Lobo Points of Interest: SDSU

Lobo Points of Interest: SDSU

Anthony aka LTFF, does one of the most complete write ups on UNM's opponents. This week he looks at the SDSU Aztecs and former Coach Rocky Long.

If you haven't been taking a look at the Aztecs lately (and we haven't seen them since 2011 because of the new MWC divisional split) here's what you missed.

SDSU has been racking up the wins in conference play with Rocky Long at the helm and even took their first-ever tri-championship in the last year possible to do so (2012). Brady Hoke laid the foundation in the resurrection of the Aztec program and although the skill players haven't met the same caliber they have been (see: NFL draft picks the last four years), Rocky has ground out the W's to remain relevant...even if at a slow pace in difficult OOC. UNM and SDSU seem primed to re-introduce themselves to the other with past contests far away in the rear view mirror on both sides.

As always, Rocky runs his defense and gets OC Bob Toledo to call up the offense; similar to the way they were at New Mexico in 2006 at the same positions. The first time these two met professionally was at UCLA in 1996 and 1997 when Toledo was the head coach and Rocky ran the defense.

When they're out together Toledo tends to want to drive the vehicle, while Rocky picks up the tip. When there's a disagreement they usually prefer Italian food and restaurants with substantial wine lists.

They're quite a pair.

They're also experienced as hell. Toledo and Rocky combine for 28 years of head coaching experience and Toledo has been in the game for 36 total with two HC stints at Tulane and UCLA.

The Aztecs pulled one win in OOC against NMSU (winning by ten points), nearly took down an Oregon State squad at home, lost miserably at Ohio State and began the season losing to a directional FCS team from Illinois. They're coming along now and gave Fresno a hell of the game last week (although it was on a bye weeks worth of preparation) and are shoring up their problems at the QB position that have kept the team stagnant.

We know it, we (used to) love it and it made Brian Urlacher a Thorpe award finalists in 1999 while running this system. <----or maybe it was Urlacher that made it successful?

We know what the Aztecs run and like our offense, we simply have to find a way to work our way through it this week.

Rocky's 3-3-5 has been adapted in several "multiple" defenses but rarely is it used as a base defense. As time goes on it's unique schematic presentation defines itself as one of the rarest in college football as other systems are formed AROUND it and cherry picked FROM it.

If Rocky's defense could be summed up in one phrase it would be: "ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK; DB's pick up the slack." Rocky pinches the offense with speed up front and then gives the secondary favorable numbers to deal with the repercussions of consistent blitzing. In the middle of it all the "Aztec" position is the fulcrum of how well the defense produces with six pushing forward and four players setting the table behind the player reading the field. The 3-3-5 is one of the best systems to deal with shotgun/spread formations for a number of reasons but the flexible nature of having a permanent nickel defense makes this system one of the most "lifted" in multiple schemes. You can find several examples in the Big 12, though rarely as aggressive.

Rocky is very good at defending the option historically and ran the system himself as a UNM QB in the late sixties. Even he knows that straight blitzing isn't a good method to get the job done and a tentative assignment football scheme is what's needed for Saturday's game. The Aztecs defeated Air Force 27-20 by coming from behind earlier in the year and hung in a game that they led in yards but also made many mistakes.

Let's finish what the Falcons started. Take a look at the basics.

Lobo Points of Interest: SDSU Defense

Here's the typical set of the 3-3-5. Three lineman, three linebackers, five secondary including the "Aztec" position.

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Rocky plays the front six with speed, hopefully getting at least one man past the line through the gaps, while giving the secondary favorable numbers to cover what makes it out of the backfield. Power schemes do very well against this type of defense because the added blockers are usually big enough knock the linebackers back...which leaves the secondary with a tackling situation.

Screens aren't always the answer with this defense. They'll want to surround the pocket but they're also fast enough to converge if a screen develops too early. Speed, speed, speed is their strength so you have to over power them to make a difference.

It's sort of a poor man's 4-2-5 if you want to call it that. This brand of defense came first however so it's hard to retroactively label it that way. When you have an abundance of speedy players, this scheme will have to do. If you have enough formidable lineman to rotate in, you can convert it to a more modern 4-2-5.

So what's the big advantage when you're playing a 3-3-5? Let me show you. Here's a look at the Aztecs stacking the line. This is closer to the formations we'll see on Saturday.

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The big striped area (that appropriately looks like a Christmas stocking) is the space in the field where their should be linebackers in coverage. Look at all that space!

Fresno runs out of the Shotgun and UNM runs the pistol option. I've noted the offensive formation because of the speed a play develops in the pistol compared to the shotgun. We would normally have a tight end lined up where the strong side linebacker is too.

Testing the D-line with the dive will prove imperative in how well we do on the ground. The Aztecs have to play sound assignment football on the option but they can converge fast on the corners. The size of our QB is a perk and our line's push in the middle may be a perk here too. If our TE's can get some battles won in their blocking we can pull out some big gains. The Aztecs will try to overload the gaps and a steady snap count will make them show their cards as we eat up clock. Properly read, the direction the ball travels will make their penetration "too little, too late."

Pressure is the main weapon with this defense and it's going to have diminishing returns with an offense that doesn't hang out in a pocket. If we get the right gaps we can "rip them a new one".

Their D-line are built like linebackers (one topping out the bunch at 280lbs) and all of them look to power through their gap assignments with speed and strength. There are no corks on this roster, if anything they fill holes that the linemen create with more linebackers. Blocking with a fine toothed directional comb will solve a lot of these problems and our boys need to win these fights, one-on-one.

I highly suggest watching the SDSU v. Fresno replay if you have the chance. Aside from being a great aggressive defense showcase you can take a look at the way the Aztecs try to mix up their blitzes against the opposition. One important note though: SDSU plays a lot of "psycho" in this game (lineman and linebackers standing up and moving constantly to confuse the O-line). I guarantee it was only to mess with Fresno's passing game and there's little need to use it against the lobos. Aside from obvious passing situations, you won't see it much....it worked pretty well on Fresno though. You might see it on 3rd down, but I doubt it.


As the majority of the Aztec roster is constructed around it, linebacker is the star of the show with this particular squad. Some of them double as a roving defensive end compared to their lineman depth. Seniors thrown into the mix and lots of returning starters from last years squad. One of the reasons that the Aztecs are in the top 25 in rushing defense this year.

Overall it's the secondary that's bled this squads total defense into the high 70's in FBS. People have been able to throw on the Aztecs and the only teams that have benefited on the ground against them have been able to out-muscle them. Otherwise the throw was what won the day. Air Force only gained 169 yards and doubled up on yardage with the pass. It's been a weird year for the falcons but not everything can be attributed to their struggles...the Aztecs had a part in making them go to the air.

Lobo Points of Interest: SDSU Offense

There are many reasons that people like to stick to the classics. When all else fails it's something that promotes stability when there's too much variation all over the place. It's something that everyone can revert to. The Aztec offense has as many standby techniques as their OC has grey hairs (which definitely comes with the territory).

The Aztec offense uses a pro-style set that works out of multiple tight end looks and minimum skill players on the field. The Toledo run offense actually still uses a tried-and-true fullback! A friggin' fullback! Amazing! Lookee here:

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I'm geeking out just looking at these olden formations of yesteryear. You aren't going to find many fullbacks on the field now-a-days and I suggest you do what I did and take a picture. The Aztecs carry six fullbacks on their roster! Squeeeee! excited

The Aztecs use a lot of tight ends and extra blockers to run their offense and they lean on their running backs almost as much as we do. A particular note to mention in this offense is the need for a reliable receiving tight end to pick up the slack for skill players on the field. When they can't make headway on the ground they have a limited number of options to go to for a big receiving play....even play-action is an "all or nothing" affair with two to three guys to get open with four common secondary guys to pick them up.

San Diego State is right behind us in the time of possession game...a stat we lead the MWC in. Early in the season QB and O-line troubles were the factors that took them completely out of games and a lack of balance ended their hopes of overcoming several close games.

Their hopeful replacement to start out the season, Junior Adam Dingwell, was benched after showing inconsistent passing and running up painful interceptions. Walk-on JUCO Quinn Kaehler has improved the consistency of running the offense like a point guard (see: handing off to the RB) and making the most of his throws when he's needed. His last game against Fresno was his most consistent yet and proved to be his lone loss since taking over the starting position.

The Aztecs stick to the classics, so although they can scramble a little bit these quarterbacks like to stick in the pocket. At 6-4; 210+ most of them only need to test their arm to move the team down the field.


Although Toledo will run out of the shotgun occasionally, most of the plays in his offense are formation appropriate for the most part. From this pattern he pulls out one of his favorite tools, the reverse, to sucker punch 50-65 plays of tackle memory. When there's some ground to be made up (or some game to put away) this is his way of making a difference. Here's a good example of a misdirection play when it matters most: in the red zone.

This is the original goal line set up formation at the start of the play. Let's watch how it develops.

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Three tight ends and a fullback in for what looks like a power run type formation. They've been power running all game long right? Here it comes right? Wrong.

The fullback and the running back continue forward like it's a regular power running play. The fullback taking up a defender on the block allows the guard to be pulled. The quarterback fakes the hand-off to the running back and the tight end loops around. The QB is still holding the ball.

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The fullback keeps the defenders back, the left tight end holds the edge and the QB hands off the ball to #87: the third tight end that was lined up on the bottom of the screen. The guard leads the charge and the misdirection play works perfectly. Touchdown.

Toledo has quite a few wrinkles in this offense. As brick and mortar as their style seems to be, the occasional exotic can hopefully be a game breaker when the timing is right. Unfortunately the timing is hard to unleash when the offense isn't as consistent. Although nowhere near the finesse type of most modern offenses, the Aztecs can surprise you when you least expect it. That's what's dangerous about experience I suppose.


Quarterbacks are what the Aztecs are ailing from but they have some great tools in their backfield to bail them out.

Adam Nuema is considered one of the top running backs in the league as far as NFL potential goes and his fast 5-11; 210 frame hits you and keeps moving. He's had some injury problems early in the season but has healed nicely just in time to hit his stride. He's the power runner of the stable and is the third punch in the offense after a lineman, TE, and/or fullback have hit you.

Donnel Pumphrey is tiny! 5-9; 155lbs but extra fast. He's SDSU's Carlos Wiggins type speed runner to go with Nuema. SDSU depends on both of these guys to run the clock and use the blockers that they use so often.

Chad Young is the prime fullback and at 6-1; 240 is a load to bring down. He's a linebacker in himself. The senior is a former walk-on that now gets the majority of the field time when they put him in motion for blocking, dives, motion and bootlegs. Also: motion.

Ezell Ruffin, JR WR, manages to fit his ears inside his helmet...

Ezell Ruffin
...but also impressed during the Fresno game with career highs in receptions and yardage. He basically had the game of his life stiff-arming DB's in isolation; hinging on his deceptively quick 6-1, 205lb frame. Another big body though shorter than most of the premiere WR's in the league...he's probably a converted RB. This is just a guess but I think he's born in the year of the rat in the Chinese zodiac. Lose the whiskers man. It's creepy.

The area where the Aztecs also suffer (or succeed?) is tight end. As many tight ends as the Aztecs carry on their roster, they're still looking to replace their starters from last year and it's already the middle of the season. Numerous draft picks have come out of this area and they're proving harder to replace. There are many underclassmen that look to add weight and experience here. As I previously mentioned, having a reliable receiving tight end also makes Toledo's offense hum that much more. This might be an area to concentrate on as this part of the game hasn't developed that well this season. Many drops and many more blocking plays for the tight ends I've noticed.

Lobo Points of Interest: Final Analysis

The game of rock/paper/scissors football goes like this: Size beats speed, Speed beats Strength, Strength beats size. Great defenses sometimes have combinations of two or more.

And if you have Size, Speed and Strength you're probably in the SEC and have nothing to do with this conversation. noidea

But in this case the Aztecs have speed in the majority of the their defense and vice versa when our defense is on the field. Although their blockers will try to dictate the field on our linebackers, they're only truly outmatched by the SDSU O-line. Their line is substantial in size but lacked cohesiveness early in the season. Some of their fullbacks rival some of the starting tight ends and I think that says more about their tight ends honestly. The bottom line is if our D-line can't make some headway for our linebackers, there might not be enough gaps to make a play before it's down field. The D-line has to step up. 

If there's a good time to release a corner to help get the Aztec's running game in the backfield, this might be the time. We'll never face a team that uses less skill players at the receiver position. The Aztecs face the same conundrum though they do it with slightly larger linebackers against the lobo pistol option.

Rocky's option experience is one of the X factors here, there's no doubt about it. This is the first time he's faced this style but the principles are there.

Although we'll need to still direct the ball properly, we hopefully should have some progress in the middle of the field from the O-line. Sending their linebackers into the backfield should be like clockwork with Rocky's attacking D, but the reduced pistol development time should help and all we need is a little gap before a good play can be made. As time goes on, the misdirection part of the triple option can also open up. Our WR's do have size advantages on the SDSU corners. The TE's will need to hold their blocks.

Watching how SDSU reacts to our motion is one of the unknowns I'm looking forward to watching on Saturday. I don't think play action will work as well. Even as dedicated to the run UNM is, and even though SDSU knows it has to play assignment football, it still has a lot of speed to close on a pocket in general. We can't get cute and we can't stick around the pocket.

We just have to light them up the old-fashion way. You run over a 3-3-5. You don't run around them. We'll have to use our size to our advantage when we can and read their blitz as best we can. Air Force (believe it or not) didn't have the option experience we have when they played the Aztecs...that might be an advantage with Cole on the ball.


The defense will have to use as many looks as it can to get into the backfield. SDSU will look to stick to it's MO and we might be eventually trying to out rush them by the end of the game. Pull out the kitchen sink Mills, we need it. Being conservative in this game isn't fitting. This game will probably be over in less than four hours and we'll need to make use of every scoring opportunity. Turnovers will be huge and ball discipline on the Aztec side seems to be lacking.

You can tell by the way they carry the ball.

SDSU is still shaky at QB consistency for two reasons: WR/TE skill positions drops and RB/FB hands. They run the ball to keep the game under control and if the line has an off night the entire team feels the repercussion of keeping the defense on the field longer than it needs to be. Their QB throws and arms are adequate but not overly so. They're very human. SDSU will try to keep this on the ground and it's our job to make them change their game.


So let's do what we do and leave it all on the field. We can run with these guys. So let's run them over! Get em' Lobos! Let's do it!


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