The TSX Files: SDSU tries for a marquee win

San Diego State, 3-0 for the first time in 30 years, travels to Michigan (3-0) for one of the biggest regular-season games in school history. SDSU is trying to elevate its program to a nationally recognized status and a win over the storied Wolverines would be a huge step in that direction.

INSIDE SLANT: Aztecs try for a marquee win at Michigan

Rocky Long found a way. San Diego State, 3-0 for the first time in 30 years, travels to Michigan (3-0) for one of the biggest regular-season games in school history. SDSU is trying to elevate its program to a nationally recognized status and a win over the storied Wolverines would be a huge step in that direction. Long, the master of making his team walk into every game with an "Us against the world" mentality, has found a way to give Michigan a huge advantage going into the game on Saturday.

The Aztecs meet up with their former head coach, Brady Hoke, who guided the Aztecs from 2009-10 and led SDSU to a 9-4 record last season that culminated with a Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy. Hoke took five other coaches from that San Diego State staff when he went to Michigan in the offseason. And to Long, SDSU's first-year coach who served as Hoke's defensive coordinator, the Michigan staff's knowledge of the players significantly tips the scales.

"They know our personnel a lot better than we know their personnel," Long told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "So I think there's a huge advantage, yes."

That's what Long is saying publicly, but behind the scenes, he's assuredly using every trick in the book to get his Aztecs fired up and ready for a big-time college football atmosphere at "The Big House."

The SDSU program traditionally has competed well against top-notch foes, playing the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame on the road in recent years. The Aztecs lost at Michigan 24-21 in 2004. SDSU, however, never achieved a marquee victory and seemed to fall apart after their respectable showings.

Long is trying to continue to change the culture from a talented program that plays soft - the change that Hoke started. When Long took over for Hoke he even said that San Diego State was a better job than Michigan because the Aztecs were further along in their rebuilding than the Wolverines were.

Long and SDSU get a chance to prove that on Saturday. A loss means the Aztecs go back to being just another above-average non-BCS team. But a win could vault SDSU into a stratosphere never before reached in school history.


--The Aztecs have scored 14 points in the first quarter in each of their last seven games, dating to last season. That news bodes well for SDSU when it travels to Michigan. The Wolverines have yet to score in the first quarter this season and have given up three TDs.

--Former coach Brady Hoke will get a chance to say goodbye to his San Diego State players, 10 months after he left the Aztecs to take his dream job at Michigan. The Aztecs were on winter break when Hoke accepted the Michigan job, so he never got the chance to meet with the team and tell them of his intentions. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hoke sent a massive text message to his players and never spoke to any of them again.

--RB Ronnie Hillman and CB Larry Parker earned Mountain West Offensive and Co-Defensive Player of the Week awards, respectively, for their performances against Washington State last weekend. Hillman, who had a career-high 32 carries for 191 yards and four TDs, earned the fourth player-of-the-week honor of his career. Parker was honored for the first time, after notching interceptions on consecutive series in the fourth quarter to help the Aztecs preserve victory against the Cougars. -- SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 1-0 (last meeting, 2004, Michigan, 24-21).

-- SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: -- Just because Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows how good a runner SDSU's Ronnie Hillman is doesn't mean that he can devise a plan to stop the Aztecs RB. Wolverine opponents are averaging 167.0 rushing yards, and Hoke knows too well that if he concentrates solely on Hillman, QB Ryan Lindley could have open targets downfield. Michigan will try to stop Hillman without putting any extra defenders in the box. If it can play straight-up defense, the Aztecs will be hard-pressed to score points. But if Hillman has a big day, the momentum can snowball in San Diego State's favor.

-- SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Michigan QB Denard Robinson will be a handful for any opponent, but he has the potential to make SDSU's aggressive blitz scheme pay if he can elude the rush. The Aztecs secondary has been solid but not spectacular, and if Robinson can buy himself some time, Michigan's WRs will find open space downfield. The Aztecs have to guard against the big-play WR threats of Jeremy Gallon (seven receptions for 135 yards and a 19.3-yard average per catch) and Junior Hemingway four catches for 202 yards and a whopping 50.5-yard average per catch), but SDSU has to contain the running game first. The key will be getting multiple players to the ball so if Robinson escapes one or two defenders, three or four more will be there to make the play.

-- QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our team is excited about playing at Michigan against a really good Michigan team in front of a lot of people. I think they're excited about that. I don't think who the coach is has any factor whatsoever. Brady did a good job as head coach here, and he's going to do a good job as head coach there, but coaches don't play. Players play." --Coach Rocky Long to the San Diego Union-Tribune


-- THIS WEEK'S GAME: San Diego State at Michigan, Sept. 24 -- The Midwest hasn't been friendly to the Aztecs, but it hasn't been exactly doom and gloom either. The Aztecs lost 27-24 at Missouri last season, at Notre Dame 21-13 in 2008, 14-0 at Wisconsin in 2006, 27-6 at Ohio State in 2005 and 24-21 at Michigan in 2004. SDSU coach Rocky Long has to get his team to realize that losing respectably isn't the goal in 2011.

-- KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan should have more talent overall than San Diego State, so the Aztecs have to counter by controlling the clock. Fortunately, RB Ronnie Hillman has been more than capable of doing that since he burst onto the scene as a freshman last season. SDSU can't get into a shootout with the Wolverines, or else its defense will wear down quickly; the Aztecs don't have enough weapons around Hillman to get into a high-scoring shootout.


-- QB Ryan Lindley - He has been able to provide glimpses of what the SDSU passing game could be, but hasn't been able to make it a showcase that can explode for points if opponents ever shut down RB Ronnie Hillman. Coach Brady Hoke is guaranteed to get his defense to key on Hillman, but if the Aztecs can have enough success to make the Wolverines commit an extra defender, Lindley has to find the weakness in the secondary to make big plays.

-- Sophomore DE Jordan Thomas - He will have enough of a problem trying to get around Michigan's 300-pound OTs, but he must also figure out what he will do once he has QB Denard Robinson in his sights. He must come after Robinson under control around the edge because if he loses contain, the Aztecs will be vulnerable to big plays in the pass or the run with Robinson's ability to scramble and run. Fellow DE J.J. Autele will have the same dilemma on the other side, but Autele is a senior who has seen his share of athletic offensive players. Thomas might not have the same understanding of how to attack.

-- P Brian Stahovich - He looms large in Saturday's game because of his ability to pin back the Aztecs' opponents. Seven of his 16 punts have landed inside the opponents' 20, and that'll force Michigan to have to embark on long drives. Robinson might be able to make a big play or two, but if the Wolverines are pinned back, those big plays might get them only to midfield, where the Aztecs defense still has a chance to force Michigan into punting the football.


--Senior safety Brandon Davis will have to wear a neck brace for another week after bruising it during the win over Army on Sept. 10 and is doubtful for Saturday's game.

--QB Ryan Lindley still is putting the onus on him to get SDSU's passing game clicking consistently. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he has to figure out where the comfort zones of the WRs are so he can deliver the ball where they like it and have the best chance to catch it. "We're already a lot better than we were," he told the newspaper. "I'm excited about the way we're improving."

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