Long concerned about bye week layoff heading into Wyoming game

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Long concerned about bye week layoff heading into Wyoming game

by Anthony Reclusado, Senior Staff Writer

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The undermanned and underarmed cowboys head into enemy territory and take on the powerful Native Americans who have defeated all who have faced them.

What sounds like a plot script taken right out of an Old Western movie will play out Saturday as the San Diego State Aztecs play host to the visiting University of Wyoming Cowboys for homecoming weekend.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys (1-9, 1-5 Mountain West) a happy ending with a successful ride into the San Diego sunset will be a tall order, as they take on an Aztec team (6-3, 5-0 MW) riding a five-game winning streak.

However, the Cowboys are catching the Aztecs with the bright rays of that San Diego sun in their face as SDSU is coming off its bye week. Head coach Rocky Long is 1-6 with the Aztecs after bye weeks.

“I think when you go into a bye and you’re on a winning streak, there are unique problems,” Long said. “Obviously, you’d like to keep playing because everything is going right and practice is going smoothly. When you go a long time without playing, it’s like starting all over again. It’s like you’re playing the first game of the year. You’ve practiced and know what you needed to do because you’ve done it before but game speed is a completely different thing than practice speed.”

Coincidentally, that lone win for Long after a bye was the last matchup between these two opponents with SDSU topping Wyoming 42-28 in 2012.

Nevertheless, this game will feature two of the top running backs in the country: Cowboys sophomore Brian Hill and Aztecs junior Donnel Pumphrey, the No. 2 and the No. 16 leading rushers in the country, respectively.

“(There’s) two things (that stand out),” Long said. “(Hill’s) very patient with the ball. Once he sees the hole, he can accelerate through it. Mostly he breaks a ton of tackles.”

Wyoming will also return its starting quarterback, senior Cameron Coffman, from an injured throwing shoulder suffered against Boise State. When healthy, Coffman has statistically been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference with 15 touchdown passes and a 65.8-percent completion rate in seven games.

“(Coffman’s) a good passer,” SDSU junior safety Malik Smith said. “We’ve seen him on film make a couple of audibles at the line, so he understands the game. He reads defenses pretty well and he’s a pretty good quarterback, so he can do it all.”

That is where the positives end for the Cowboys as a young, immature defense has been at the crux of Wyoming’s struggles.

With six starters that are sophomores or younger and the entire backup defensive line made up of underclassmen, it is no surprise this unit has gone through growing pains.

Wyoming will have its hands full as it tries to contain an Aztec offense that has averaged 273.6 rushing yards per game in conference play. The Cowboys’ defense has allowed 222.6 rushing yards per game.

Aside from the porous rushing defense and allowing 37 points per game on the road, it has been the inability to create turnovers that has tormented this Wyoming team.

In 10 games the Cowboy defense has only produced seven turnovers — four interceptions and three fumbles — whereas the Aztec defense has forced eight in the last two games and 21 overall.

This Aztec team has also been careful with the ball offensively, with only nine turnovers in as many games and zero in the last three games.

“Turnover margin is crucial and it’s been crucial the last several games,” graduate transfer quarterback Maxwell Smith.

This game also has postseason implications for the Aztecs, as a win will make them bowl eligible with six wins against qualified teams. The University of San Diego does not give scholarships, therefore the win did not count toward eligibility.

A win and a University of Nevada loss to San Jose State would also secure the MW West Division for SDSU, its first since the conference split into two divisions in 2012.

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