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By Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Daishawn Dixon and Kyahva Tenzino's portion of the press conference, click "read more" and scroll down.
October 9, 2018 (San Diego) - After narrowly defeating Boise State 19-13 on Saturday, the Aztecs continue Mountain West play with a Friday night matchup against Air Force this week. Coach Rocky Long, junior offensive lineman Daishawn Dixon and junior linebacker Kyahva Tenzino sat down with the media today.
"With the short week it’s awful tough to get ready for the wishbone or triple option. It’s going to make it hard on us," Long opened with. " They’re coming in with a lot of confidence because I think they’ve decided on who their quarterback is and he’s playing really well...and I’m sure they’re excited and happy and ready to play. We don’t get to celebrate anything very much, and we’ve got another tough one on Friday night."
Air Force's offense poses a lot of issues in a short week of preparation. “It’s very difficult because they’re radical on defense, too. Now, you’ve heard me say this before, I think the triple option is the best offense ever designed because it’s the one offense, when you get on the board, you can’t win. They win every time because they eliminate two guys by reading it the right way...Then on defense, they have a high-pressure blitz almost every single snap and play straight man coverage. That gives you a lot of problems on offense, but it also gives you opportunities for big plays. So it’s either hit or miss...Our formula is to keep the ball, run the clock and their kind of defense makes it difficult to do that, where their offense makes it easy for them to keep the ball away from us for a long time. So we're going into a game that’s a difficult matchup not just for us, it’s a difficult matchup for anybody that plays them.”
Long ignores the success the Aztecs have had against Air Force. “That success was a long time ago. We didn’t have a lot of success last year against the triple-option. Air Force ran the ball pretty darn good against us last year, gained a bunch of yards and then Army crushed us. So you can look at that success as ancient history."
Air Force's running game is so strong that Long is not confident in the Aztecs' defense. “...It’s a completely different rushing game than we see all the rest of the time ... If you watched practice yesterday, you can tell there’s no way to simulate it. We have a scout team trying to run it, but it is so slow compared to what they’re going to
see on Friday night that it’s ridiculous. You just have to hope that your guys can defeat some blocks and make some plays. The thing that would really help us is turnovers. If we could cause a turnover or two, that gives your offense the ball and more opportunities to score..."
He's nervous about the Aztecs' confidence after defeating Boise State. “I think the confidence level would be really, really high if we were playing a similar team. We’re so young, I never know what (our players) are thinking, but I’m hoping they’re mature enough to realize this is not the same situation. We’re not going to be blitzing and rushing a drop-back quarterback. It’s a completely different problem. Now if they go in there feeling good about themselves and think they’re something they’re not, (Air Force) will run us right out of the ballpark.”
How does a team stay high on confidence and defend the triple option? “I think the confidence level would be really, really high if we were playing a similar team. We’re so young, I never know what (our players) are thinking, but I’m hoping they’re mature enough to realize this is not the same situation. We’re not going to be blitzing and rushing a drop-back quarterback. It’s a completely different problem. Now if they go in there feeling good about themselves and think they’re something they’re not, (Air Force) will run us right out of the ballpark.”
So if the triple option is so effective, why don't more teams run it? “I get this question every year. I honestly believe it gives you a lot of advantages, the offense gives you a lot of advantages. People don’t want to watch it. They want to see the ball in the air. They want to see great athletes making big-time plays. They don’t want to see someone that’s happy with getting three yards a carry.
“It’s hard to recruit to it, too. I’m not sure, but the only other Division I team that runs the triple-option is Georgia Tech other than the three academies. And we all respect the guys in the academies. They’re not going there to be pro football players. They’re going there to do something a lot more important than that, and so it doesn’t matter to them what kind of offense they run. They probably like running this offense because it gives them a chance.”
Long talked about Tenzino. "...There were a couple of guys that performed better in practice than he did, then there were a couple of injuries and he got put in the game. And he was a whole lot better than the guys we were playing. So since that time, he’s been a really good player for us and he gets better as he goes. He’s even practicing better now. I don’t know how that works, some guys just hit their stride a different times in their careers. But he’s a really good player right now.”
Was it because of confidence? “It might be. Sometimes it’s a maturing process, too. You get thrown in there and you actually have to do things at a certain speed. He was able to do it. Then all of sudden, you get more confident and you get better. You learn the scheme better, too. You learn what we’re asking them to do better.
“All good linebackers have the same (attributes). He’s big enough, he’s fast enough and he’s got really good instincts. He’s a downhill linebacker though. He’s a run guy. Now, he’s a good blitzer too because he’s a downhill guy. Pass coverage-wise, you don’t want to match him up against the real good running back.”
Long also praised quarterback Ryan Agnew but wasn't happy with the offensive line last week. “I think our quarterback gets better every week. I think that his ability to extend plays has really helped us. He’s still making a lot of inexperienced mistakes that you don’t necessarily see, but I think he’s played really, really well .. I’m going to give the other team credit because they have a really good defense, but I was a little disappointed on how we blocked for the run last week, which includes the offensive line and the fullback. But you have to give the other team credit because they’re really good on defense, so they had something to do with that. It wasn’t just our guys.”
Dixon is confident in the offensive line against Air Force. “They blitz a lot. We just got to pick it up. I feel like we can pick it up because we’re experienced now so we just come together and communicate correctly. We’d be able to pick it up.”
Dixon is proud of the backups. “They stepped up, honestly. They stepped up and that’s what we’ve asked for. Going into off-season we tell people all the time like there might be a time when you need to step up and be tough and like that’s what they do. They step up and are tough and that’s what we need in order to win, and we’ve been winning so they stepped up.”
Playing Air Force is personal for Dixon and he views the team differently than others. “To be honest, I used to live in Colorado Springs, so the Air Force Academy was my first football team I’ve ever seen play in college. So I’ve always had respect for them. My mom was in the Air Force, so growing up I’d always have respect for the Air Force and the military and what they did for the country. Going in, I always have to have respect for them. You can talk trash, but you have limits on what you say.
“My mom used to work in the dental clinic. She used to have me up there all the time to talk to her friends, so I was up there all the time seeing all the teeth they used to make, and I had to go to the dentist up there. I liked it up there, it’s fun. I actually liked being around all of the military families because they’re actually really close. They still talk to me to this day asking how I’m doing and asking about football. We’re still a family.”
The team's mentality on offense is to be physical. “Our mentality on offense is we just need to be more physical than them. If we’re more physical than them, then by the fourth quarter, they should be giving it up. So if we come out more physical than them the whole game then by the end we should be winning.”
Dixon doesn't feel the Aztecs need national recognition. “I don’t mind, honestly. I like being quiet about everything we do so we just come back and beat them honestly. Just be quiet. You don’t need to be loud like every other team. I just know we can beat them.”
Tenzino loves it. “That’s what’s special about our team, we love being the underdogs. Whatever week we’re going into, in our mindset, we hope we’re the underdogs every week because we want to come back and prove to everyone that we are somebody. We don’t care for all the recognition like that. We’re kind of like the team to just go out there and do our work and do our job and win the game.”
Tenzino scouted the triple option a bit more. “The triple-option is a physical offense. If we don’t come ready to out physical them then they’re going to out physical us and that’s something that we don’t want, obviously. As a program, we preach on being physical and you guys can see we run the ball too so it’s going to be a physical game and it’s probably going to be a short game because the clock is going to continue to run. So we just need to come out and be physical. Their offense is a physical mindset kind of offense, so we just need to be ready to go.
Tenzino talked about his respect for the military. “Yeah, we have so much respect for them because you know what they’re going to do after they graduate. We have the upmost respect for them. We don’t really talk trash to them. We just go out to play our game and it’s just a quiet, physical game. It’s kind of awkward but it’s cool. It’s fun to talk trash, but when it comes to the Air Force you don’t want to talk trash because they’re saving our lives every day.”
How do you plan for the triple option? “Like Coach Long said, you can never scheme on this kind of offense or anything because they do so many things that is unschemable. You can just try to plan for something, but I mean like their angles that they take, how low they get off the ball and how fast the triple-option hits. It’s just you cannot scheme it. The only you can beat it is being the most physical team so that’s how we’re playing.”
SDSU takes on Air Force Friday night at 6:00 p.m. at SDCCU Stadium.