To Saturday’s winner goes the Old Oil Can Trophy, and if that baby is filled, we’re talking some serious stakes.
If not, San Diego State playing Fresno State is enough to rev anyone’s engine.
The Aztecs (3-3, 2-0 Mountain West), if they can find the field again, return from a 15-day sabbatical. They come back with a three-game winning streak and a spotless conference record.
The No. 15 Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0) show their teeth and no wonder SDSU coach Rocky Long is concerned. Fresno State features an offense that takes a back seat to no one.
Long peeks at the Bulldogs’ numbers and groans. He made his mark as a defensive guru and when pursuing the college landscape these days, it’s got him thinking.
“I’ll still call the plays,’’ Long said. “But I think I’ll name someone else defensive coordinator.’’
Fresno State, which like SDSU earned a share of the MW title last season, is exhibit ‘A’ for what makes guys with a defensive slant squirm. It plays fast, it plays well and it plays to a skewed set of rules that encourages offenses to be offensive.
Long is long enough in the tooth to remember when to stop passing games a unit did two things: smack the opposing quarterback whenever and knock the receivers into whatever.
“In the old days you could hit him after he threw the ball,’’ Long said, with a sparkle in his eye. “Now you can’t hit him when still has the ball.’’
And pass-catchers might make a reception, but it was to a soundtrack of their teeth rattling — no mas.
“It has taken some fun out of coaching the defensive side of the ball,’’ Long said. “It’s just reality. I’m not complaining because everyone is playing under the same rules. So your offense has to be able to stay with the other team to win.’’
This week that’s Fresno State, so step back and watch the chains move. Its per-game averages of 89 plays, 552 yards and 384 passing yards is no joke.
The Bulldogs’ biggest bite comes from quarterback Derek Carr. He’s heaved 23 touchdown passes with just four interceptions and his nearly 380-yard average is second in the nation.
Count Long among those bummed when Carr returned this season.
“I was hoping he would come out early,’’ Long said. “He was an NFL guy last year and he is even more prepared for the NFL. He reads defenses really, really well, is calm in the pocket and is very accurate with the football. What else can you be?’’
How about a giant pain to the Aztecs?
But SDSU has some smart dudes and its coach has been going to school on how to slow offenses.
Hey Rocky, you shy about stealing a page from the Chargers?
The Chargers’ defense is average, but with the offense hogging the ball, it isn’t exposed as much.
If SDSU deploys its two-headed running attack of Adam Muema and Donnel Pumphrey, that keeps Carr up on the blocks.
“Everybody in this town understands that now with the Chargers doing the same thing,’’ Long said. “If you’re able to have long drives running the ball, the best defense ever is the other team’s offense sitting on the bench.’’
Pumphrey is the first SDSU freshman to rush for 100 yards in three straight games since some guy named Marshall Faulk.
Muema, with over 2,000 career-rushing yards, has scored a touchdown in six consecutive outings.
“Both of them are running pretty well right now,’’ Long said, but he says so while looking toward the sky.
That’s where Saturday game will be won. Long hates it, preferring his football played closer to the ground. But he knows it, accepts it, and wishes for the best.
“I hope our offense can score enough points,’’ Long said. “I am expecting a shootout.’’
Just don’t puncture the old oilcan. That stuff is too expensive to waste.
Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on 1090 AM on Monday and Friday mornings. He’s also the Wednesday morning co-host of “Hacksaw and Company.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports