San Diego State 101: Scoreboard will be busy

CHUCK LONG, THE old Detroit Lions and Iowa quarterback, brought high-octane optimism to Montezuma Mesa last year. But Aztecs fans came down to earth with a 3-9 season. Injuries and poor recruiting by predecessors was more to blame than coaching. This year, though, with almost the entire offense returning, Long may have the ammunition to put up the kind of fireworks originally expected.

"We've had a really good camp and the big thing for us is that we have come out of camp healthy going into game one. That was not the case at this time last year," Long said this week of his senior-laden team.

He noted that San Diego State, from the Mountain West Conference, is 0-16 against Conference of Champions teams since 1995.

"I told the guys we have a chance to make some history," Long said "... our guys have been excited for this contest since the day after the Colorado State game last year ... We're chomping at the bit to start playing after watching everyone else play this past weekend."

Cougars (0-1) vs Aztecs (0-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4 p.m. Pacific Time

WHERE:
Qwest Field (67,000)

TELEVISION:
None

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 14

THE SERIES:
First meeting

CF.C PREDICTION:
WSU 42, SDSU 27

THE AZTECS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Kevin O'Connell, QB: A big guy at 6-6 and 225 pounds. Has all the physical tools, but had a disappointing 2006 season cut short by an injured thumb. Don't be fooled by his tall frame, he can run as well as he throws, and has more than 900 rushing yards in 21 career starts.

Lynell Hamilton, FB: Like O'Connell, Hamilton has the tools to be great but can never stay healthy. One of the Aztecs' most decorated high school recruits since Marshall Faulk, Hamilton ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman but has never managed to stay on the field since. He is now listed as a fullback, but is still expected to get a significant amount of carries along with Brandon Bornes and Atiyyah Henderson who had more than 1,000 yards between them in his absence last year.

Bret Swain, WR: Was the Aztecs' leading receiver last year with 47 grabs for 528 yards, which is an indication of how weak their passing game was. But as bad as WSU's secondary looks, nobody can be taken lightly.

Overview
When the Aztecs hired Chuck Long, offense was supposed to become an immediate strength. It wasn't. While injuries played a huge part, the passing game was simply abysmal, mustering a mere 1,800 yards and 8 touchdowns. The running game was equally inept, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. With more than a full year teaching virtually the same group now, and a pessimistic outlook for the defense, dramatic improvement is needed. The Aztecs have 9 returning offensive starters, a strong stable of running backs, and a veteran quarterback to lead them. They operate predominantly from pro-set formation.

Strategy
Much of blame for last season's problems fell on the inconsistent offensive line. They return three starters, all seniors. The starting center is Trask Iosefa, a redshirt freshman. The Cougs should give him a baptism by fire, showing a lot of confusing false blitzes and stunts. Against Given WSU's shaky secondary, the Cougs should consider going to nickel formations early if the Aztecs start passing the ball effectively. The WSU front four was effective against the run last week and the Cougs need to leverage their strength to support the pass defense.

THE AZTECS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Russell Allen, LB: Aztecs' leading tackler from 2006. The junior has 19 career starts and is one of the few experienced defenders.

Ray Bass, SS: 2005 transfer from Hawaii. Lone returning starter from last year's secondary. Has solid all around skills and can play either safety position if needed.

Overview
The Aztecs return just four starters from a fairly weak defense. It is unclear how much the coaching staff plans to revamp their system, but run defense and pass rushing have to be a priority. SDSU surrendered 180 rushing yards per game last year and generated just 15 sacks. Three of four starting defensive backs are also being replaced so overall pass defense is another big question mark.

Strategy
After facing a brutal Wisconsin defense, SDSU's ought to be a piece of cake. The Aztecs have the advantage of some game film, but Alex Brink and the offense should be in sync enough to put up some big numbers on this inexperienced group.

THE AZTECS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cougs should again suffer a serious handicap in the special teams department. Garrett Palmer is a three-year starter with a strong, accurate leg. Punter Michael Hughes ranked in the top 10 nationally last season with a 44.8 yard average.

FINAL THOUGHTS
For the second week in a row the Cougs face a team that has had nothing to think about for nine months except how to beat them. The Cougs will have to get up to speed on SDSU quickly and will not have the benefit of recent game tape as the Aztecs did not play on opening weekend. That being said, the Aztecs' defense is the type that should give up points in bunches to an experienced offense like Washington State's. A high-scoring affair favors WSU considerably.


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