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By Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Brian Dutcher's, Parker Houston and Kyahva Tenzino’s and Jeremy Hemsley and Devin Watson's portion of the press conference, click “read more” and scroll down.
December 4, 2018 (San Diego) - San Diego State football will be playing in the Frisco Bowl on December 19 against Ohio. Yesterday, coach Rocky Long and juniors Parker Houston and Kyahva Tenzino sat down with the media. Head men's basketball coach Brian Dutcher and senior guards Jeremy Hemsley and Devin Watson also joined the football representatives to preview their matchup with crosstown foe USD tomorrow night.
“It’s nice to have this today because that means we’re in a bowl game," Long opened with. "Going into the weekend we weren’t sure we were going to be in one. We were hoping and we thought we were going to be, but we got a bowl bid. We’re excited and it gives us some extra practice time. It lets our team and the seniors especially play one more game before their college career is over. We did not care where we went, but going to Texas is kind of a fun deal. I think we have 10 Texans on our team, so it’s really fun for them. But for the rest of the guys, they’ll be happy about going, too.”
Ohio's Frank Solich is the oldest coach in college football currently, at 74. Long is just behind him at 68. He joked about this. "...I think Solich is the oldest guy coaching Division I football right now. I’m right up there close to him. We’re in the top three, so the two of us coaching in the same bowl game is probably going to set a record for total age. That’s ok since I’m the younger one of the two.
“I thought he was a good coach all along. When Nebraska let him go, I thought Ohio was really smart to hire him and it’s proven (to be) that way.”
Long was asked if he was surprised that the Aztecs got a bowl bid despite losing their last three games of the season. Long answered matter-of-factly, “I don’t think it has anything to do with the last three games of the season. I think it has to do with overall record and the rules state if you win six games, you’re bowl eligible. We’ve won seven, so we’re bowl eligible. There were some people out there who thought we were deserving of a bowl game, so we got a bowl bid.”
As always, Long scouted the Bobcats. “Yeah, I’ve spent all morning watching them on film. All you have to do is look at their stats and what the stats show is exactly who they are. They’re a really good football team that prides themselves on being able to run ball on everybody. They score a lot of points and they don’t give up many. In fact, their losses were really close games. But if you want to look at their last three games, that’s what’s most impressive. They lost by two points (30-28) in their big rivalry game (at Miami (OH)) and they won the last two by a whole bunch of points. They scored  points and won the game against Buffalo, who was actually in the MAC Championship game last [Friday] ... So that shows you how good a football team they are.
“They’re a spread team that runs zone read. They run some speed option, but not triple option. They’re in the spread, but they run a lot of zone reads in there. They’re big and strong up front and block very, very well and they’ve got a couple of good running backs. Then if you (put) too many people on the running backs or stop that part of the run, the quarterback (Nathan Rourke) is very good at running the ball. He’s got  yards rushing himself. The team has over 3,000 yards rushing. One of the backs (A.J. Oullette) has [1,142] yards and another one (Maleek Irons) has  yards ... That’s a lot of rushing right there with three backs and the zone read play allows the quarterback to give it to the right guy. He either carries it himself or he gives it to the running back by what you do on defense. It’s not near as complicated as the triple option, but it’s very effective.
"The offense that Ohio runs is very similar to several of the offenses we’ve seen so far this year. They just emphasize the running game more and they’re much better at it, so the scout team will be fine. They go off of cards anyway, so they’ll (the Aztecs defense) be fine. They’ve run (against) some of those plays before.”
Long said "we haven't even thought about that yet" on the Aztecs' quarterback rotation against Ohio.
Houston talked about how the Aztecs would approach the bowl game. “Coach Long said earlier that it’s not part of this season; it’s its own season in itself. We’re going to come with everything we’ve got. We’re going to play our hardest. We’ve got to send our seniors out the right way and we want to end with a win.
“The way we finished our season, the way we were looking, I think everybody’s just excited to get into a bowl game. It doesn’t matter which one it is. We’re just going to go out there and play our best.”
Houston reflected on the Aztecs' three-game losing streak that ended the season. “Personally it’s kind of disappointing. Looking at the coaching staff and the players we have, this team should’ve been a lot better than it was. We’re still looking to find out what happened, why we dropped off so much. I know the coaches take a lot of the blame for it, but for us players, we have to kind of look at ourselves and understand we’re the ones who play the games, we’re the ones who make the plays. A lot of it’s on us. I know in meetings we had the other day, we talked about how we’ve got to get back to (what) Aztec football is and the smash-mouth football that we can play. We just have to bring that to this next game.”
Tenzino answered simply, “We wish we could have finished the season how we started. But this is a good opportunity for us to end (with) a win. That’s our big thing. So hopefully we’re going to bring a trophy home.”
Why were the Aztecs unable to maintain success after beating Boise State? “I think a lot of it has to do with teams figuring us out. On offense we’re a team that likes to run the ball. We like to shove it down your throat and on defense we do really well against the run and we do really good against the pass. So I think teams really started playing to our weaknesses and it hindered us. As a team, you could feel something dropped off to where maybe this group of guys didn’t care as much or it just seemed like we had a lot of misconception about what this was going to be and that kind of just took us down with it.”
Houston said the essential bye week will help the Aztecs rest up. “...Like Kyahva said earlier, guys who are banged up, key people to our team, they’re allowed to get healthy again. We get to rest, we get to catch up on our schoolwork, kind of relieve some stress off your shoulders, (which) kind of makes you play more freely. It is kind of like a bye week, like a game-changer. Allows us to rest up; allows our coaches to regroup, kind of figure out what we’ve been doing wrong. In practice I’m sure we’ll put emphasis on those weaknesses.”
Tenzino was awarded first-team all-Mountain West honors. He talked about how honored he feels. “I was very excited because just last year I wasn’t playing as much and (then) this happened to me. It’s just a real big deal for me. I can’t thank God and my teammates and my coaches enough for this. But I wasn’t really worried about it because that doesn’t really define me. (My teammates) define me because I come to work for them every day, so if they’re happy with what happens, then I’m happy too."
SDSU takes on Ohio in the Frisco Bowl on December 19 at 7:00 p.m. CT/5:00 p.m. PT on ESPN.
Dutcher began his portion of the press conference by congratulating football on getting into their ninth straight bowl game, then dove right in with high praise for his team. "...I’m proud of our team. We came back from our first real road game in a tough environment, long travel day and they responded well. They guarded at a really high level. Talked about rebounding, and we rebounded better. Talked about conversion defense, we didn’t give up a lot of layups. We’re getting better at the things we are working on, and as a coach, that’s always a good feeling. On to the next task, which is USD, Wednesday at home. Playing my good friend Sam Scholl. We’ll enjoy that game, both of us, and I know one of us will be sad when it’s over, but I’m looking forward to meeting him and playing USD on Wednesday.”
The biggest challenge when facing USD? “Experience. I think they’re one of the oldest teams in the country, experience-wise. I know they start, I think four seniors, and they’ve got a lot of minutes on the floor together and they’re playing like it right now. They’re playing like an experienced team. I think some of their young guys are trying to catch up. They run their stuff extremely well and they will present a great challenge on Wednesday.”
Dutcher talked about the freshmen performance on Saturday against Illinois State. “To go on the road and have quality minutes from my three freshmen that played in the game – Adam Seiko, Aguek Arop and Nathan Mensah – all played well. Nathan had 10 rebounds. He followed that up – he had 11 rebounds versus Jackson State and followed it up with 10, so that’s helped our rebounding. Aguek is getting more comfortable out there. He had a couple nice rebounds, had a nice fall-away jump shot at a critical stretch of the game. Guarded better than he has, getting more comfortable than before. Adam, obviously, is ahead of all of them because he’s been in the program a year. To throw three freshmen out there on the road, I thought they did a really good job. Part of it was that we were playing with the lead. It’s always easier when you’re playing eight or nine points up. One mistake is not going to cost you at that point. I thought they played really well.”
He praised Watson and Hemsley. “They played massive minutes at Illinois State due to illness and foul trouble. I wanted to give them rest but I don’t think I took either one out in the second half. They ended up combined for 40 points, 10 assists and they both played a magnificent floor game for us. Senior guard play – when I said at the beginning of the year that I sleep well because I know I have senior guards – that’s the best place to be old at, guard. Jeremy and Devin both provide great leadership and great play on the floor for the Aztecs.”
He also commented on Mensah's progress. “We’ve challenged him to be better defensively at helping on ball screens. That’s always the greatest challenge for a big man, to be able to stop a guard on a ball screen and be able to get back to your man. We thought he was rebounding with one hand and really have gone after him to go after the ball with two, and he’s responded with 11 followed by 10 rebounds, so hopefully that continues. I think when he and Jalen are together, it’s that length rebounding-wise that helps. Hopefully his rebounding will continue as the season goes on and that will make us better defensively, and obviously the shot-blocking is always important, and he has that length at the defensive end."
Dutcher said that communication is the biggest change he's seen from the Aztecs on the floor. “I said that one of the most encouraging things on the road game is that this team really talks to each other on the floor and encourages one another. If there’s a mistake made, they’ll pull one another aside and say, ‘Hey, next time when this happens, we’ve got to switch quicker, we’ve got to communicate that better.’ Player-driven teams are way better than coach-driven teams, so I think we’re finally getting that and especially from our seniors and Jalen, that they’re helping the young guys and not getting on them but encouraging them to make better plays and showing them that they believe in them. That kind of leadership usually bodes well for a team over the course of a long season.”
Hemsley also liked the communication and chemistry, but says the Aztecs need to be more consistent. “I think the chemistry is good. Next step would just to be more consistent. We have some games where the energy is maybe less than it was the game before, so I think our job now is just be consistent on both ends of the floor. Know that we’re a good team and just play like it.”
Hemsley was proud of the win at ISU. “It was a good win. That’s a tough team. They play hard and have a lot of good players, and it’s always tough to win on the road. I think we did a good job of just staying together. It was our first real road test that wasn’t at a neutral site, so I think we did a good job.”
He was also proud of the performances of the freshman. “I think they’ve done a good job, coming in and knowing their role. Being a freshman, that’s always hard. I think they’ve done a good job moving at a fast pace and learning at a fast pace.”
Hemsley takes his senior leadership role seriously. “It’s a role you want, as a senior. It’s a role you want. You want to be able to be that guy for the younger guys where they can go up to you and ask you what they’re doing wrong, or what they can do better. It’s a role that I’ve seen, when I first came in and I had guys like Winston (Shepard) and Skylar (Spencer). I think it’s just really being big brother. Being that person that puts the arm around them and letting them know what they’re doing right or wrong.”
Watson agreed. "Same as what Jeremy said. Being now that I’m the senior now, the younger guys coming up to me like a big brother. I remember being a sophomore and treating my seniors the same way, so it feels good to be in this position.”
Both Hemsley and Watson don't think there's any extra incentive to beat a crosstown rival. Hemsley said "it's just another game," while Watson said "Just come out and play with the same aggressiveness as the last game. Don’t come out slow, just come out with aggressiveness.”
SDSU takes on USD tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Viejas Arena.