Unbeaten Aztecs welcome back Rocky Long in conference opener against New Mexico

by James Salazar, Contributor

Coming out of the bye week, the San Diego State Aztecs (4-0, 0-0 Mountain West Conference) look to remain undefeated as they welcome the University of New Mexico Lobos (2-3, 0-1 MWC) in their conference opener on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The Aztecs started their season 4-0 for only the second time in 40 years, but getting to 5-0 isn’t the only streak they are looking to extend. SDSU has emerged victorious in its last seven meetings with UNM dating back to 2009.

The Aztecs will welcome back a familiar face in Rocky Long — former SDSU head coach and current Lobos defensive coordinator — who, in his second year, has helped UNM transform their conference worst-ranked defense in 2019 to sixth in the Mountain West this year.

Under their first full year of the new coaching regime — headed by former SDSU assistant coach Danny Gonzales — the Lobos have already matched their last year’s win total, opening their season with two home wins against the Houston Baptist Huskies, 27-17, and the New Mexico State Aggies, 34-25. But, after three straight losses, the Lobos are looking to break two losing streaks this weekend.

Offense

The Lobos feature a balanced offensive attack with a 52% to 48% run-to-pass ratio. The unit is led by quarterback senior Terry Wilson Jr., a transfer from Kentucky who led the Wildcats to two bowl wins within three years. Wilson has spread the ball well, targeting a different receiver on all seven of his touchdown passes. The rushing attack is also generated by committee, with running backs freshman Aaron Dumas, senior Bobby Cole, and Wilson himself accounting for 26%, 31%, and 23% of the team’s runs respectively.

However, a balanced offense isn’t always indicative of an effective offense and the Lobos don’t have much offense to speak of. Their air and ground game ranks ninth and eighth respectively in the MWC, good for the second-worst and worst total offense in the conference in both yards and points. 

Defense

Through their first five games — in his first non-COVID racked year — Long has the Lobos allowing 26.8 points per game, which, in spite of being their best start since 2017, only ranks ninth in the conference.

Despite a mediocre-at-best scoring defense, they have shown sparks that they can be a disruptive unit in the passing game, running the same 3-3-5 defense Long perfected at SDSU. The flexibility of this defense allows the Lobos to be balanced in their fronts, stunts, and blitzes without having to change their personnel. 

They also employ a three-high safety look, which allows the defense to give the appearance of complexity while allowing UNM to simplify their coverage. The scheme is especially effective against the passing game — which has been on display throughout this year. The Lobos rank fourth in the MWC in total pass defense and second in interceptions. They frustrate opposing quarterbacks who average only a 51.3% completion percentage — a MWC-best.

One weakness of this defense is its inability to effectively slow down the run game — particularly between the tackles — against tight formations and heavier personnel. This was made obvious last week as Air Force blew them out 38-10 while playing smash-mouth football, running the ball 72 times for 441 yards with a Wishbone offense.

Concensus

While the Lobos seem to be on the upswing, they still have a lot of rebuilding to do. They are a team that is very limited offensively, lacks an offensive identity, and struggles to get into a rhythm. As long as the Scarlet and Black don’t sleep on the Lobos and stay disciplined in their assignments and preparation, SDSU’s number two ranked defense should fare well against a less than stellar New Mexico offense. On the other side of the ball, coaches Gonzales and Long will have to get their niceties out early because if SDSU stays true to form in the run game, it won’t be a happy homecoming for them or their defense.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email