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Aztecs Football Earns A Top-25 Ranking And Its ‘Rocky Week’

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Despite not having played a game this past weekend, there is a lot for SDSU football fans to be excited about coming into this Monday, 4th of October. For starters your Aztecs football team has now earned themselves a 25th National ranking according to the most recent Associated Press Top 25 Poll. With this 4-0 start, the Aztecs unblemished record was looked upon favorably by the voters along with the fact several previous top 25 teams lost this past weekend.

The most notable teams that the Aztecs find themselves looking down on from their 25 spot are Clemson, Texas A&M, UCLA, Mississippi State and Baylor. For a team like the Aztecs to move up so high with their last game being against an FCS opponent two weeks ago, and being further separated with a bye week, this truly speaks volumes to the consistency of the Aztecs’ success that spans over the last decade.

Just last week SDSU had 57 points among the AP voters respectively. This week their point total shot up to 111. This was relieving news for the Mountain West conference as the other two top teams of the league, both Fresno State and Boise State, lost in upset fashion. The only other team from the conference to receive votes is Fresno State with 5.

The Bulldogs don’t figure to advance after this coming bye week, and then must travel to elevation for a matchup against the currently undefeated Wyoming Cowboys. Fresno is definitely hoping their starting quarterback Jake Haener can heal up from a bruising start of the season. If he can’t and the Bulldogs continue to have a porous offensive line play, it may not be the kind of finish that all the Valley was hyped up for.

As for our friends in Potato Country–the Boise State Broncos have struggled in first year head coach Andy Avalos’ debut. Sitting at just 2-3 this early in October is not a good sign moving forward. With the Broncos only wins coming against UTEP and Utah State in dominating fashion, the more quality teams on their schedule (UCF, OK State) have given the blue all they can handle.

But shockingly, after getting dominated at home this past week at the hands of Nevada for the first time in over 20 years, the rest of the season is looking mighty grim. This Saturday presents a big opportunity to get back on track. But its also a daunting challenge as Boise heads to Provo to take on BYU the #10 team in the nation. Looking further ahead are two other road matchups at the already mentioned Fresno State and an end of the year Black Friday game against our San Diego State Aztecs.

Rocky Week

This Saturdays matchup between San Diego State and New Mexico feature the two pillars responsible for this Aztecs consistency of success—Brady Hoke and Rocky Long. Of course Rocky is in a defensive coordinator position only—but the New Mexico head coach Danny Gonzales is no stranger to SDSU. Gonzales was key as a young defensive protege to coach Long even before his time here in San Diego on ‘the Mesa’.

The game can be watched live at 6pm PST on FS1 (Fox Sports Channel) and listened to on XTRA Sports AM 1360 for those who prefer the voice of good ol Uncle Teddy.

The line has been set for SDSU at a -19, (19 point favorites) and the Over/Under is set at 44.5. New Mexico is coming off a smackdown at the hands of the Air Force academy 38-10 and are now 2-3 to start the season. Historically SDSU holds a 27-15 advantage in the series with the bulk of the Aztecs losses coming at the hands of Rocky Long while being the badass coach he was for the Lobos all through out the early 2000’s.

SDSU is building excitement at 4-0 and now having the top25 ranking is something San Diego can get behind despite the team performing in Carson, California all season long. However this game vs New Mexico has been one of anticipation for the fanbase ever since the schedule was released. With the COVID-19 virus interrupting all of our lives the past two years, it feels like ancient history when Rocky decided to end his time in San Diego as the head coach and reassess his career options.

It wasn’t lost on Brady Hoke that he could try and keep Rocky in San Diego as his defensive coordinator–and did he ever try. But the New Mexico lifestyle and the chance to go back to his alma mater at UNM with Coach Gonzales as the head coach–relieving coach Long of the daily pressures–was a very tough arrangement to turn down. To get a more in depth background and understanding of Coach Rocky, you can watch and listen to a great interview below with JC Lopez of LoboChat.com.

Allow us to put into perspective for you, Coach Rocky Long’s tenure here at San Diego State. Long, in all his nine years as the leader of the Aztecs:

• Guided SDSU to an 81-38 record (.681)

• Led SDSU to three Mountain West titles (2012, 2015, 2016)

• Led the football program to an unprecedented 9 straight bowl appearances 

These three stats represent so much, but don’t tell half of what Coach Long instilled or meant to the Aztecs faithful. In terms of SDSU coaches all-time, the 81 wins is second only the legendary Don Coryell (104). Rocky’s winning percentage (.681) is third behind Claude Gilbert (.697) and Don Coryell (.840). And the bowl appearances (which granted was a completely different animal back during the years of Coryell and Gilbert) stand to be something that sets Rocky apart for the ages in the Aztecs history books.

For a larger scope of Rocky’s tenure in the Mountain West, with his complete head coaching record at UNM and SDSU, he retired as the most winningest head coach in Mountain West history.

As for the specifics of what Rocky meant to the foundations of Aztecs football, it has to start with the defense. Rocky is a tactical master on the defensive side. His 3-3-5 stack defense is a trademark style all his own and something he made UNM famous for during his time there. But the Lobo fans quickly realized it was in the man and not the school that made their football program ‘go’. The Lobos suffered badly without Rocky there at the helm. That was a decision that the Aztecs were not going to make.

With all of the Rocky love in this article, let’s not sell our own coach short on his merit. It was the shared friendship that allowed Brady and Rocky to come to San Diego in the first place. The wisdom that Brady possesses set the stage for that defense to thrive. And it was the strong humility that is such a part of Rocky’s nature that he was humble enough to step in and not have to be ‘the man’.

The wisest move Brady could have made during this transition from Rocky was to maintain the 3-3-5 as the base defensive scheme. Keeping the formula that the current players have worked so hard to grasp is paying off big dividends with this senior heavy defense. The hours upon hours working through the intricacies of the scheme is a part of this current Aztecs football culture. That is known as a legacy and is something Coach Gonzalez is trying to rebuild there in Albuquerque.

To maintain that legacy here on the Mesa, coach Kurt Mattix has done a fine job so far in carrying that mantle.

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But defense aside, to us here at Sons of Montezuma it was the offense that many times spoke volumes about Rocky. The two coaches Rocky and Brady share a lot more than just the defensive philosophy. Both love to control the clock and aid their defenses with tough, hard nose, punishing running attacks. It was no surprise that Rocky seemingly did not want to veer away from the ground & pound style that the Aztecs offense similarly came to establish as a trademark.

With record breaking backs from Ronnie Hillman, Adam Muema, Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny Rocky gave then offensive play caller Jef Horton the green light to run run run and run again. But it was in the moments that Rocky allowed himself to roll the dice that really turned the heat up.

One of our favorite Rocky moments comes back in 2012, with a season hanging in the balance, with a backup quarterback, on the road, that Rocky would make the decision to go for the two point conversion in overtime against a dangerous Nevada Wolfpack team. The old gunslinger made the decision and let the guys play up to the moment.

This back and forth with then Aztecs reporter Stefanie Loh was a classic, candid Rocky postgame interview—complete with generator sound efx.

For this weekends game against New Mexico the Lobos present an interesting challenge with a Rocky Long coached defense, and we are eagerly anticipating what the old ball coach will throw at our Aztecs offense.

Unfortunately for Gonzales, Rocky and the Lobos, they are currently not having much of a season to feel good about. After jumping out to a 2-0 start with wins over Houston Baptist and in state rival New Mexico State, the Lobos have lost 3 straight to Texas A&M, UTEP and last weekend to Air Force 38-10. The lobos rank next to last in the Mountain West conference in terms of total offense and rank near the middle in total defense.

Statistically ranking between the two, SDSU averages 254.8 rushing yards per game for second place in conference next to Air Force. Comparatively New Mexico averages 113.2 yards per game on the ground for an 8th place.

Rushing defense also give the Aztecs the overwhelming advantage as they are the #1 spot only allowing a mind-boggling 46 yards per game. New Mexico sits at the #6 sport allowing 142 yards per game.

Numbers aside this is a game the Aztecs should win. But no doubt the Lobos will come into Carson with nothing to lose and a lot to prove as they try to make their coaches proud. Though all of Aztecs Nation will do our best to show the appreciation that Rocky deserves, there is much more for SDSU to play for with the stage set for big season. We side with The Show on this one and predict a tough earned eventual route when the game clock strikes 0:00.

No matter what happens as a result of this game, nothing can give or take away all of Aztecs Nation feels about Rocky or what he did for all of San Diego football. We owe that man a ton of gratitude for building our Aztecs teams in the mold for long term success. Rocky built Aztecs football in his own image, tough, in your face, and never soft. His character cut through to the youngest fans as part of The Show, to the most senior of us Sons of Montezuma.

“I always felt comfortable asking him questions about anything. Rocky spoke right to his truth–No BS. He showed up at events and would have a beer with you. How many coaches lived in OB? How many coaches give their bonuses to their assistants? He was a down to earth man of the people.”
– Long time Aztecs supporter and our Sons of Montezuma pal, Bob Long (no relation to coach)

Sons of Montezuma Prediction…
Aztecs 41
Lobos 17

Be sure to listen to the soon upcoming Sons of Montezuma Podcast for our ‘ROCKY WEEK’ episode! Get caught up on all our episodes here on the website or subscribe on Spotify, the iHeart app, or apple podcast.

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