MW Notebook: Aztecs roar into favorite role

The Sports Xchange

October 25, 2015 at 11:28 pm.

Oct 23, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey (19) carries the ball to score a touchdown during the second quarter against the Utah State Aggies at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 23, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey (19) carries the ball to score a touchdown during the second quarter against the Utah State Aggies at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State routed Utah State 48-14 on Friday in a matchup of the Mountain West’s division leaders.

After a shaky start to the season, caused largely by turnovers, the Aztecs have won their first four Mountain West games in true Rocky Long style.

San Diego State threw just 10 passes against Utah State and has thrown a total of 51 in Mountain West play. Meanwhile, the Aztecs have rushed for 1,092 yards on 226 carries in those games.

The ball-control offense is supported by a ferocious defense that embarrassed Fresno State, stifled San Jose State tailback Tyler Ervin and shut down the same Utah State offense that torched Boise State a week earlier.

“We do some very complicated things on defense, much more so than other college defenses,” Long told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Aztecs are in the driver’s seat in the West Division with a two-game lead. The question now is whether they’ll get to host the championship game even if they go 8-0 in conference play. The game is awarded to the division champ with the highest ranking and the computers currently favor Boise State and Utah State out of the Mountain Division.

AIR FORCE (4-3, 3-1)

Game: Air Force 42, Fresno State 14. Quarterback Karson Roberts rushed for four touchdowns and caught a pass for a fifth score — tying for the second-most touchdowns in a game in school history. Wide receiver Jalen Robinette made highlight reels with his spin move to avoid a tackler and jump pass to Roberts for a 20-yard TD.

Takeaway: The Falcons were shorthanded at fullback, so Roberts became their best goal-line option. He scored on three 1-yard runs and a 6-yard run. Given its recent injury problems at the QB position, that’s got to be a little scary for Air Force coaches.

Next: at Hawaii, Oct. 31

BOISE STATE (6-2, 3-1)

Game: Boise State 34, Wyoming 14. Sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols handled a school-record 40 touches a week after missing a game with a concussion. He contributed a career-high 166 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards with two touchdowns. He has 16 touchdowns this season, second-most in the nation, including at least two in every game in which he has appeared. QB Brett Rypien added three touchdown passes, with two to junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck.

Takeaway: McNichols is the Broncos’ offensive MVP — not only for what he does as a runner, but for his receiving and blocking. The offense dearly missed him against Utah State. Offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz called McNichols a “security blanket.”

Next: at UNLV, Oct. 31


Game: Idle.

Next: vs. San Diego State, Oct. 31

FRESNO STATE (2-6, 1-4)

Game: Air Force 42, Fresno State 14. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 14-0 lead with two long touchdown runs (64 and 60 yards), then got blitzed by the Falcons. Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts scored four rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. Fresno State’s offense managed just 77 yards after the first quarter.

Takeaway: The Bulldogs generated 234 yards and 14 points in the first quarter but couldn’t sustain their attack. Quarterback Kilton Anderson said his team might have become “a little complacent” after the early scores. They get a much-needed bye to try to regroup.

Next: vs. Nevada, Nov. 5

HAWAII (2-6, 0-4)

Game: Nevada 30, Hawaii 20. The Wolf Pack rallied with a 17-point fourth quarter to edge the Rainbow Warriors. James Butler rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns for Nevada. Hawaii led 17-0 in the second quarter but couldn’t finish in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.

Takeaway: The Warriors seemed like a team that might make a run in the West Division this year. Instead, after squandering fourth quarter leads in back-to-back games, they are on the verge of elimination from bowl contention.

Next: vs. Air Force, Oct. 31

NEVADA (4-4, 2-2)

Game: Nevada 30, Hawaii 20. The Wolf Pack fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter but rallied behind James Butler’s 134 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Pack closed out the win with 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: A week after inexplicably losing at Wyoming, Nevada revived its bowl hopes with the comeback win against Hawaii. The Pack likely need to win their next two games — at Fresno State, vs. San Jose State — to get to six wins because the final two games are at Utah State and San Diego State.

Next: at Fresno State, Nov. 5

NEW MEXICO (4-4, 2-2)

Game: San Jose State 31, New Mexico 21. The Lobos built a 14-7 lead in the first half, thanks in part to Teriyon Gipson’s 79-yard touchdown run, but couldn’t stop San Jose State tailback Tyler Ervin, who rushed for 263 yards. Former backup quarterback Austin Apodaca was just 8-of-20 for 130 yards and an interception for the Lobos.

Takeaway: Apodaca got his chance to run the Lobos’ offense and it didn’t go well. The Lobos were 2-for-9 on third down and Apodaca completed less than half of his passes.

Next: vs. Utah State, Nov. 7

SAN DIEGO STATE (5-3, 4-0)

Game: San Diego State 48, Utah State 14. The Aztecs dominated the showdown of Mountain West division leaders from start to finish. Donnel Pumphrey rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns as the Aztecs’ physical rushing attack overcame the Aggies’ stout defense. Utah State, which benefited from eight takeaways in a stunning blowout win over Boise State the week before, committed four turnovers this time.

Takeaway: Nobody would want to take on the Aztecs right now. Rocky Long’s squad is playing shutdown defense and holding onto the ball with a powerful rushing attack that sends opponents home battered. SDSU threw 10 passes against Utah State and ran the ball 61 times. Utah State only ran 56 total plays.

Next: at Colorado State, Oct. 31

SAN JOSE STATE (4-4, 3-2)

Game: San Jose State 31, New Mexico 21. Tailback Tyler Ervin rushed for 263 yards — his second game with more than 250 yards this season. He topped 1,000 yards for the season, too. Quarterback Kenny Potter added three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) as the Spartans outgained the Lobos 498-335.

Takeaway: San Jose State recovered from an offensive no-show a week earlier against San Diego State to grab a much-needed win. They still need to win two of their last four to reach a bowl game — a challenge considering the home games are against BYU and Boise State.

Next: vs. BYU, Nov. 6

UNLV (2-5, 1-2)

Game: Idle.

Next: vs. Boise State, Oct. 31

UTAH STATE (4-3, 3-1)

Game: San Diego State 48, Utah State 14. The Aggies experienced the flip side of their signature win the week before against Boise State. San Diego State jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and Utah State committed four turnovers. Against Boise State, the Aggies benefited from eight takeaways. Quarterback Kent Myers absorbed his second loss as a starter with just 93 passing yards.

Takeaway: The Aggies showed they couldn’t handle the success of beating the Broncos. They were on full rest, going Friday to Friday, but didn’t seem to have the same energy as the Aztecs. They certainly didn’t execute.

Next: vs. Wyoming, Oct. 30

WYOMING (1-7, 1-3)

Game: Boise State 34, Wyoming 14. The Cowboys didn’t have the defensive muscle or offensive firepower to compete with the Broncos in Boise. The Broncos led 17-0 after the first quarter and never were threatened. The Cowboys scored two touchdowns — the first offensive touchdowns scored by an opponent at Albertsons Stadium this season — but finished with 233 yards. Starting quarterback Cameron Coffman left with a right shoulder injury that could sideline him for a while.

Takeaway: The Cowboys were coming off their first win of the season but seem to have hit a string of bad luck. Coffman’s shoulder injury was a big blow — he was leading the conference in pass efficiency — and now the Cowboys must play another angry team (Utah State) on the road on a short week.

Next: at Utah State, Oct. 30


1. San Diego State is the latest “it” team. League favorite Boise State got blown out by Utah State, which promptly got blown out by San Diego State the next week. Now the Aztecs are the favorites.

2. Boise State remains a threat. The Broncos are tied with Utah State in the Mountain Division. All they need is one loss by the Aggies to regain control of the division — and there’s a good chance the championship game would be played on the blue turf.

3. Tyler Ervin is a breakout star. The San Jose State tailback ranks second in the nation with 1,159 rushing yards this season. He averages 6 yards per carry. His 263-yard outing against New Mexico came after two straight difficult games for him.

4. Bowl eligibility is tough to come by in the Mountain West. Boise State is there, San Diego State, Utah State and Air Force likely will get there and Colorado State should. But it’s not out of the question that the other seven teams will come up short, with the San Jose State-Nevada winner holding the most hope.

5. Kilton Anderson may have been the fourth choice at quarterback for Fresno State but the redshirt freshman seems to be giving the Bulldogs a lift. Coaches now get an extra week to build around him before the Nov. 5 game against Nevada.