Touted Aztex RB Ned Outplayed by Tate, Hunter

San Diego State running back Larry Ned came into Saturday’s game against the Utah football team as the second-leading runner in the nation.

But, in what was the final home game of their collegiate careers, U senior running backs Adam Tate and Dameon Hunter both proved superior to Ned, and provided the difference, as the lethargic Utes capped off an undefeated slate at Rice-Eccles Stadium with a 17-3 win over the Aztecs.

Nearly a third of the way through the fourth quarter, the Utes (7-2, 4-1 MWC) were holding a modest 10-3 advantage and facing a third and-2 from their own 27-yard line.

Tate, who has served as Hunter’s backup for most of the season, quickly ended any lingering thoughts of an upset SDSU (2-8, 1-5) might still have been harboring, though, when he burst off-tackle, scooted past the defensive backs and rumbled in the 73 yarder to give the Utes a two touchdown cushion.

“I followed the fullback, their safety missed, and I knew it would be at least a 50-yard run, though I didn’t know if I’d make it in or not,” Tate said. “At about the 10, a defensive back came in at my ankles, and I just ran through him and went right in.”

And while the play may have been just that simplistic to him, the rest of his team did not underestimate its impact on the final outcome.

“That was huge. We’d been running [that play] all game, and it hadn’t gone for much, but I could see Adam wanted the ball, so I thought we’d try it again,” said quarterback Lance Rice. “He took it so hard, he almost ripped my arm off, then he was gone. We really needed that extra score to seal the win for us.”

San Diego State coach Ted Tollner also called it the play that finally broke his scrappy team’s spirit.

“They have a very strong run game here at Utah, and they just wore our defense down. Mentally and psychologically, we were really worn down after that Tate run,” Tollner said.

That play alone accounted for exactly half of the 146 yards Tate picked up on just 16 carries. Meanwhile, his backfield mate Hunter picked up 88 yards of his own, on 22 carries.

Both wound up surpassing Ned, who, after a fast flurry to open the game, was hamstrung by an ankle injury and an increasingly tenacious Ute defense, and finished with just 79 yards on 22 carries, after coming in averaging 140 per game.

Ned had racked up 63 yards on the ground by halftime, but a subpar final 30 minutes proved the Utes’ assertion that if they contained the Aztec senior, they would wind up controlling the Aztecs collectively.

“He came out smoking, but then we started shutting him down, and after that, they started passing, they kind of went away from the game plan that was working, and that was it,” said U defensive tackle Garrett Smith. “We knew if they started to throw that they couldn’t beat us.”

Not that stopping Ned was exactly an easy feat.

He picked up 45 alone in the opening quarter before the U defenders decided to pick up the pace.

“On their first drive, he’d started getting underway, and a couple of times, he sprung through the line? We knew we just had to play more disciplined and a lot more intense,” said linebacker Sheldon Deckart, who totaled a team-high 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Ute coach Ron McBride was proud of his team’s effort against one of the elite runners in the nation.

“Our defense did a good job on him. They took the creases away. Everything he got, he had to earn,” McBride said.

After going 1-5 at Rice Eccles a year ago, the coach was equally proud of his seniors getting to cap off their home careers with a win and an undefeated mark.

“These kids have all done something great in their five years here,” McBride said. “It’s nice that they’ll have something positive to go out on.”

In the end, though, getting past the Aztecs was little more than a nagging trifle to be dealt with on the way to facing undefeated and top-10 ranked rival BYU next Saturday.

And now that the Utes don’t have to worry about overlooking anyone on their way to the big game, they felt confident about their chances against the Cougars.

In fact, the bragging was already going full-strength, as Ute senior safety Arnold Parker issued a warning to BYU quarterback (and Heisman candidate) Brandon Doman.

“What’s his name? ‘Domanator’? Well, he’s about to get dominated. We’ve got something for him,” Parker said.