The Aztecs conclude their 2013 non-conference schedule today against the New Mexico State Aggies, with both teams looking for their first win to get the monkey off their backs. Even though both are winless, the Aztecs are an 18-point favorite going into kickoff. In his pregame press conference, Rocky Long reminded everyone that he expects a very competitive game.
San Diego State and New Mexico State meet for the 11th time overall and the third time in five seasons on Saturday. The Aztecs lead the series 8-1-1, having won the last six encounters. Despite the Aztecs' advantage in the series, SDSU is only 1-1-1 against the Aggies in Las Cruces. San Diego State's only victory in Las Cruces came in its last visit to Aggie Memorial Stadium, a 41-21 decision on Sept. 11, 2000.
The keys today for an Aztec victory are as follows:
Improved quarterback play from Quinn Kaehler: His two costly fourth quarter picks cost the Aztecs a victory against the Oregon State Beavers last weekend. The young quarterback has vowed to put that game behind him and use the experience to motivate him and bounce back this weekend.
"All you can do is get better and just work harder than you normally would because you don't want to feel like that again," he said. "You don't want to let your teammates down."
Kaehler has strong numbers overall, completing 38 of 61 throws at 62% for 467 yards in two games. He has thrown 3 TDs, but has been picked 3 times as well. Adam Dingwell participated in practice but still has back pain when he throws, prompting Chad Jefferies to take the back up reps in practice.
Adam Muema needs to be healthy: He returned to carry the ball 28 times last weekend but only gained 71 yards, 27 of which came on one outside run. There are two big questions here: Is he healthy and the bulk of SDSU's ground game problems are fixable with him back? Or is it more a weak inexperienced offensive line? Muema rushed for 1,458 yards last season, but has only gained 93 yards in 3 games, averaging 2.3 yards per carry.
Rocky Long also called out backs Donnel Pumphery and Dwayne Garret to exceed expectations. Pumphery is as good as billed in the open field and the fastest player on the team. Chase Price will not play due to an injury. Chad Young still remains a stable force in the Aztec back field and as the fullback, he should be playing on Sunday's next year.
The SDSU corners need to continue to improve: Coming into this season, cornerback was perhaps the most worrisome position on the team with all of the inexperience.
There have been many bumps in the road so far, but three games into the season SDSU Rocky Long likes the progress he's seen from the corners.
"The cornerbacks have been put in a lot of one-on-one situations, and have continually gotten better as the weeks have gone on," Long said. "They did a much better job against Oregon State, which has outstanding wide receivers. They've made good improvement."
The Beavers entered last Saturday's game with the No. 1 passing offense in the country, averaging 438.7 passing yards per game. OSU relied on the pass almost exclusively throughout the entire game, and SDSU "held" Sean Mannion, the nation's leading quarterback, to 367 yards, which was 71 yards below his season average.
King Holder had a a career high 11 tackles and broke up two passes. Opposite Holder, J.J. Whittaker finished with five tackles. Both corners made open field tackles in one on one situations.
"I think (Whittaker)'s going to be a lot better than he is right now, but I think the cornerbacks have made good progress over the first three games," Long said. "All of them have. I think they're a lot better now than they were in the first game."
Lastly, the Aztecs can't turn the ball over or fall behind quickly. They rank 12th in the nation with a TO margin of -6. On the other hand, New Mexico State has done a good job of forcing turnovers. The Aggies have six interceptions (10th most in the country) and recovered three fumbles (39th).
Final Notes fro GoAztecs.com: San Diego State's opponents to date own a combined 10-2 record (FCS No. 8 Eastern Illinois 3-1, No. 4/3 Ohio State 4-0 and Oregon State 3-1). According to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, the Aztecs have faced the 33rd-most difficult schedule to date.
The Aztecs have faced three of the nation's best offensive units thus far this season - Eastern Illinois leads the FCS in total offense (617.8) and is eighth in scoring offense (44.0), Ohio State is fourth in scoring offense (52.5) and sixth in rushing offense (311.0) and Oregon State is third in passing offense (420.8) and 24th in scoring offense (41.0).
If you are looking for some 0-3 inspiration, the Aztecs started the 1998 campaign 0-3 en route to a WAC Pacific Division championship and a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl.