Fresno State sits at 4-2 after winning its first three Mountain West games, including a 38-0 shutout of New Mexico. Next in line is San Diego State, which was undefeated before losing at home to Boise State last weekend. The Collegian spoke with Zachary Engberg, the sports editor at San Diego State’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec to discuss the upcoming game. Abraham Jewett, the assistant sports editor at The Daily Aztec, contributed to Engberg’s answers.
DG: San Diego State was undefeated and had a great first half of the season, including wins against Pac-12 schools Stanford and Arizona State. Game 7 rolls around against Boise State, and the Aztecs get killed at home 31-14. What happened?
ZE: I could take the easy way out and say it was a trap game, or that SDSU was too confident heading in, but in reality Boise State completely outmanned the Aztecs. The Broncos were bigger and stronger and played more like the King of Mountain West than the two-time defending conference champions. At the line of scrimmage, SDSU looked the part of a team starting four offensive linemen who had not started a game heading into the season. Rashaad Penny had 53 yards rushing, over 20 percent of which came on a 21-yard rush, his second carry of the game. If the Aztecs can’t run the ball well and control the pace of the game, they can’t win.
DG: Does the season feel lost now, in the sense that San Diego State’s chances of reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game are much lower than before?
ZE: In a lot of people’s eyes, yes. But that is an all-or-nothing attitude. Head coach Rocky Long says the same thing year after year – rarely ever do teams go undefeated. Some of the magic is certainly lost, as we saw in the closing moments of the Boise game, when fans began to file out of SDCCU Stadium. But the season is not lost. Hanging right outside the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, SDSU still has a shot at winning the Mountain West and landing a marquee bowl. It is a long shot, but if Stanford, Arizona State and Boise continue to win, and if USF, Memphis and UCF fall, the Aztecs could end up in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl. Not to mention Penny, still second in the FBS in all-purpose yards and the best football player at SDSU since Marshall Faulk.
DG: Coming off the loss, what is the feeling around the program with the chance to jump into a rivalry game with Fresno State?
ZE: Long as always preached a one game-at-a-time-attitude. The Aztecs are still having a great season, and moving onto a tough opponent like Fresno doesn’t give them a chance to dwell on the somewhat demoralizing loss. The goal of the season has always been to win a conference championship, and now the pressure is higher than ever to win this week.
DG: With the Chargers’ move to L.A., have the Aztecs gained any popularity being the highest level of football in town?
ZE: Absolutely. Even before the season started, the team adopted a “One City, One Team” slogan. The 49,023 fans in attendance for last week’s game against Boise was the school’s highest since a 2012 game against the University of Hawaii.
DG: How do you think the conference shapes up in the second half, and do you expect the Aztecs to win the championship?
ZE: The Aztecs have a great chance of winning the conference, but in order to get to the championship game, they need to first take care of business this week. A couple of potentially tough tests remain, including when it’s our turn to take on New Mexico in the last game of the season, but there is a legitimate shot for this team to run the table. Colorado State poses a threat to Boise in the Mountain Division, but there would be no sweeter revenge than getting a shot at a rematch against the Broncos on their turf in the championship game.
DG: Even though head coach Rocky Long is 67, if he leads San Diego State to its third-straight 11-win season, do you think he’ll entertain other job offers at bigger schools if they come calling?
ZE: Rocky has said nothing that would indicate this. He is a great coach and a proven winner. If he decided to move on to a bigger school, it would be a sad day for our program, but I would respect his decision and remain a supporter.
DG: San Diego State always seems to have a great running back, and Rashaad Penny is this year’s version. Is shutting him down the key to beating the Aztecs?
ZE: The Aztecs’ offense goes through Penny, and containing him would go a long way in helping the Bulldogs’ chances. He is a big part of this offense and team, but the Aztecs are far from one dimensional. Junior quarterback Christian Chapman has been solid this season under center, and can surprise some people with his arm.
DG: What is your game prediction?
ZE: The Aztecs will move on and avoid another letdown, taking care of business with a 24-10 victory. The Old Oil Can stays with SDSU.