December 16, 2013 - 10:15 AM
Stefanie Loh covers San Diego State football for U-T San Diego. She agreed to field five questions concerning the Aztecs leading into Saturday's game against UB in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Here are her responses. You can get the story from the other side of the field this week by following Stefanie on Twitter @StefanieLoh.
1. The Aztecs rank last nationally in red zone defense and among the bottom 10 in turnover ratio. That hardly seems like a recipe for success. Yet they're 7-5 and have won seven of their last nine. How have they managed it?
SL: With late-game miracles. Somehow, this defense always seems to come up with the big plays when they need them most. It's logic-defying. Also, while they haven't stopped many teams IN the red zone, what they have managed to do in is force three-and-outs in critical situations, before the opponent can get to the red zone. The turnovers have hurt them this year, but the Aztecs have definitely shown that they can be tough to beat late in a close game.
2. The Famous Iaho Potato Bowl can't throw anything at Buffalo weather-wise that the Bulls haven't seen before. I'm guessing the same can't be said for SDSU. Do you envision the weather being a factor here?
SL: I think it's hard to say because the Aztecs haven't played in the cold very much this year. They did, however, prevail in the Air Force game, when it was about 50 degrees at kickoff, but dipped at least 10 degrees throughout the course of the game. Extreme cold might be rough though, especially if there's snow. The Aztecs haven't played in snow this season, so that might pose problems, especially on offense.
3. Running back Adam Muema's the primary back but freshman RB Donnel Pumphrey intrigues with his numbers -- a 6.1 average, 8 TDs. Has he been a surprise this year or did they come into the season expecting he could play a fairly significant role?
SL: Pumphrey has definitely been a surprise. They saw flashes of his ability in camp, but held back on naming a true No. 2 back until about three games into the season. However, with Adam Muema struggling with an ankle injury through the first quarter of the year, Pumphrey really came up big for the Aztecs when they needed him. Without him, they might have lost against New Mexico State and Air Force.
4. The Aztecs go 6-2 in conference yet just one player ended up first-team all-MW. Is it a matter of the sum being greater than the parts? And what's the lowdown on safety Nat Berhe, their first-team selection?
SL: Absolutely. I think the best thing about this team this year has been the fact that they work very well as a unit. On offense, Kaehler has proved very efficient at distributing the ball among a number of different receivers. On defense, the linebacking corps as a whole has been solid, especially when you consider that their star middle linebacker, Jake Fely, suffered a season-ending injury against New Mexico State. Then, about three quarters of the way in, SDSU lost nose tackle Sam Meredith to a torn labrum. The loss of two of their three defensive starters up the middle made Aztec safety Nat Berhe even more important. Berhe is a versatile, athletic defender who plays the hybrid linebacker/safety position that's unique to Rocky Long's defense. He can help in run support, blitz, or drop back to cover receivers, and he's had to really hold his own and help direct the defense this year.
5. Quarterback Quinn Kaehler has had his two roughest days of the season percentage-wise over the last three games. Is there anything to account for this slide? And is this basically a move-the-chains approach to the passing game?''
SL: The offensive line hasn't played very well in the last three games, and this has really hurt the Aztecs' rushing offense. They run a balanced offense but really rely on the run to open up the play action pass. That has limited Kaehler's effectiveness in the pass game. To answer the second question, yes, this is indeed a move-the-chains sort of pass game. The Aztecs use a lot of short and intermediate passes, and generally don't go for too many long bombs because Kaehler isn't the most strong-armed quarterback you'll ever meet.
-- Bob DiCesare