December 7, 2007

Long Optimistic as Aztecs Continue to Improve

By John Philip Wyllie

The good news is that the San Diego State Aztec Football Team improved upon its 2006 record this season and moved up in the Mountain West standings. The bad news is that even with that slight improvement they were just 4-8 overall and mired in sixth place in their conference and well out of any postseason consideration. Long suffering Aztec fans can barely remember the last time the Aztecs played in bowl game (1998). And it could be a while before Aztecs head coach Chuck Long has them ready to play in another one, but they are at least improving.

The Aztecs season came to a crashing halt last weekend when the Las Vegas Bowl bound BYU Cougars (10-2) buried them 48-27 before a stadium more blue than red. It was their youthful defense once again that did them in allowing large chunks of real estate to be gobbled up through the air and over, around and through their thin defensive wall. The offense, in posting 27 points acquitted itself well, but with a defense more porous than Swiss cheese the final outcome was never in doubt. The game was a fair representation of the season as a whole.

On offense, it was again the Kevin O’Connell Show. The Aztecs dual-threat quarterback demonstrated why he may be the best quarterback in the MWC and a good bet to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. The former La Costa Canyon star scored two rushing touchdowns and passed for another in his swan song for the red and black. O’Connell was not only the team’s leading passer this season but its leading ground gainer as well. His departure will leave a huge void to be filled.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone,” O’Connell said in the post-game interview. “I have said this before, but as far as a senior year goes, I could not have asked for a better situation around me or going for me with everyone who was involved. I went up to each player and made a point of saying thank you. I will look back hoping that I made an influence on one or two of them. When the program reaches its potential, I will have a smile on my face and sit back and enjoy it.”

Graduating along with him will be top receivers Chaz Schillens and Brett Swain, running backs Brandon Bornes and Lynell Hamilton and offensive tackles Will Robinson and Mike Kravetz. 23 seniors in all will be bidding farewell to Monte-zuma Mesa, so Long will have a major rebuilding job to do especially on offense.

On a more positive note, the defense will remain largely intact and with an additional year of experience it could improve somewhat, especially if some of its many young players continue to develop and they are joined by a good crop of junior college transfers and incoming freshman.

Next year’s schedule will be much more palatable as well. Instead of opening the season with the likes of Ohio State or Michigan as they have in recent years, they will play teams that are a little closer to their own level.

“The last three games have been a little rough, but I look back at the entire year and we have made great strides,” Long said. “We have to take those games and build on them. We have a lot of experienced players returning for next season and that is a good thing. They are all young and they will physically develop. They are certainly not the finished product. They have plenty of room to grow.”

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