New-look Aztecs look to get coach first victory

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

It’s amazing what a coaching change can do for the fans’ enthusiasm. During the offseason, the Aztecs dumped the underachieving Tom Craft in favor of Chuck Long, and the Aztec faithful rejoiced.Long’s arrival gave the folks in navy town a reason to be optimistic about 2006. His every move was a stroke of genius. The school even put him on the cover of its media guide. But that was then. This is now.Last weekend’s 14-0 defeat at the hands of Wisconsin brought a brutal end to Long’s honeymoon and forced SDSU fans to ask the same question that presents itself at the beginning of each and every season: Will this team ever have a breakout year?The Aztecs are coming off a season in which they finished 5-7 overall, and their 4-4 conference record was good enough for fourth in the Mountain West.With 14 returning starters, including a rapidly improving quarterback, 2006 was supposed to be the year that the Aztecs would finally start playing up to their potential. Two games into the season, however, SDSU has not lived up to the hype.The offense has struggled mightily to move the ball, and the defense has not been able to pick up the slack. And that rapidly improving QB? He’s been on his back since the opener against UTEP.Junior Kevin O’Connell, who won over the new coaching staff with an impressive performance in the spring, will likely be out for the season after suffering an injury in his first game of the season just moments after kickoff. In other words, the team’s most crucial position just became a major question mark.Whether or not the Aztecs are successful at moving the ball will depend largely on the proficiency of sophomore quarterback Darren Mougey, who made his first career start in last week’s game against the Badgers, completing 15 of 27 passes for 102 yards.That performance earned the underclassman a spot in the Aztec record books: Until last Saturday, no SDSU quarterback had completed more than 50 percent of his passes in his first start.Mougey is more mobile than O’Connell and has a knack for making plays with his feet. He led the Aztecs in rushing in their season opener, recording 13 carries for 41 yards and two of the team’s three touchdowns.The Utes will also need to keep an eye on junior tailback Lynell Hamilton who, when healthy, has shown enough talent to earn himself a spot on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to college football’s best running backs.The Aztecs’ lone proven commodity at receiver is Chaz Schilens, a 6-foot-4 junior who came on late last season, recording 24 catches in the final six games while playing opposite of the now-departed Jeff Webb.In spite of the team’s offensive woes, the Aztec defense has given fans a reason to be optimistic about tomorrow’s showdown with the Utes. SDSU brought back eight starters from last year, and held the Badgers scoreless until well into the second half of last week’s loss.Led by cornerback Donny Baker, who already has two interceptions on the season, the Aztecs boast one of the top secondaries in the conference. In four quarters of play, Wisconsin managed a paltry 85 yards through the air against Baker and Co. “Defensively, I thought we played well,” Long said. “We held a big Wisconsin team scoreless for the first half, and we played great pass coverage all day.”San Diego’s defense will also be formidable up front, where the Aztecs bring back three starters from one year ago. The most dangerous of the big uglies is junior end Antwan Applewhite, whose speed off the edge netted six sacks in 2005.”We’re excited for the challenge of Utah this week,” Long said. “This is a conference game, and we still have goals out there in front of us. It’s our conference opener at home, and I know our guys will be excited and revved up to play on Saturday night.”