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Rocky Long Has Solved San Diego State’s Air Force Problem

(Orlando Ramirez/Icon Sportswire)

Maybe the late Don Coryell made at least one mistake in his time at San Diego State, compiling a 104-19-2 record in 12 seasons from 1961 to 1972, after all.

He should have brought Rocky Long into his coaching tree by recruiting him out of Alta Loma High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in 1968. Instead, Long played quarterback at New Mexico and later coached the Lobos.

Maybe with Long in San Diego long ago the Aztecs would have enjoyed the current success they’re having against Air Force and been spared so many past embarrassing losses under Denny Stolz, Al Luginbill and Ted Tollner and their befuddled defensive coordinators. Tom Craft’s tenure wasn’t successful from 2002 to 2005, but Craft and DC Thom Kaumeyer was 3-1 against Air Force. Chuck Long and Bob Elliott were 1-2 and Hoke and Long 1-1.

In the 1980s and 1990s as Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference members, the Aztecs were the Coyote to Air Force’s Roadrunner. In the 1989 season opener, Air Force quarterback Dee Dowis set an NCAA record with six rushing touchdowns and ran for 249 yards in a 52-36 victory.

But now San Diego State has beaten Air Force with Long as head coach the past four years and as well as a fifth in 2010 as the defensive coordinator before he was promoted to succeed Brady Hoke. Long, who doubles a defensive coordinator, has long used a 3-3-5 scheme.

Air Force and SDSU didn’t play in the 2015 regular season, but they meet in the Mountain West Conference Championship game after Air Force (8-4, 6-2 MW Mountain) and San Diego State (9-3, 8-0 MW West) won their respective division titles to set up their showdown Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

“They give us unique problems with the option game that we haven’t seen this year,” said Long in a Mountain West teleconference call. “One week to prepare for the option is almost impossible. It’s going to be tough. In the past we’ve played two and sometimes three option teams in the same year, so you actually worked on it training camp and you had a system in place. You had an idea what to do (the week of the game).

“We thought we got lucky by not having to play the triple option teams this year. We’ve young players that haven’t seen it. It’s a completely new experience to get ready for the option experience that they run and execute so well. Were at a little disadvantage; now we’re happy (to be playing), but it makes it difficult.”

SDSU’s four wins under Long have contributed to winning seasons with bowl games. This year a victory will add to the streak, but it also will be the Aztecs’ first outright conference title since winning the WAC in 1986. The Aztecs were tri-champions of its only MWC title in 2012.

Air Force’s triple-option is the most diverse of the three service academies. The Falcons use two-back sets and throw the ball well to accomplished receivers.

Another problem San Diego State faces this week is that redshirt freshman quarterback Christian Chapman will make his first career start in place of injured starter Maxwell Smith. He suffered a knee injury in last week’s win over Nevada.

The Aztecs’ pro-style offense emphasizes the play-action passes. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Chapman from San Diego’s suburban Carlsbad High finished the Nevada game completing 6-of-9 passes for 44 yards with a long of 21. The Aztecs relied on their running game, with MWC Offensive Player of the Year Donnel Pumphrey carrying 23 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Chase Price added 19 for 112 and one TD.

“We’re obviously going to try and tailor some plays and try to take advantage of what he does best,” Long said. “I’m sure that the game plan will be simplified form what it was when Maxwell was in there.”

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