Schedule Preview: San Diego State

(USAToday/Losness)

San Diego State will make the cross-country trip to play North Carolina under the lights at Kenan Stadium on Sept. 6 (8pm/ESPNews).

Overview: Much like North Carolina, San Diego State got off to a rough start in 2013 (going 0-3 to start the year). Third-year head coach Rocky Long’s team eventually rallied to finish with an 8-5 record (6-2 in the Mountain West) that included a 49-24 victory over Boise State in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Those eight wins and a bowl appearance don’t actually tell the entire story. The Aztecs won a whopping four games in overtime, and when you consider that they surrendered 40 points in four games, and at least 30 points in nine games, it is easy to see how this team could just have easily gone 5-8. Still, Long has gone 25-14 since he took over the program in 2011, and should have his players excited at the prospect of taking down an ACC team on the road.

On offense, this is a squad that, if nothing else, is balanced. The Aztecs don’t have a particular strength, but they did average a respectable 258.3 yards per game through the air (good for 38th in the country), while averaging 166.6 yards on the ground. Even though those numbers may not be elite, that fact that San Diego State averaged over 5.5 yards per play last season proves that they have more than one way to move the ball down the field. Gone is All-American running back Adam Muema, who made headlines in March when he skipped the NFL scouting combine because of a “vision from God” and then promptly went undrafted. The man that is going to fill that massive hole in the SDSU backfield will most likely be sophomore Donnel Pumphrey, who contributed 770 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his freshman campaign.

Entering 2013, Long wasn’t quite sure what he was going to get from the quarterback position. A year later, it appears that the head coach has his answer in the form of Quinn Kaehler. The former walk-on was inserted into the lineup in the second game of the season and never looked back. Kaehler became the ninth signal caller in school history to throw for 3,000 yards and added 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The issue is that, other than returning senior Ezell Ruffin (68 catches, 1,136 yards receiving), not a single player had more that 25 catches last year. With the departure of Muema, and defenses blanketing Ruffin, there will be more pressure than ever on the second-year starter to move the chains and score points through the air.

In today’s spread-centric, up–tempo era of college football, holding an opponent under 400 total yards is something of an accomplishment. In 2013, San Diego State surrendered an average of 386.2 yards per game. On the surface that might seem like a big number, but that number was actually the second-fewest yards per game allowed in the entire Big West. In a conference where more than half of the teams average more than 30 points per game on offense, it’s understandable that teams adopt a bend-but-not break philosophy. The Aztecs had significant troubles with the whole breaking part. Opponents combined to convert 41 out of 43 trips to the red zone (95.3 percent), which was easily the worst of any team in the league.

Replacing leading tackler Nat Berhe won’t be easy, but the return of stud linebacker Jake Fely (who played in just four games in 2013 because of a broken foot), should make the transition much easier to deal with. This defense will also have to contend with the loss of ball-hawking safety Eric Pinkins (6-foot-3, 215 lbs), who was second on the team with 75 total tackles. The question is whether this coaching staff can continue to get the most out of inexperienced players. As a former defensive coordinator, Long seems to be the right man for the job. Under Long, the Aztecs have improved in nearly every statistical category on defense each season (save for the red zone), and even though there are some gaps to fill, this unit could continue to improve with the proper guidance.

Quotables
“I think we've got good receivers. After losing three seniors, you'd think you would be nervous about it, but I think our receivers are going to be really good." – Long

"It's fun to go to overtime and we're kind of used to overtime anyway. If you count the spring game, I guess we set an NCAA record for number of overtime games in a season.” Long on his team’s penchant for going to overtime

Historical Outlook: This will be the first time that this program has played an ACC school since 1998. Ironically, the last time San Diego State did match up with an ACC school was against the Tar Heels in the Las Vegas Bowl, which UNC and won 20-13. Historically, the Aztecs have not faired well against the conference, composing a 3-6 record.

Notable Matchups: After playing North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the Aztecs will have to turn right around for another road matchup when they travel all the way to Corvallis, Ore. to face Oregon State. This will be the second year in a row those two squads have met, with the Beavers coming out on top in 2013 by a score of 34-30.

 

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