San Diego State has consistently been one of the Mountain West’s top teams under head coach Rocky Long and is coming off of back-to-back conference titles. The Aztecs will remain a threat once again, but will look different after the departure of the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher although they will be replacing him with another 1,000-yard back. San Diego State also has developed a reputation as a defense that makes the most of an opponent’s mistakes. Even though some key players have to be replaced, the Aztecs’ recipe for success remains and should continue to produce plenty of wins.
Previewing San Diego State Football’s Offense for 2017
San Diego State prides itself on its rushing accomplishments, and one of its tasks is to replace NCAA all-time leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey (6,405 yards). Yet the chore might not be as difficult as it seems with senior Rashaad Penny ready to build on his own spectacular campaign.
The Aztecs were the first team in NCAA history to feature both a 2,000-yard rusher (Pumphrey, 2,133) and 1,000-yard rusher (Penny, 1,018) in the same season and set a school mark with 3,680 rushing yards. Penny posted an electrifying 7.5 average, and coach Rocky Long asserts that Penny will get 25-plus carries per game this season. That workload would provide Penny with the chance of putting up big numbers. “It’s a big step for me,” Penny says. “I know everybody’s wondering what’s going to happen to us with (Pumphrey) gone.”
The passing game doesn’t scare anyone, but quarterback Christian Chapman tossed 20 scoring passes despite throwing for just 1,994 yards. The junior also avoids mistakes and threw just six interceptions.
Chapman had surgery on his passing thumb after being injured in the Las Vegas Bowl victory over Houston but will be ready for fall camp. Rutgers transfer Chris Laviano arrives in the summer and will initially compete with sophomore Ryan Agnew for the backup spot.
Senior Mikah Holder is the team’s top wideout and averaged 21.5 yards with five touchdowns on 27 receptions last season. Senior tight end David Wells (25 catches) is also solid, while senior right guard Antonio Rosales is the standout of a young but promising offensive line.
Previewing San Diego State Football’s Defense for 2017
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An opportunistic nature has been a staple of the Aztecs under Long. The team has intercepted the most passes (49) in the nation over the past two seasons. Senior Kameron Kelly nabbed five last season and has moved to cornerback from safety now that school career interceptions leader Damontae Kazee (17) is off to the NFL.
Sophomore Ron Smith is a budding standout after returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns last season, while junior Parker Baldwin is the most productive back-end performer in the team’s three-safety alignment.
Junior outside linebacker Ronley Lakalaka was second with 73 tackles last season and also returned an interception for a touchdown. Senior Ryan Dunn moves from the middle to the flank, and the coaches believe that the move will increase his production. The defensive line has holes, but senior end Dakota Turner and junior end Noble Hall have been key contributors.
Previewing San Diego State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Penny has five career kickoff returns for touchdowns and averaged a scintillating 31.2 yards per return last season. He will likely receive fewer opportunities now that he is the starting running back, and that will provide sophomore Juwan Washington more chances. Junior placekicker John Baron II was outstanding in 2016 and set school records for field goals (21) and field goal percentage (91.3).
San Diego State went 16–2 against conference foes while winning back-to-back Mountain West titles and expects to compete for a third. The Aztecs have won 11 games just four times in school history, with two of those seasons coming in the past two years. Long has established San Diego State as a sturdy program that can prevail at a level higher than the collective talent. The formula of physically running the ball with an opportunistic defensive assault wears down opponents and has helped lead to a school-record seven consecutive bowl appearances. The Aztecs routed Cincinnati and Houston by a combined 76–17 in their past two bowl games and should be one of the top non-Power 5 teams in the nation this season.
National Ranking: 61
MW West Prediction: 1
(Rashaad Penny photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)