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Story by Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For Christian Chapman's and Ron Smith's portion of the press conference, click "read more" and scroll down.
October 31, 2017 (San Diego) - Winning after two weeks of losing is spooky indeed, and on this Halloween, Aztecs football head coach Rocky Long, junior quarterback Christian Chapman and sophomore cornerback Ron Smith sat down with the media at this week's press conference.
"We’ve got another road game that we look forward to having the opportunity to try to win another game after we won a game in Hawaii and after a couple weeks of losing," Long opened. "It’s a lot more fun to win obviously and our players are excited about the game coming up."
The health of the offensive line was much, much better last week, Long said. “They were healthier for the Hawaii game than they had been the two or three games before that, we didn’t get anybody beat up or hurt in the game so if nothing happens in practice the next two days...they will be as healthy as they have been since the fourth or fifth week of the season.”
One of the glaring issues the Aztecs have this season is their home record vs. away record. Long said he has "no idea" what has caused the success on the road. "We try to do it the same way every time but we try to do home games the same way every time too."
The offensive line and senior runningback Rashaad Penny's performances last week helped the Aztecs, Long said. “I think it helped us a lot. I think that we played the Fresno State game with a very shaky confidence level and when things didn’t go right early, I think we showed some immaturity on our football team. We’re still a pretty darn young football team and going into a game with confidence gives you a lot better chance of winning than the other way.
“I think the win obviously gives us confidence. I thought that was the best week of practice we had all season long last week. And it turned out to work, so I expect them to practice that way this week too. But I think we’re a lot more confident team than we were going into the Fresno game.
“I think Rashaad’s always confident. I hate to say the same thing over and over again, but Rashaad Penny is as good a running back as there is in the country. When he doesn’t get 100 yards, it’s not him. It’s the big boys up front. He gets 253 yards, that’s the big boys up front. Rashaad can do it. We all know he can do it. So if the big boys up front do their job, Rashaad’s going to have a really good night. If the big boys up front don’t do their job, Rashaad is held to 50 and 60 yards. I see it all the time, I see it on TV...We know how good Rashaad is and I don’t think Rashaad lacks for confidence at any time.”
Next week is the Aztecs' bye week. Long said it comes at just the right time. "...I think it’s perfect timing to be right in the middle of the season but I think it’s going to help us. I think we have some guys that are hurt and beat up and if they don’t get beat up this week in the game then after the bye week they will be almost 100 percent [healthy], which is a nice way to go into the last couple of games and a nice way to go into a bowl game.”
Junior defensive lineman Chibu Onyeukwu is getting more playing time after being redshirted last year and Long said he is progressing nicely. “Well, I think he is making progress and he had a really good game in Hawaii which was nice for us to see because that gives us some depth while we’re a little beat up on the defensive line now, some depth that we weren’t sure we had. I mean, he got to play a lot because we needed him to play a lot and then he played well. I’m sure he is going to play with a lot more confidence now than he has before and that is good for our team. Since he is an underclassman, he will be back next year, too. He’s starting this week because of his performance in the last game.”
Long also said sophomore linebacker Kyahva Tenzino will be starting against San Jose State after his performance in Hawaii.
Long talked briefly about Penny being a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award. “Any kind of national notoriety that you get really helps the program. It helps the national presence, it helps in recruiting and I think some of those awards we got last year really helped the program for the future. I think we’ve got very talented young players in our program. They are not playing at a high enough level yet and some of them are playing a lot but we are improving our talent level and as long as we keep the same mentality, we will continue to become a good football team every year.”
San Jose State has been struggling so far this season. Long gave us the scouting report. “I think it’s a new coach with a new program so they’re running different things on offense and defense that they didn’t the year before, and they have quite a few young players playing so they’re very inconsistent...They’ve played well enough in spurts to beat anyone in our league. That’s a concern, if they’re going to put one of those games together against you and things don’t go right, everybody wonders why.”
Long felt that one of the reasons SJSU is struggling so much is because of their first-year head coach, Brent Brennan. “I think he’s going through what every new coach goes through when they take over a program. He’s trying to establish his philosophy, he’s trying to establish his offense, his defense. He is recruiting to the way he wants to play football. So the players that are there now, other than the freshmen that they recruited, he’s transforming them from one system to another system. He’s trying to get them to buy into the way he does things. There’s not a perfect way to do anything, there’s a lot of good ways to doing everything, and the quicker they buy in the better off you are. But basically what you do in a first-year job like that is you don’t worry about the outcome. You make them better and you worry about proving it every game. You don’t worry about the records, you don’t worry about who you’re playing, all you worry about is making your team better. His plan is probably that three to four years from now, he’s going to win the conference championship. So you have a long-term plan and a short-term plan. And as a player in that kind of system, every game is just as important as the last one. It doesn’t matter what happened last week, all that matters is what happens this week.”
Long said that the Aztecs are only studying two of SJSU's last four quarterbacks used in the last nine games. “We’re only basing our plan off of two quarterbacks that have played. Those are the two that have played lately and we know which quarterback they want to be the starter. He got hurt, but he’s healthy again and he’s started the last two games. And then the guy that took over for him and played most of the time that he was hurt, he’s done a pretty good job so we’re basing our plan off those two quarterbacks. So it’s not quite as difficult as trying to base it off of four.”
Long noticed no change in practice. “...what I saw was more energy and more want to. Now that could be caused because we’d lost two and they wanted to win really badly. Or that could’ve been the monkey was off their back and they got to play football for the right reasons, for the fun of playing the game, instead of all those other reasons that everyone else was telling them were important.”
Smith was happy with last week's victory. “It was definitely a nice wake-up call for us. We had a really good week of preparation and we were excited to actually get back in the winning term of things, so it was a really big confidence boost and we’re just excited going forward.”
Smith gave his own scouting report on San Jose State. “On their offensive side, they have a lot of athletic guys and a lot of young guys too, but they have a lot of weapons that they can really open things up in the passing game and try to open it up in the running game. So we have to just play technically sound, play our game and have another good week.”
Chapman added: “They’re big up front, they’ve got some big boys up front. They’re really athletic, their record kind of surprised me because of how good and athletic they are up front, so I think they’re really athletic. I know they’ve got some returners, they have a good safety that we played in the past couple years and he’s got a good feel for us. One of the corners I believe was Mountain West Player of the Year last week for defense or all-Mountain West, so you got some guys on defense. You just got to prepare and we can’t look past anybody.”
Smith said there is no difference in preparing for a 1-8 team. “It’s definitely easy to look that way, but I feel like in our preparation it can’t change whatsoever, we can’t slow down for anyone. We have to keep our foot on the gas and play like we’re playing a team that’s undefeated and that’s as simple as that. We need to prepare the right way and then come out on Saturday and play the right way.”
Chapman knew the reason to success on the road: running. “I think the key for the offense definitely going forward is to get our run game going. You see what we did in Hawaii. We got the run game going and Penny did this thing with the linemen and kind of got back in the groove of things. I think if we keep power on the rock we’ve been having we’ll be good. A win on the road was good, but the last two games are at home so we just got to finish out winning these ball games.”
SDSU takes on SJSU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.