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September 23, 2006

Utah vs. San Diego St

The Utes are looking to avenge a stunning homecoming loss to SDSU last year, as they travel to San Diego for what will almost certainly be the biggest crowd of the season for the Aztecs. Why? It's not because the faithful anticipate the Utes (they barely showed up to see the undefeated team in '04), but because they enjoy seeing old Russians fly MiGs after the game. The KGB SkyShow is an annual event of pyrotechnics, and the Utes are the team that will be in town when it happens this year. That means a crowd of over 50,000 will be on hand, something the Utes have had trouble with outside of Provo in the past. However, being that the majority at Qualcomm will be there for the fireworks, if the U can get out to a quick start they should be able to quiet everyone down for the rest of the game.

The Utes will likely be without the services of starting tailback Mike Liti again. The junior continues to suffer from bruised ribs. Luckily, the Utes will probably be ok with whoever they decide to trot out at running back. SDSU has been rotten at stopping the run, giving up 162.5 yards per game on the ground. They rank last in the MWC and 91st in the nation. In addition, the Utes had the luxury of playing four running backs at Utah State last week, with each showing he can pick up yardage. Darryl Poston will get the start, but Darrell Mack is coming on strong along with RJ Stanford and Ray Stowers. The coaches probably won't sub as liberally on the road against a conference opponent, so look for Poston and Mack to get a pretty even split of the carries.

Utah and San Diego State have met 25 times and are dead even, at 12-12-1. So who are these guys the Utes are battling for 13 victory bragging rights? Lets take a peek.

The Aztecs

SDSU is 0-2, having dropped close games to two solid opponents. In the first game of the Chuck Long era, the Aztecs battled back from a 27-3 third quarter deficit to lose by seven against visiting UTEP. SDSU outgained the Miners 384-243, but dug themselves into too deep a hole early. After a bye, the team lost at Camp Randall to Wisconsin 14-0. Neither offense could get on track in that game, but the Badger running game eventually wore down the Aztecs. Long, Tommy Grady's former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, is trying to get some wins out of the talented Aztec lineup, something Tom Craft could never do.

San Diego State Offense

The bad news for the Utes is that Aztec quarterback Kevin O'Connell threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in SDSU's win at Rice Eccles last season. The good news (from a football standpoint) is that O'Connell is out for another month after suffering ligament damage in his thumb during SDSU's season-opening loss to UTEP. Sophomore Darren Mougey (Rivals.com 3-star, class of '04) is the fill-in. After a good game against the Miners in which he led the team to four scores in five series, he came back to earth against Wisconsin, completing 15-of-27 passes for 102 yards, with no interceptions. He has quick feet and he showed them off against UTEP, running for two touchdowns.

Running back should be a strength for SDSU, but so far Lynell Hamilton has failed to generate any sort of running game. The junior is healthy again two years after a nasty break in his leg, but has thus far only rushed for 59 yards on 31 carries, an average of 1.9 per. He is, however, a threat to make a reception. He is tied for the team lead with six catches.

Every year the Aztecs have a gamebreaking wideout, and now that Jeff Webb is gone, that mantle falls to junior Chaz Schilens. He has the size (6-fot-4, 220-pounds) to take over, but with the quarterback uncertainty, he so far has been pretty quiet. He has only six catches, but could see success against the smallish Ute secondary. The receiving core isn't especially deep, with expected contributors Roberto Wallace and DeMarco Sampson both out for the season with leg injuries.

San Diego State Defense/ Special teams

As long as the Utes can run the ball, they should be alright. But if forced to go to the pass too much, Brett Ratliff could have a tough time. UTEP QB Jordan Palmer (Carson's brother) was picked off four times against the Aztecs. John Stocco and the Badgers only threw for 85 yards, but that's to be expected from Wisconsin.

Senior corner Donnie Baker has two interceptions. He's one of the fast, small (5-foot-9, 165-pounds) types. The best defensive back the Aztecs have is senior safety Reggie Grigsby, who is still not fully recovered from a broken leg in fall camp. He registered four tackles against Wisconsin, and 57 last season.

Former walkon Joe Martin is the best of the linebackers, having made captain for his final year. He had 81 tackles last season, averaging nearly nine per game. He's not Kirk Morrison, but he's good enough.

Junior DE Antwan Applewhite is probably the biggest playmaker on defense. In '05 he amassed 5.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and 8.5 tackles for loss. He was the only Aztec to be chosen to the preseason All-MWC team.

Garrett Palmer is a solid kicker. He was honorable-mention All-MWC last year, converting 15-of-17 field goals. Fellow junior Michael Hughes was second team All-MWC in punting in 2005, having averaged 44.8 yards per kick.


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