In what many thought would be a close game going down to the wire like last year's matchup at Michie Stadium, in Saturday's game played at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego State dominated Army 42-7.
The Aztecs out-gained Army 443 yards to 282 amid breakdowns and turnovers by the Black Knights throughout the game.
Opening games for college football teams tell a lot about a team's status and potential for the year. Afterwards Coach Rich Ellerson told the Army Sports Network:
"I am stunned, I did not anticipate, could not visualize us playing like that. Don't want to take anything away from San Diego State a good football team, they played well, they were precise, they were physical and we were not. Yes it was our first game, but we had so many veteran football players that were doings that we can do in our sleep, and we looked like we were trying to do it in our sleep. I am stunned."
The opening SDSU drive set the tone for the night with the Aztec's Adam Muema running 31 and 15 yards through the defense to the Army 40. Aztec QB Ryan Katz hit Colin Lockett for a completion to the 12-yard line and on the next play Katz took it to the 4.
Walter Kazee scored on the ground to give SDSU a 7-0 lead with the PAT kick by Chance Marden.
Army showed three backs in the backfield most of the night with sophomore Larry Dixon at the full back and junior Ray Maples and another sophomore Terry Baggett on the other side of Dixon. They played with two wide receivers and no tight ends, just the five offense lineman upfront.
The Army offense emphases the blocking of the guards Frank Allen on the left and sophomore Stephen Shumaker on the right both listed about 260 pounds, larger than the tackles both listed at 243 Senior Ben Jebb on the left and Michael Kime on the right.
Senior quarterback Trent Steelman had trouble with the exchange from center, another senior Will Wilson who was filling in for the injured Ryan Powis. It is not like Steelman and Wilson are unfamiliar with each other, they have have played together since their days at the Army Prep School four years ago.
Army first drive took the ball from their own seven to the SDSU 32 in nine crisp running plays, but on 2nd-and 4, Steelman fumbled the exchange and fell on the ball and then confusion led to a five yard procedure penalty leading a third and fourth down plays which lost the possession. After the Army defense forced the Aztecs to punt, on Army's first play Steelman again fumbled the snap recovered by the Aztecs Derek Largent in Army territory at the 36. This lead to SDSU taking a 14-0 lead still in the first quarter.
Later in the second quarter the Aztecs went 80 yards in seven plays capped on a 22 yard run by Walter Kazee who went virtually untouched down the right side into the end zone to make it with the PAT 21-0.
Army tried to get back in the game moving the ball across mid-field but Trent Steelman tried to pass rolling out to his left and threw a high risk lob pass over a rushing defender that was intercepted by Eric Pinkins. This was a pass that that Army QB should not have thrown except into the nearby bench area or just run himself. The Army defense held the Aztecs to a 40 yard field goal attempt which was missed by Marden keeping the game within three scores 21-0 at the half.
Army took the second half kick with a chance to get back in the game, but punted and the Aztecs completed a 57 yard pass play Ryan Katz to Ezell Ruffin with the nine play drive capped off by an Adam Muema one yard run. With the point after touchdown by Marden, SDSU took a 28-0 lead.
The game deteriorated for Army on the first play of the next drive when Steelman tried to throw a pass into a crowd of defenders and was picked off by the Aztecs Josh Gavert who brought the ball to the Army 33. Game over at this point. Two Ryan Katz pass plays gave SDSU a 35-0 lead.
Army finally got on the scoreboard on their next series staying on the ground with Ray Maples and Terry Baggett. In five plays the combination ran the ball 75 yards and Baggett from Chicago scoring his first career touchdown. Army freshman Dan Grochowski from Sarasota, Florida kicked the PAT, his first scoring chance after winning the field goal/PAT kicking job in training camp.
The highlight of the evening was the running of the junior Ray Maples with 107 yards in 19 attempts for an average of 5.6 yards and the sophomore Baggett 100 yards in 13 attempts. Larry Dixon had 34 yards and Jared Hassin, Jon Crucitti got in and both averaged over five yards per carry in three attempts each. The problem was Trent Steelman when he carried the ball often with defenders quickly in the backfield gained only three yards total in nine attempts. On the day Army gained 282 yards on the ground in 62 plays on the ground.
An exclamation point was added to the series of breakdowns Army suffered in this game when following the Army score, the Aztecs Colin Lockett ran back Eric Osteen's kickoff 96 yards up his own left side virtually untouched for the final score of the game. Coach Ellerson commented to Army Sports Network,
"We had trouble just lining up to formations we have been working on for four weeks. We have a basic way to cancel gaps and our defensive ends struggled with their tight ends. The defense doesn't crumble because some guys are getting pushed around. The lack of our ability to get lined up and settled in with our eyes. Just play the defense. The QB-Center exchange, the kickoff, it is stunning how few things we were able to execute."
San Diego State improved to 1-1 on the season, they look to be a contender in the Mountain West Conference before they make their scheduled move to the Big East. Head coach Rocky Long was asked by the NBC Sports Network about the play of defense:
"It was much better than last year, we played a little bit harder and some plays we could not make last year. And our offense did a lot better job than last year too so you get a few points, you can play better defense if you're area ahead." about his quarterback,
"Ryan Katz, he got a lot better between game one and game two and we hope he gets better between two and three because we are going to have to be a lot better than we were today to win a lot of games."
For Army after returning from the long flight home on Sunday afternoon, they will need to quickly reorganize to prepare for their home opener Saturday against a very good Northern Illinois team.
Last year in the road opener very similar to this one, the Huskies defeated Army 49-26 in DeKalb. On Saturday the Huskies evened their record with a 35-7 home win over Tennessee-Martin of the Ohio Valley conference. Head Coach Dave Doeren's team played well in an opening game 18-17 loss to Iowa of the Big Ten at Soldier Field in Chicago giving up a Hawkeye touchdown with just 2:15 to play. The Husky defense gave up only 268 yards on the day.
Going into the season, the rebuilt Army defense was a question mark and continues to need improvement, but the vital question mark is if Trent Steelman can come back and play like he did his first three years as the Army quarterback who gained over 2,000 yards both running and passing, while scoring 28 touchdowns himself.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football for Sons of the American Legion Radio and 1460 WVOX and http://www.wvox.com/ in New Rochelle, NY. Listen to his local high school and college football summaries Friday's and Monday's at 6:35 AM.