons learned on offense

What can the team learn coming off of a 50 point and 614 yard output against TCU? "A lot," responded Beck. "There is so much more we can do better. We were productive and all that, but we didn't win the game, so you have to take the mindset that we didn't do enough. This offense can get better and we're working to get better."

"We didn't win the game and that's all that matters," said Collie. "I would trade in 600 yards offense for a win any day and so would anyone else on this team. Sure, we scored a lot and made a lot of yards, but it didn't mean a thing. We lost the game."

Watkins takes a lot of the loss on himself personally despite his 176 yard 3 touchdown game. "What I learned from last game is that I have to make every play," he said. "If I catch that easy deep pass and don't fumble at the end of the first half, then we probably win. It doesn't matter how much you do because what you fail to do might be what loses the ball game and that's what happened last week. That won't happen this week; I have to make sure of that."

"We're confident," said Beck. "We're very confident going in and we feel that we can score on anybody. We just have to make sure that we keep getting better with every practice and in every situation. If we're not getting better, then we're regressing and you can't have that."

So has the Cougar offense turned a corner in their quest to become the dominant and prolific attack that was once so reliable year-in and year-out in Provo? "You saw what we did against TCU and they were supposed to be pretty good," answered Watkins. "But it's only going to get better. We're going to make sure of that."

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