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Story by Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Tyler Morris and Christian Chapman's portions of the press conference, as well as Brian Dutcher's portion, click "read more" and scroll down.
December 12, 2017 (San Diego) - Nothing fun this week, but a bowl game looms on the horizon and head coach Rocky Long had a lot to say about the Army. Uh, the Army Black Knights football team, that is. He was joined by senior linebacker Tyler Morris and junior quarterback Christian Chapman. Men's basketball head coach Brian Dutcher was also on hand.
“I think they are the most physical and the most aggressive team we will play this year," Long said about Army. "part of it is the offense we were just discussing, people will say they are a triple-option offense, but they are not. They line up in formations that make you believe they are triple option but they are speed option. They will run down the line and the quarterback will keep the ball or pitch it and have four or five guys out in front of him. They will lead up in there and let him run power plays and lead plays and all that. They do get into the shotgun a lot and they run zone read option, which if you are actually reading the linemen on the line of scrimmage, that’s a triple option. We’re not sure he’s reading it, it’s been called for him and the idea is to be very aggressive because when you read it’s a little slow reaction if you are actually reading the guy on the line of scrimmage and trying to determine if he’s taking the dive back or not. But if all that is called for him, you can be really quick, really fast and really aggressive. Just like the offensive linemen, I do not think it matters how we line up on defense, they block targets or they block sticks. They aim for a spot on the field and they come off as fast as they can come off of the ball and they hit whoever shows up. I’m serious, they are the most aggressive and physical team we’ve played all year."
Long gave a scouting report on Black Knights senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. “I think because of the design of the offense, he might be even more physical than the guys we’ve seen. He wants to carry the ball and a lot of what they do on offense is designed for him to carry the ball with blockers in front of him. They run a speed option where everyone runs out in front of him and blocks for him so he’s able to see the first seam that opens up and plants his foot and gets up the field. He’s an outstanding athlete, like a great running back, he sees the hole quickly, gets up into it quickly and he’s strong enough to break open tackles with good speed for when he gets in the open field.”
Morris followed up: “He has shown he can make people miss as well [as be a strong physical presence]. He’s a very good athlete and as you can see, they want him to run the ball. They had under 40 pass attempts on the season so we know what we’re going to get.”
Senior running back Rashaad Penny is close to breaking former Aztec running back Donnel Pumphrey's rushing record. Long said that's the "number two goal" behind winning the bowl game.
Long talked about Army's blocking. “They cut. If they are actually running the option game, they cut. That’s very difficult because we don’t let people cut in practice and the spread teams in the world never cut on running plays so the players of today don’t ever see cut blocking. You don’t let them do it in practice so for the first quarter and a half or so all you see are your defensive guys on the ground. We’ve got some good athletes who can defeat a cut block once they get used to where they are coming from, but early on it’s devastating.”
On Army's passing game: “They threw the ball a lot in one game because they were behind late. Everything they throw is play action pass and for those that know this offense really well, most of the time there is no one within ten yards of the receiver and it’s all about if they throw it well enough to catch it. They have had some big plays in the passing game, they had one in the Navy game...Usually they have wide open receivers when they throw it.”
Long talked about the difference between a bowl game and a regular season game. “I think it’s all depending on how the coach handles it and I’ve been criticized on this before but I still believe that’s what you do. A bowl game in my opinion is a reward for having a successful year so we go to win the game but it’s also to have a good time and enjoy yourself. For the seniors, we want them to enjoy the experience and enjoy the last game that they play no matter what happens. So it’s completely different than the regular season...Bowl games are rewarding to go play hard and have a good time because you started playing the game in little league football because you loved to play and some of the fun of playing football is lost as you get older because people put more and more pressure on winning. We’re going to try and win but we’re going to have a good time too.”
Long talked about the honor of coaching against an armed forces team. “It’s a different feel for me personally and I try to make it a different feel for my players. I think it’s a learning experience and because Air Force is in our league I think our guys know exactly what the guys we are playing against are all about. Not only are they sacrificing by going to school at an academy, the real sacrifice they are going to make is later on in their careers and that is all for our benefit. For all of us that are lucky enough to live in this country and have people like them protect you, you have to have great respect for that. When you don’t play them every year, you have to be educated. Our guys don’t have to be educated because we play Air Force every year.”
Long says it's not hard to say goodbye to the senior class every year. “It’s not hard, I’ll miss a lot of them but I think they are moving on to a more exciting time of their life. If they are great football players, they are moving on to great NFL careers. But the best time in their life is when they are a young adult working for a living with a little extra money in their pocket. As long as they got a degree, I think it’s a fun time to see them go.”
Long praised Army head coach Jeff Monken. “I think he’s done a great job. Academies are a very difficult place to coach when you talk about win-loss records. When you talk about the players you have and the attitudes they have, I think it’s a great pleasure to coach at an academy. I think it’s rewarding but very difficult to win in those situations because of the scrutiny those kids have to go through to get into the academy and a lot of great athletes who think they are going to be professional players don’t go to the academies. So you have guys that play really hard and have skills and talent but they are not the NFL type guys because their life is completely different than what an NFL guy’s is going to be. So I think he’s done a great job. I think all those academies do a great job.”
Morris gave his own scouting report on stopping the West Point offense. “The line of scrimmage. They go lower and harder than any offensive line we’ve played all season and if we’re going to let them push us four or five yards and they get four or five yards every carry then they will march right down field. Guys up front, linebackers and defensive line have to be firm and strong. When they dive, stop the quarterback.”
Chapman followed up with his scouting report. "...They are a hard football team, they play hard and physical and sound so it’s going to be a good game.”
Chapman felt there's definitely a difference playing an academy team.“...especially given their background and what they go through. Right after college they go to the forces, so it’s a different type of vibe going into the game. There is a lot of respect but once you are on that field it’s football, you play football. After the game you have to show your respect with what those guys are going through every day and what they are doing for our country.”
His perfect scenario for the seniors' last game?"A win, Rashaad to beat the (Aztec single-season) record and Mikah (Holder) to get a touchdown and a career high in something, just give him the ball. Get an all-around good win would be a good way to end it with those boys.”
SDSU takes on Army West Point in the Armed Forces Bowl on December 23 at 12:30 p.m.
Dutcher said the Aztecs practiced for three hours yesterday, the longest they've gone all year. "...I thought the team responded well. They came out and worked hard, their attitude was great and we’re making progress.”
Even though the game isn't till next Thursday, Dutcher gave a scouting report on Gonzaga. “I haven’t watched a lot of tape yet because the game isn’t until next Thursday. Justin and my assistants have watched them and said they are very good, they do what they do. They have guards who shoot the ball well, they post it up, they screen and roll into the post, they have a presence in the low post and Mark Few has done a great job there. So you know what they are, they are the same every year, they just change pieces and they are competitive, ranked and dangerous. We will be up for the task and excited to have that kind of challenge.”
Dutcher gave an update on senior guard Trey Kell's health. “Trey has a thigh bruise so he did not practice yesterday and I don’t think he will today and he will continue to get treatment."
Lastly, Dutcher talked about what the team has to do to hold onto second-half leads. “Obviously turnovers, taking care of the ball is critical in any game. I think a live ball turnover at the end of Cal, even if we missed a bad shot, we would have had a chance to come back and defend, but when you make a live ball turnover and give a guard a run out and foul them, we don’t have a chance to get back and play five on five. We have to take care of the ball, that’s every team in the country. I like the grit of my team, I think we saw against Georgia we got behind early and fought back. We got behind early in the second half to Cal, 14 down, and we fight back and take a four point lead. Unfortunately we weren’t able to hold onto it. If you have a chance to get a senior in the game like Trey Kell who has been through it, maybe he has the ball in his hands, but we didn’t have that opportunity. So sometimes it’s putting your team in the best position to win games and obviously players have to make plays at the end of a game for that to happen.”
SDSU takes on Gonzaga at Steve Fisher Court on December 21 at 7:00 p.m.