Talk about a tale of two seasons.
Just when media and fans alike had written off the San Diego State football team, the Aztecs have emerged into the Mountain West Conference title hunt thanks to an early undefeated conference record.
Following a school-worst 0-5 start, head coach Tom Craft’s Aztecs stood at the bottom of the conference and seemed lifeless. But an impressive 36-17 home victory over Utah, followed by a gritty 24-20 road win against Wyoming in Laramie left San Diego State at 2-0 in conference and tied atop the Mountain West standings with Air Force and CSU. The Aztecs will play UNLV on Saturday.
“I think what’s happening is we’re starting to come together as a team,” SDSU defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer told the San Diego Union Tribune. “The effort has always been there, but now we’re making the big plays instead of giving them up.”
One of the biggest playmakers for the Aztecs this season has been wide receiver J.R. Tolver. The senior from San Diego caught career pass No. 198 on Saturday against the Cowboys, moving him one ahead of Will Blackwell (1994-96) on the school’s all-time list.
On the season, Tolver has put up monster numbers, hauling in 70 catches for 1,065 yards, the highest total in the nation. His performance against Wyoming (7 catches, 133 yards) earned him MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Tolver said his main focus is on helping his team improve.
“I told Coach Craft, ‘If you need a big play, call my number.’ I want nothing more than to help this team win games,” Tolver said. “(Quarterback) Adam (Hall) threw great balls, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make those plays.”
Hall has enjoyed a standout season as well. The junior from Austin, Tex., leads the Mountain West in passing with 2,433 yards and passes most of the credit to his receivers.
“I have the best receivers in the country,” Hall said. “That’s the way I feel – they’re my guys.”
Craft said he believes his receivers will garner a spot on the national picture if the Aztecs keep up their winning ways.
“They’re going to receive attention when we’re winning,” Craft said. “They’ve put in a lot of work learning a new system with eight new starters on offense. To do what they’re doing is pretty phenomenal.”
The Rest of the West:
Air Force: Despite dropping a tight, nationally-televised decision to Notre Dame, 21-14, the Falcons still lead the nation in rushing with a 305.6 yards per game average. The Falcons also lead the MWC in scoring offense, averaging 36.7 points per game and also scoring defense, allowing 16.9 points per game. They take on Wyoming Saturday.
BYU: Following an embarrassing 24-3 home loss to UNLV, the Cougars are reeling and the road isn’t getting any easier. The game at CSU on Thursday will mark BYU’s fifth road trip in the last six weeks. Redshirt freshman quarterback matt Berry completed 14-of-27 attempts for 186 yards and will start against the Rams.
New Mexico: Despite the return of quarterback Casey Kelly from a broken forearm, the Aztecs still fell to Utah State in Logan, 45-44 in overtime. Dontrell Moore set a MWC freshman rushing record in the loss, compiling 166 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. It was the second overtime loss of the season for the Lobos, who fell at Air Force 38-31 on Sept. 7. UNM faces Utah Saturday.
UNLV: The Rebels’ defense was impressive during a 24-3 win at BYU, holding the Cougars to their lowest point total at home in 31 years, and hopes to do the same Saturday against SDSU. Sophomore Jamaal Brimmer was named MWC Defensive Player of the Week. Brimmer had nine tackles, including eight solo, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
Utah: Head coach Ron McBride is feeling the heat after dropping a narrow decision to CSU at home, 28-20, the Utes’ fifth straight defeat. Salt Lake City Tribune writer Michael C. Lewis began his game story with the lead, “Well, that should just about do it,” referring to the talk McBride, in his 13th year as coach of the Utes, will be fired.
Wyoming: The Cowboys let perhaps their best opportunity to win a conference game slip away Saturday against San Diego State. SDSU linebacker Kirk Morrison returned an intercepted Casey Bramlet pass 34 yards for a touchdown, which proved to be the game winner. The 24-20 loss means Wyoming is now 0-16 in conference games in two plus seasons under Vic Koenning, and it won’t get much easier with Air Force in town Saturday.
-Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin