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Story by Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Brian Dutcher's as well as the football and basketball student-athletes' portions of the press conference, click "read more" and scroll down.
December 18, 2017 (San Diego) - Finally, Bowl Week is upon us and so is the Aztecs' Armed Forces Bowl matchup against Army. Head coach Rocky Long, senior warrior Trey Lomax and senior wide receiver Mikah Holder joined him. Men's basketball head coach Brian Dutcher and junior guard Jeremy Hemsley also joined in to talk about the Thursday night matchup against Gonzaga.
“It’s game week so we can actually think about and talk about playing a football game," Long opened with. "It seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve played. We’ve practiced quite a bit and developed some of the younger guys to this point. Now it’s all game planning so hopefully we can match up against their offense, which does a great job of running the ball.”
Long says there are three good things about bowl games. “...Number one is that it’s a reward for a good season. We’re going to go to Fort Worth and have a good time. The bowl people will do a great job of hosting us. We get to play one more game and that’s more important to the seniors than anyone else. It’s a little less stressful than the regular season is because it’s a bowl game. The most important thing for the future of the program is the extra practice that you get for the young guys. I don’t know how you would put that in order of importance, but for the future of the program the most important is developing the young guys.”
Finally, there is some good news about senior offensive lineman Antonio Rosales. “We think he’s going to start. He’s looked OK in practice the last few days. He won’t last long, though, since it’s been so long since he’s played. He fatigues very quickly. I don’t know how many plays he can go, but we planning on starting him and seeing how long he can last.”
Long talked about what type of option team Army is. “Whenever you play an option team - and they don’t run much triple-option where they’re actually reading and pitching - they run a lot of speed option, which means the quarterback runs down the line of scrimmage and tries to carry the ball whenever there is an opening. If there isn’t an opening, then he will pitch it. Then they do a lot of things to make him the tailback with an extra blocker. They’ll run zone plays with the lead blocker, they’ll run power plays with two extra blockers. He’s the ball carrier. It’s not a typical triple-option team and they’re getting an extra blocker by making him the ball carrier. It’s a very difficult scheme to stop with any consistency. All you have to do is look at how many punts they’ve had for the entire season. Most people have had that many punts for the first third of the season. They haven’t punted the ball very much because they keep it away from you forever. If it’s fourth-and-2 or less, they are going for it. If you hear their coaches talk, they start a series first-and-8. Everyone else starts their series first-and-10. They start first-and-8.”
For the first time, he talked about Army's defense. “They do a lot of things that try and make it difficult on you, like we try to do too. They give you a lot of different looks. The offensive line has to be very educated and make sure they block the right guys. They’re very aggressive on defense. The real trick on their offense is we are only going to get the ball five or six times for the entire football game. It’s very unusual, but for a true football fan it’s going to be very interesting to watch. If it wasn’t for the TV package and the commercials and all that, I’d say you’d be out of there in an hour and 15 minutes.”
As usual, Long gushed about senior running back Rashaad Penny. “We thought he was going to be a very good running back. I don’t think we anticipated he was going to be as good as he turned out to be. For a guy to lead the nation in rushing and all-purpose yards and still tie the national record for kickoff returns for a touchdown and return a punt for a touchdown his first time back there and those sort of things, it’s a very unique situation. It’s as good of a season as any running back has ever had. He’s got a lot of notoriety lately, but it’s shocking that he didn’t get a lot of other (awards).”
Lomax talked about his last game and playing an academy. “It will be fun to get out there. It’s always a privilege to play an academy school. We’re excited for that. We have a lot of Texas guys on our team, so we know we’ll have a good turnout of fans. Obviously the academy schools always travel with fans, so hopefully it will be a good turnout. We’re excited to try and finish the season on a good note.”
He talked about defending Army and what the game will be like. Put simply: "...They know what we are going to do and we know what they are going to do. We are going to run the ball and they are going to run their option stuff. It will be fun.
“Playing an offense like this, which is similar to Air Force or New Mexico, they kind of do a combination of both things with someone under center and some triple-option stuff. It’s all just knowing your exact responsibility and not trying to make every play. Know what your keys are and know what you’re responsible for and do that. Just help limit the big plays and any pass play they might attempt.”
Lomax put on his recruiter hat and talked about the importance of local San Diegan players staying home. “I think the local guys like Mikah (Holder) and I have made a pretty good impact here. I think it’s been a big part of our success lately. A lot of guys staying home, a lot of local talent staying here. Being as successful as we’ve been, I think it’s drawing a lot more interest from local recruits. You see a lot of guys turning down offers from Pac-12 and other schools to stay here and stay home. I think it’s appealing because we’ve been so successful. I’m glad that we have been able to help lay that blueprint for the local guys and future recruits of San Diego to want to stay home and play for the Aztecs.”
Holder talked about how it'll feel to play in his last game as an Aztec. “Being in our last game means a lot. Playing a good team like Army, I know some players on that team. It’s going to be a fun game. Being out in Texas and having some players from there I think we’ll have a good crowd. The atmosphere is going to be electric. Trying to get Rashaad (Penny) that (SDSU single-season rushing) record would be good too. We’re excited, all the way from the seniors down to the freshmen. We’ll be ready to play.”
He also talked about playing in another bowl game. “Besides the game, the whole experience of the bowl game is the best part. Just being up there for a few days with your guys. You don’t have to worry too much about school or worry about getting home, you just stay in a hotel with your guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we have a lot of fun bowl activities set up.”
SDSU takes on Army in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
“We have a competitive game coming up against the Zags on Thursday," Dutcher opened with. " (They’re) nationally ranked. We know what they’re about. They played in the national championship game last year. They have a lot of returning players from that team back...I’m sure we’ll see the Zags at full force when they come in here on Thursday.”
What will SDSU bring to the table on Thursday? “Our intention is to play the best game we’ve played all year and beat the Zags on our home floor. We’ll see how quick we can knock the rust off. Obviously, we haven’t played in game, it’ll be 12 days (since SDSU last played) when we play them. So there will some rust to knock off, but we’ve competed hard in practice, the guys have really responded well and I think we’re getting better.
"I think we’re getting better defensively. I think this time has definitely helped us defensively...we’ll see come Thursday if the offense has improved at all. The simple fix for us is taking better care of the ball. We all know that turnovers cost us. The hard fix is deciding what’s a good shot and a bad shot. That’s always the poetry of offense..."
Dutcher gave an update on senior guard Trey Kell. “Trey did some 5-0 stuff on Saturday. Today, he’s going to be a little more, but he has not had a full practice since the Cal game, so that’s been a bit of a concern. It’s not just the Cal game, it’s the thigh bruise on top of the ankle, so he hasn’t really had a full week of practice since Anaheim at Thanksgiving. Even though it’ll be exciting to have him back, I told him, ‘What kind of shape are you going to be in in coming back because the injuries you’ve had, you can’t run on to keep in shape.’ We tried to put him on the bike, that’s not basketball shape. Even though, Trey, I’m hopeful will be back for the Zags, he won’t be anywhere near in the game condition that he needs to be leading into Wyoming. I hopefully will have him against Gonzaga, but will have him more at full strength against Wyoming on the 27th.”
He also gave the scouting report on Gonzaga. “They play inside-out. They free-flow. When they fast break, they take shots that you would say --like I talked about poetry -- wow, that’s a quick shot from deep, and they’ll take those. So they’re going to run up and down and let the ball go on the break. Then when they get to the half court, they try to put that ball inside and try to challenge you inside with a quality big and they’re deep at the position. They have a four- or five-man rotation at the size position. So they present a challenge inside and out.”
Hemsley talked about what happened after the Cal game and the opportunity to play Gonzaga. “We didn’t really have time to be down about the Cal game. We knew we had to move on and get ready for the Gonzaga game, but I know everyone on the team is up for the challenge and is more than excited to get the chance to play them, a nationally ranked team. I’d say it’s more exciting. I know for a fact that everybody will be ready for it.”
Hemsley said there's a difference when the Aztecs play a nationally ranked team. “It brings out a certain focus. It brings out the best in you when you know you’re playing a team or a player that you can’t make too many mistakes on, so I definitely see a different focus, a certain edge with everybody with this game coming up.”
Hemsley said he doesn't remember much from last year's Gonzaga game, but "...I know they’re a competitive team. That’s all I remember from the game. I don’t think they’re playing style has changed from that time we played them last year. They’ll probably zone us, they did that last year. Other than that, it’s two teams that are competitive playing against each other. We’ll just have to see comes out with the win. They do play hard, they have a good coach over there, but it’s the same way over here.”
The Aztecs take on Gonzaga at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday at Steve Fisher Court in Viejas Arena.