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SDSU reacts to Las Vegas tragedy before game against UNLV

Senior+running+back+Rashaad+Penny+avoids+two+NIU+defenders+during+a+run+during+SDSU%27s+34-28+win+on+Sept.+30.
Senior running back Rashaad Penny avoids two NIU defenders during a run during SDSU's 34-28 win on Sept. 30.

Senior running back Rashaad Penny avoids two NIU defenders during a run during SDSU's 34-28 win on Sept. 30.

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Senior running back Rashaad Penny avoids two NIU defenders during a run during SDSU's 34-28 win on Sept. 30.

by Abraham Jewett, Assistant Sports Editor

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San Diego State football puts its undefeated record on the line on Saturday, Oct. 7, when it travels to Las Vegas to face University of Nevada, Las Vegas in a Mountain West Conference clash.

The Aztecs, ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25 for the second consecutive week, are 5-0 to start the year for the first time since 1975.

The game will be the first for UNLV since tragedy struck the city of Las Vegas on Oct. 1, when a mass shooter killed 58 concertgoers and wounded 489 more on the Las Vegas Strip. The shooting was the deadliest in United States history and makes the upcoming game about more than just football.

“Obviously it’s a much different week than is normal, tragedy that’s happened in Las Vegas has changed the feel of this game,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. “The game itself is important, but it’s not near as important as the other things that are going on.”

There will be a pregame tribute honoring the victims, and both teams will wear red ribbon decals on their helmets during the game, according to a press release from the UNLV Athletics Department.

The game will be played with heavy hearts on both sides, but players, such as SDSU senior wide receiver Quest Truxton, believe it is important to get back out on the field and play football.

“I think it kind of brings people together for the most part,” Truxton said. “I love playing the game and I think it’s a good escape for us to get away from a lot of things. It really does bring us all together.”

SDSU is coming off of a 34-28 home win against Northern Illinois University on Sept. 30, during which the Aztecs needed two fourth-quarter interceptions to escape with a victory.

Aztecs senior running back Rashaad Penny ran for 107 yards in the win, marking his fifth consecutive week with at least 100 yards rushing. Penny, who accounted for 160 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in SDSU’s 26-7 win over the Rebels last season, heads to Sam Boyd Stadium with 823 rushing and 1145 all-purpose yards this year, second most in the FBS in both categories.

Redshirt junior quarterback Christian Chapman will be  starting his 22nd straight game for SDSU. Chapman will face a UNLV defense which ranks near the bottom of the FBS in stopping the pass, allowing 297.5 yards per contest.

Long feels that his starting quarterback is not getting the credit he deserves as the leader and signal caller of the Aztecs offense.

“I think that (Chapman) got a wrap last year of being a game manager, whatever the hell that means,” Long said. “This year he’s a top notch quarterback and he’s not getting the credit he deserves.”

Chapman hasn’t thrown an interception since SDSU’s week one victory over UC Davis, and has thrown for six touchdowns in that span.

“If it looks like it’s a tough throw he doesn’t throw it, he runs with it a little bit more, he get’s hit a little bit more, but he doesn’t try to force a ball in there,” Long said. “Late in the game if we need it he’ll probably try to force something in there…  but as long as we’re in the lead or it’s a close game he’s not going to take the chance of turning it over.”

UNLV is 2-2 this season, coming off of a 41-13 home victory over San Jose State. The Rebels got off to a frustrating start to the year, losing 43-40 at home to Howard University, out of the FCS Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. UNLV has since gotten twice in the win column, and Long said the loss to Howard is not a reason for his team to overlook their upcoming opponent.

“There’s upsets every single week,” Long said. “There’s people that win games that aren’t supposed to and there’s people that lose games that aren’t supposed to.”

UNLV is led on offense by redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers, who is a legitimate passing and rushing threat.

“(Rogers) is 6-foot-5, he’s 230 pounds and he can run,” Aztecs defensive coordinator, Danny Gonzales, said. “He throws the ball, he has his reads, and if they’re not open he’s going to pull it down and try and run over somebody.”

This season, Rogers has thrown for 704 yards and four touchdowns and is second on the Rebels in rushing yards to junior running back Lexington Thomas, who has 571 yards and is averaging 142.75 yards per game, fourth best in the FBS. UNLV ranks sixth overall in the FBS with an average of 305.5 rushing yards per contest.

SDSU senior safety Trey Lomax, who ranks second on the team in tackles with 33, said the defense knows it has a tough task upcoming.

“Their running backs really good, they’re quick they’re fast… they’ve got some good weapons outside and their quarterback is pretty big,” Lomax said. “ If they get in their holes they bust them through.”

The Aztecs uncharacteristically struggled to move the ball on the ground against Northern Illinois, running for a combined 127 total yards, well below their season average of 227 yards coming into the game.

“We need to do our part on offense and get back to doing what we do best,” SDSU offensive coordinator Jeff Horton said.

SDSU was missing senior offensive lineman and team captain Antonio Rosales during the game, on account of an ankle injury. The status of Rosales, or “Chief” as he is referred to by his teammates, is still unknown for this weekend.

“We’ll have to see where he’s at,” Horton said, “see how he moves around during the week and make some decisions as we get later in the week.”

Freshman offensive lineman Dominic Gudino made his first start in place of Rosales. Strong safety play from junior Parker Baldwin and freshman Tariq Thompson has provided a strong back line for the SDSU defense.

Baldwin leads the team in tackles with 39, while Thompson is coming off a two-interception performance against Northern Illinois, his second and third of the season.

Thompson’s returned his first interception of the game for an 83-yard touchdown, the first of his career. The second, which came on the NIU 20-yard line with 1:42 left in the game, sealed the SDSU win.

SDSU will need to limit self-inflicted mistakes against UNLV.

Against Northern Illinois the Aztecs were called for 10 penalties, including one targeting foul and three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Gonzales attributed these to immaturity.

“We’re a very immature football team right now, which is disappointing,” Gonzales said. “We’ve got to teach those guys the situations. We want those guys to be on the edge, we want them to play aggressive and be fast and be violent and all that stuff, but it’s between the whistles.”

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