OSU-SDSU: The $2.4 Million Game

Aztecs accept buyout deal to move game to Columbus ... and help their athletic department's bottom line.

You could call Saturday's clash between Ohio State and San Diego State at Ohio Stadium (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus Local) The $2.4 Million Game.

That is the amount OSU reportedly paid SDSU to move the game to Columbus. It was originally scheduled for San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium as part of a two-for-one scheduling arrangement (OSU hosted SDSU in 2001 and will do so again in 2005).

Then-SDSU athletic director Rick Bay, a former OSU athletic director, made the deal to switch the game to Columbus. Bay, staring at a budget deficit for his department, noted that SDSU would make well over $1 million more by playing the game at Ohio Stadium than on its home field.

Bay has since left SDSU after a scandal regarding improprieties in the school's athletic equipment room were discovered. That leaves second year SDSU head coach Tom Craft, his staff and his players to deal with the untenable situation of playing the defending national champions on their own field.

"We are playing that game for the department," Craft admitted. "It's something that if we're going to be a team here at the university, that's something that's important to our athletic department."

But is it really that untenable? After all, the Aztecs actually led Ohio State 12-9 at halftime -- leading to lustful boos from the Ohio Stadium "faithful" -- before the Buckeyes rallied for a 27-12 win.

Of course, that was an OSU team that went on to finish 7-5 that season. Since then, the Buckeyes have won 15 straight, so maybe the Aztecs will have their hands full.

Also working against SDSU is the fact that starting quarterback Adam Hall, who threw for 3,253 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, could miss this week's game due to a high ankle sprain suffered in his team's season-opening 19-9 win over Division I-AA Eastern Washington.

Craft admitted after the game that Hall could be lost for "some time."

"We tried to go with Adam as long as we could," Craft said. "Obviously, he couldn't push off with his foot."

In his place, sophomore Matt Dlugolecki (6-4, 215) came off the bench. Dlugolecki, who spent 2001 as a red shirted freshman at Illinois before transferring to SDSU last year, ended up 11 of 19 for 97 yards against EWU.

"Matt Dlugolecki came in and did very well considering the situation," Craft said. "But he hasn't played in three years." Dlugolecki was a prep All-American out of Santa Margarita High School in California's Orange County.

"I think I did pretty well for a guy who hasn't taken a snap (since 2000)," Dlugolecki said. "I know I short-hopped a few balls and played basketball with a couple of throws, but I think I did OK. It's tough what happened to Adam because of what he means to our team.

"But as far as next week goes, if they need me, I'll be ready to go."

SDSU will also likely pin its hopes on another offensive standout who has played exactly one college game. Freshman tailback Lynell Hamilton (6-1, 215) did something that even Marshall Faulk never did for the Aztecs. He became the first back in school history to rush for 100 yards in his debut with 113 yards and two touchdowns in the win over EWU.

"Our focus right now is the run game," said Craft, whose Aztecs were fifth nationally in passing (330.9 yards per game) behind Hall in finishing 4-9 a year ago.

But with Hall's possible absence, just three starters from SDSU's offense a year ago figure to be in the lineup against OSU on Saturday: Left tackle Brendan Darby (6-7, 295), center Jasper Harvey (6-3, 300) and right guard Gerald Sykes (6-1, 320).

Sophomore Jeff Webb (6-2, 200) led the Aztecs with 10 catches for 71 yards in the opener. Seven other receivers caught passes in the opener.

"We have tremendous receivers," Webb said. "We have too many to throw to just one. I'm not the go-to guy."

Kicker J.C. Mejia, another first-time starter, hit field goals of 35 and 22 yards in the opener.

Defensively, the Aztecs welcome back six starters, although just five are ticketed to start against OSU. Seniors Ryan Iata (6-5, 270) and Brook Miller (6-4, 280) return at tackle and end, respectively. Perhaps the top name on defense is junior middle linebacker Kirk Morrison (6-2, 240). He is joined in that unit by junior Stephen Larsen (6-1, 235) at an outside spot. Senior corner Jeff Shoate and junior safety Josh Dean return in the secondary, although Dean may miss the OSU game due to mononucleosis.

Morrison led the SDSU defense with 97 tackles, including nine for losses, last year. He also had three sacks and three interceptions. Shoate added 57 stops, while Dean had 56. Miller was second on the team with four sacks.

Senior Beau Trickey (6-1, 240) and sophomore Matt McCoy (6-0, 220) share time at one outside spot.

The hope coming into the year was the SDSU defense would improve on last season, when it ranked seventh in the eight-team Mountain West Conference in total defense (410.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (31.6 points per game).

In the opener, SDSU held EWU to 217 yards total offense.

"We want to be one of the top defenses," Shoate said after the opener. "Today was a good start toward that.

Squib Kicks

* OSU barely outgained SDSU 334-319 in total offense two years ago. Lydell Ross, now a junior for OSU, matched starting tailback Jonathan Wells with 60 yards rushing in that game. But Ross had two touchdown runs to Wells' one for the Buckeyes. OSU forced five turnovers on SDSU‘s first five possessions of the second half to turn the tide in that game.

That game was originally set for Sept. 15, 2001, but was postponed until Oct. 20 in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedies.

That was the only previous meeting between the schools.

* OSU is 6-1 all-time against current members of the Mountain West. OSU has beaten BYU three times and also beaten Utah and Wyoming once each besides SDSU. The lone loss was to Air Force in the 1990 Liberty Bowl.

* San Diego State will be facing a reigning national champion for the first time since 1990 when it takes the field against Ohio State. In 1990, the Miami Hurricanes, fresh from a national championship and 11-1 record in 1989, escaped Qualcomm Stadium with a 30-28 victory over San Diego State. Aztec quarterback Dan McGwire passed for 323 yards in the loss. The Aztecs dropped a 28-0 decision to defending national champion Brigham Young in 1986 in SDSU's only other meeting against a defending national champion.

* San Diego State's game at No. 2 Ohio State marks the first for the Aztecs against a top-10 (Associated Press) opponent since a loss against No. 3 Washington in 1997. In fact, the game this week in Columbus is just the 12th all-time for San Diego State against a top-10 team. San Diego State's most recent win over a ranked opponent came in 1996 when SDSU defeated No. 16 Wyoming, 28-24.

The highest-ranked opponent to fall to San Diego State is No. 12 Iowa State. The Cyclones were ripped up by San Diego State, 52-31, on Oct. 10, 1981. San Diego State is winless in 11 previous tries against top-10 opponents.

* San Diego State is 2-8 all-time against the Big Ten, including games against five league schools. SDSU is 0-1 vs. Iowa (a 39-38 loss in the 1986 Holiday Bowl), 0-2 against Illinois, 1-1 vs. Minnesota, 0-1 against Ohio State and 1-3 vs. Wisconsin. SDSU is facing a Big Ten opponent for the fifth time in six years.

* SDSU is best known for producing Faulk. But a host of All-Americans and NFL standouts have come through the school. The list includes Fred Dryer, Haven Moses, Brian Sipe, Willie Buchanon, Kyle Turley, La'Roi Glover and Az-Zahir Hakim.

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