Like our sports coverage? Donate to help support ECM’s sports section! Type “Sports” on the donation line!
Check out our sports section for more sports stories!
Follow @ECMagSports on Twitter for live sports coverage and in-game updates!
By Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of Anthony Luke's and Ryan Pope's portion of the press conference, click “read more” and scroll down.
November 20, 2018 (San Diego) - With men's basketball away at the Maui Jim Invitational, it was just football sitting down with the media at this week's press conference. Head coach Rocky Long was joined by senior defensive end Anthony Luke and senior offensive tackle Ryan Pope.
“Obviously, we got another game this week," Long opened with. "I think both teams will be excited about playing each other. We’re teams with very similar talent levels. They (Hawaii) throw the ball around like crazy. They’ve got one of the leading passers in the country, a couple of the leading receivers in the country, and they throw the ball a bunch, so they’re up there near the top in passing yardage and those kinds of things. After I watched the (Chiefs-Rams) game last night, when they throw it around like that, I mean, it makes it really, really hard on the defense. So our offense has to keep the ball away from them or we’re going to have to play really, really well on defense.”
Long talked about his favorite part of the game. “I think when it’s not totally a skill game and there’s some toughness involved. The game is turning into a total skills game where a team with less talent that might be the tougher, more aggressive team is having a less and less chance of winning because of the rule changes and because the offenses have gotten so skilled at what they’re doing. The passers are much more skilled than they were 10 years ago, the receivers are much more skilled than they were 10 years ago. The one thing the defense had was aggressiveness. You could hit quarterbacks and you could light up wide receivers on crossing routes. Well, now there’s no fear factor. If you touch a quarterback, it’s a penalty; if you touch a receiver, it’s a penalty. If I had a son growing up who wanted to play football, I’d tell him to make sure he played on offense.”
Has the game evolved that way to please fans or for safety reasons? Long says it's both. “I think it’s all the same. I think it’s safer. I think you can practice that stuff all year long and players like practicing that kind of stuff. So you can practice that stuff all year long, but you can’t practice running into each other and you can’t practice pushing on sleds and all those kinds of things. And I think it’s healthier, eliminating some of the violent contact is healthier for the players. If I was a regular fan and not a coach, I think it’s more pleasing to the eye to see all those athletes out there doing all those fantastic things. I think there are a lot of things involved on how the game is going and it’ll probably make it more popular.”
Long scouted Hawaii and why they'll be tough on the Aztecs' defense. “I think it’s the same challenge we have almost every week because everybody’s running similar offenses now. The only question we have is which quarterback might play. But they throw it. I mean, they throw it and throw it and throw it and they catch most of them and they run with it and they score a lot of points. I think they’re close to averaging  points a game. They’re (averaging)  yards of total offense a game and most of their games are high-scoring games. They don’t win them all, but they seem to be all high-scoring games. I think they scored (three) touchdowns in the fourth quarter last week to win. And it wasn’t (with) the starting quarterback; they took him out and put the backup quarterback in. They’re not going to change the offense, but it’ll be interesting to see which quarterback starts.”
Long says that the way to exploit Hawaii's defense is to run the ball. It’s hard for a defense to get ready for a running team, so hopefully we’ll be able to run the ball...For us to have a chance to win, we’ve got to run the football and keep it away from them.”
Long didn't have much to say about this year's class of seniors, except that they "all hung in there."
Luke had a different opinion. “As seniors, we’re all pretty close. We all hang out outside of football and there are not a lot of teams in the country like that, that are close outside of football. There’s a lot of teams in country that are individuals and I don’t think this team is a bunch of individuals. I think we’re all like a good family. I like how close we are as seniors.”
As always, Long evaluated quarterback Christian Chapman and announced who will start on Saturday. “I don’t know, I think Christian’s about like he was before he got hurt. I don’t think he’s 100 percent anyway. He got hit a couple times in last week’s game and it didn’t look like it felt very good...So I think he’s probably still a little injured, which makes it more difficult on him, but he played pretty much like he had before he got hurt. Christian will start and somewhere in the second quarter Ryan (Agnew) will come in for two series and then our coaches will decide at halftime which guy should start the second half.”
Lastly, Long praised linebacker Troy Cassidy. “Troy Cassidy is a good football player who is now starting. Hopefully he’s going to be a better football player next year. You know, obviously he’s had good days and bad days. He’s got a world of potential. He’s a really good athlete. I think he’s just scratching the surface. We expect him to be a much better player next year.”
Luke reflected on his last game as an Aztec, which will be played on Saturday. “It’s surreal, man. It came really fast for me. It’s been the fastest four years of my life, but the funnest. I’m really grateful for
the opportunity to be an Aztec and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. I’m just taking it all in each day. I love everyone here, so I can’t wait to play.”
Pope was more succinct. “It’s bittersweet. I’ve also enjoyed my time here and I wouldn’t trade it.”
Is it more fun running out of the tunnel the first time or the last time? “I think for the last time, for sure. I was emotional coming out of the tunnel for the first time, but when it comes to football, that’s where most of my emotions come out. My last game is going to be way more emotional for me, especially because I’m going to have all my family there. That’s like the first time for me, too.”
Is there pressure to finish the season strong? Luke answered simply, “You can’t lose your last game. Any game we want to win, but the last game makes us more hungry to win.”
Pope's response was wise. “You can’t go out with a loss.”
What is Pope's thought process going into the Hawaii game? “We can’t make mistakes. Literally, we can’t make mistakes. We need to be consistent and we haven’t been all season. We’re hot and cold and we need to bring the energy, that’s what we’re missing. I feel like we’re missing energy as a team. We can feed off one another, but our team is very young. It’s kind of hard sometimes. We just need to bring the juice and if we do that, we’ll take care of business.”
Why have the Aztecs been lacking energy? “Parts of it may be we don’t have that leader like Damontae Kazee or Alex Barrett, some of those older guys. They were alpha males and when I came in, I looked up to them. Watching them play and watching them practice, I was like, I want to play for you because you’re going all out so I will, too. We’re missing that. And the senior class is smaller so it’s hard reaching out at times.”
SDSU takes on Hawaii on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.