It is 2 p.m. PST the next day and I am still in shock that the Aztecs lost that game. If you've ever heard the idiom, "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", SDSU surely personified it last night. What made it even more surprising was that the Aztecs defense, especially in the second half, was stifling. The defense created multiple turnovers while protecting a small lead like they've never done before in a big game. It looked like SDSU would finally get that big win over a BCS opponent that they've been looking for. One play with less than a minute on the board and no timeouts for the opponent changed all of that very quickly. Let's just say that the Aztecs had the game locked-up to the point that Missouri's own announcer declared the game over only to eat his own words after Missouri, with no time-outs remaining, turned a short sideline route into a 68 yard TD pass with only ticks left on the clock.
I'm going to try to highlight the positives for SDSU to come out of this game by way of a recap so I don't have to relive the horror. Check that out after the jump. If you want a more traditional recap, check out ESPN's and the SDUT's.
First, I'm not going to elaborate but I just want to list a few negatives, or things SDSU needs to improve on, in order to win these games in the future: Penalties killed us. Too many dumb penalties in key situations. Need to learn how to finish. Missouri should never even have gotten the ball back, we could have just run the clock out. Ryan Lindley needs to be more accurate. Lindley actually showed tremendous skill in the face of pressure last night but he under-threw and overthrew his receivers far too often and threw a terrible pick in the end-zone.
Okay, that's enough of that. Let's hear the positives.
1. The Aztecs, under the second year of head coach Brady Hoke, have shown they can play with BCS opponents; and on the road too.
The offense struggled mightily at times and came away with 440 total offensive yards. The defense held the opponent to only converting 5 of 16 3rd downs and came up with two huge interceptions in the second half while protecting a small lead on the road. No this wasn't against another cupcake opponent this was at the home field of traditional Big 12 powerhouse Missouri. This was everything the Aztecs have not been over the last decade despite the loss.
2. The Aztecs finally have a running game to complement the passing game.
Freshman Ronnie Hillman is a beast. He piled up 235 yards on 23 carries and 2 TDs to bring his season total to 443 good for sixth in the nation. His 7 rushing TDs on the season puts him at FIRST in the nation among running backs (tied for second when you include QBs). All told, SDSU had 250 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs on the game. Last season SDSU was ecstatic if they had 100 rushing yards as a team. This has allowed junior QB Ryan Lindley to use his two senior receivers to rack up 812 passing yards, good for 17th overall in the nation and only one interception. To put that into perspective, lauded Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert has 852 yards with 2 interceptions (T11 in the nation). All of that while All-MWC TE Austin Umulo has been out with an injury. With that balanced attack, the San Diego State Aztecs have the eighth overall offense in the nation at 1534 yards gained.
3. The Aztecs actually have a functional defense.
They did give up 440 yards of offense, but their two weakest aspects on defense last season was rushing defense and creating turnovers; the defense held Missouri Tigers to only 89 yards on the ground and the SDSU defense created 3 turnovers (2 INTs and 1 fumble recovery). SDSU shut down the run and pressed the receivers on the short pass routes (for most of the game) to force Gabbert to go over the top where he is less accurate. The Aztecs were not able to get much pressure on Gabbert, but did when it counted forcing two INTs and the Missouri QB also lost the ball twice (SDSU was not able to capitalize). They haven't put it all together yet, but it looks like Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense is starting to gel.
The rest of the positives show that this SDSU team is very close if not already good enough to compete for the MWC title. The Offensive line was opening up huge holes for the RB and was very good in pass protection, especially picking up the blitz very well. Special teams is very good for the first time in awhile. Punter Brian Stahovich is a monster and PK Abel Perez gets a touchback on nearly every kickoff. I don't want to speak too soon but the MWC better watch out because the "sleeping giant" might FINALLY be waking from its long slumber.