San Diego State Aztecs

RECENT HISTORY
Since the days of Don “Air” Coryell, San Diego State has had a plethora of great athletes pass through the program – many of the Junior College variety. Still, after the success of Coryell and his successor, the Aztecs have struggled for any kind of winning consistency. Even with the likes of RB legend Marshall Faulk in the early 90s and QB coaching guru Ted Tollner as Head Coach into the 00s.
 
Then came Brady Hoke with top notch coordinators, Al Borges on Offense and Rocky Long on Defense. Add in legend Brian Sipe as QB Coach and San Diego State’s fortunes turned around almost immediately. Four years later and they have now had 3 winning seasons in a row – the last 2 under Rocky Long, who took over after Hoke left for Michigan. Hoke brought in some big talent, but more than anything molded the pipeline of underrated talent that was already abundant in Southern California. Strong Defense and Offensive Balance with a pro style talent at the skill positions. 
 
COACHING
In spite of this recent success, turbulence may be around the bend. Long is a proven top notch head coach who gets the most out of his players. He’s also recognized as a Defensive genius. “But times, they are a changin.” Long’s ultra aggressive blitz packages and man coverage were innovative and on the cutting edge some 10-20 years ago. This is no longer true. The way to stop today’s spread Os is with “passive” aggressive zone blitzing and mixed coverages. Long’s super aggressive style will still work against some teams, but is too vulnerable to the deception, mix and variety of PS offenses.
 
On offense, Borges did a nice job implementing a Pro Power Running attack with West Coast passing spread schemes. Last year’s OC, Andy Ludwig actually played under and coached with Borges at Portland State. He continued the same type of schemes, but with even more power running and less imagination in the passing game. Hoke favored more passing in his offense than Long, who’s all about the power running to set up the pass. 
 
This year Bob Toledo takes over. Toledo was the head coach in the 90s at UCLA with Long as his DC. Toledo is another former “genius” and another West Coast passing spread guy. The difference with Toledo and Ludwig/Borges is Toledo’s offense is all about the pass setting up the run. The original concept of WC inventor Bill Walsh. Like Walsh, Toledo likes the mobile QB used for rollouts and to buy time in and out of the pocket (Think Cade McNown). Toledo was one of the ones that moved the WC Schemes into the modern age by implementing more wide screens and spread play designs. He also seems to have an obsession with play action.
 
The problem is that these schemes were innovative in the 90s. They are not now and are too pass heavy, lacking the variety and balance of the Power Spread. They even lack the balance of Ludwig’s power running mix or Borge’s  multiple looks and play designs. This may not sit well with Long, who was always a coach who like the run to set up the pass. Even Borges may have been a little too pass heavy for him, let alone Toledo. 
 
Even worse than bad concepts and schemes on a football team, is dissension amongst philosophies. Toledo let Long do his thing on Defense back at UCLA, but will Long do the same for Toledo? Possibly more important – is the good recruiting of Hoke and Long going to fit well into Toledo’s well oiled, but very fixed schemes?
 
OFFENSE
6 starters returning
SDST has a lot of important players returning. QB Adam Dingwell started the l/5 games last year, but he falls under that type of talent that may not fit Toledo’s scheme. He’s more of a tough running QB with some arm strength. I’m not sure reading defenses and a quick release in the passing game are his strengths.
 
The same is true with their Team MVP, RB Adam Muema. He is a pitbull. His strength is downhill running. I’m not sure he’s the guy that will flourish in Toledo’s pass first schemes.
Again with the Oline. Some real talent returning, led by LT Bryce Quigley, but they were recruited with a downhill running scheme in mind.
 
If this were a PS offense, then no big deal as the PS philosophy has great flexibility – inherent in the name itself. With Toledo’s offense, the flexibility is evident only after the proper talent is fitted into the wheel. Unfortunately, the talent that Hoke and Long have accumulated may be misplaced and subsequently wasted at times this year. 
 
DEFENSE
9 Starters Returning
With 9 returning starters this should be the best Defense in the MW, but sometimes the #s lie and this could be one of those times. 
 
With Long’s aggressive schemes, the CB position may be the most important and the 2 players lost to graduation are the 2 CBs and their defensive stopper of the last 3 years, Leon McFadden.  
 
Their entire front 7 returns led by manic MLB Jake Fely and very active Aztec (LB/DB) Nat Berhe. Largent at LB and Andrews and Pinkens at S are also top notch. Small, but active – a true Rocky Long athletic pressure Defense.
 
They will be good, no doubt, but I question when they go against PS Offenses. The aggressive tactics with inexperienced QBs may prove a nightmare. Especially if the Offense struggles early in the season.
 
SPECIAL TEAMS
Again, a lot of returning talent, but hidden issues. The one player not returning, reliable Kicker Chance Marden, may create a problem. The spring and summer report about the new kickers has not been close to good. Missed FGs would only exasperate any problems with the new Offense stalling on drives.
 
SCHEDULE
Tough early – at least 2 losses – but manageable after that. Weak enough that even with all the issues I talked about above, SDST should at least be able to make it to a 4th straight bowl. 
 
 

OUTLOOK

With their most returning starters since their epic year of 2010, SDST was poised for a great year under Long. In my mind, bringing in the smart, but now “old school” OC Bob Toledo, may prove disastrous. Changing philosophy with a talented senior laden team is not a good idea. Long’s “old school” defense was already starting to show cracks in the Hoke era. Add in the kicking issues and instead of a big year and their first bowl win since 2010, SDST may have trouble even getting to a Bowl game.
 
Still, Long has a proven track record and is a great teacher and leader. He will get the most out of his kids. I also don’t think he will let Toledo stray too far from the running game nor do I think there will be serious dissension between these two old friends.  Expect early season issues for sure, but after that the schedule is manageable. With the talent on hand and Long’s leadership, I do think that SDST will break .500 and make into Bowl Season. My bets are that they play a team using PS concepts in the Bowl Game and they lose their 3rd straight. 
Comments
  1. […] Bob Toledo’s offense is not good for Dingwell, who is somewhat a duel threat QB. He’s definitely not great reading […]

  2. […] For now. As I said in the 2013 Preview, the talented senior laden Aztecs would need time to adjust to new schemes on Offense. This […]

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