2011 San Diego State Preview – Offense
San Diego State LB Miles Burris
San Diego State LB Miles Burris
Posted May 16, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - San Diego State Aztec Offense

San Diego State Aztecs

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 San Diego State Preview | 2011 San Diego State Offense
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What You Need To Know: Rocky Long might have tried to change things up a bit at the end of his tenure at New Mexico, but for the most part he liked to pound away with the running game. Now he and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will use the athletic, veteran line and the quickness of the backfield to try to get even more production on the ground. The star of the show, though, is quarterback Ryan Lindley, an NFL-caliber bomber who needs to cut down on his picks and has to make up for the loss of star receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. The receiving corps might be iffy, but all the other parts are there for the offense to be effective, even if it's not as productive as it was last year when it ripped of 457 yards and 35 points per game.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Ryan Lindley
243-421, 3,830 yds, 28 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Ronnie Hillman
262 carries, 1,532 yds, 17 TD
Receiving: Gavin Escobar
29 catches, 323 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Ryan Lindley
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Dominique Sandifer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Gavin Escobar
Best pro prospect: Lindley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lindley, 2) RB Ronnie Hillman, 3) OT Tommie Draheim
Strength of the offense: Lindley & Hillman, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Receiver, Line Depth


State of the Unit: The San Diego State passing game blew up last season thanks to a terrific receiving corps, the emergence of a ground game to take the pressure off, and with everything clicking at times on the way to 295 passing yards per game. The Aztecs were 12th in the nation in passing and 20th in passing efficiency, and while they won't be that productive again without Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson to throw to, they'll be solid.

The hope was for senior Ryan Lindley to blow up with the pieces in place around him and with the experience to know what he was doing. While he completed 58% of his throws for 3,830 yards and 28 touchdowns, he threw 14 picks. He threw three picks in the loss to Utah, but he also pitched for 528 yards and four scores, and he had a run of nine interceptions in four games, but he settled down and was nearly perfect over the last two games of the season ripping up UNLV for four scores and completing 18-of-23 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl win over Navy. The 6-4, 220-pound senior was a great recruit for the program, and while he hasn't quite grown into a top NFL prospect, he's good enough to be drafted with the right size, a live arm, and the ability to bomb away. He's not going to run and he'll have his meltdown games with too many picks, but he might be the Mountain West's best quarterbacks … and that includes Boise State's Kellen Moore.

The backup situation will once again be a bit iffy, but 6-4, 195-pound redshirt freshman Adam Dingwell and sophomore Ryan Clark are promising. The 6-4, 195-pound Dingwell was a decent recruit out of Texas with good size, a live arm, and good smarts. Wanted by Utah, TCU, and a few Big 12 schools, the Aztecs got him and he'll likely be the starter next year if he can hold off Clark. The 6-2, 205-pound walk-on has been just good enough in practices to get a shot at the No. 2 job with good accuracy and a live arm. 6-5, 210-pound sophomore Jake Bernards is a big passer who can push it deep, and he's smart and mobile. While he has decent skills, he's the fourth man in the mix.

Watch Out For … the backup fight. Dingwell and Clark being ahead of Bernards after the spring was a little bit of a surprise, and it's not set in stone. The coaching staff will give all three players an equal shot at the backup job, but Bernards is playing from behind. Considering Lindley is gone next year, this could be a battle for the 2012 starting gig.
Strength: Lindley. The Aztecs needs a leader to work around, and Lindley is a veteran who has seen it all in Mountain West play and has gotten the job done. He's a proven playmaker who can shoulder all of the pressure and workload.
Weakness: Accuracy and backup experience. As good as Lindley is at pushing the ball deep, his 30 picks over the last two years are way too many and the 58% completion percentage is way too mediocre. Berends completed a pass. That's it for the backup experience.
Outlook: Lindley needs to be sharper and he has to put a cap on the mistakes, but as long as he's healthy the Aztecs won't be out of any game. He can push the ball all over the field, but under new head coach Rocky Long, being a game manager wouldn't be a bad thing. The backups need more work, but first the coaches have to settle on someone as the real, true No. 2 to count on.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: Can the running game start to rock even more under the new coaching staff? It's not like Brady Hoke ignored the ground attack, with the team gaining close to 2,100 yards with 29 scores, but Rocky Long was known for pounding away at New Mexico. He has different personnel now in San Diego, but he's still going to try to keep things moving with a physical style.

Sophomore Ronnie Hillman was supposed to be decent and versatile, but no one could've foreseen a 1,532-yard, 17-touchdown season averaging 5.8 yards per carry. While he didn't do as much as expected in the passing game, catching nine passes for 68 yards with a score, his worth was as a runner tearing off 228 yards and two scores against Missouri, running for four scores against New Mexico State, and closing out with 228 yards and three touchdowns in the bowl win over Navy. While he's only 5-10 and 185 pounds and he's not going to bring much power, he's a speedster who can hit the home run from anywhere on the field. Originally considered a receiver recruit, he signed with the team three years ago but struggled with his academics. He got it all together and became one of the nation's top backs, and now he'll be expected to do even more getting fed the ball at least 250 times.

Hillman isn't all that big and he can't take too much of a pounding, so backup Walter Kazee has to be ready to do more. The 5-9, 180-pound junior got a little bit of work finishing second on the team with 320 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per play, and he caught two passes for 38 yards. Lightning quick and dangerous whenever he has the ball in his hands, he was a major factor early on, mostly in garbage time, and he ran 16 times for 63 yards late, and now he'll be used more in the rotation and not just in blowouts.

The combination of redshirt freshman Adam Muema and true freshman Dwayne Garrett will try to push for time in the rotation. The 5-10, 205-pound Muema is a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium and can cut on a dime. He's the biggest back in the Aztec equation, while the 6-0, 180-pound Garrett is a slippery runner who can be used as a receiver when needed.

The offense will start to use a fullback a bit more to bring some more power to the equation, and that means sophomore Chad Young should be more involved. At 5-11 and 240 pounds the walk-on is a big thumper who won't run the ball, running just twice for four yards, but he'll be a big blocker.

Watch Out For … Hillman to be run into the ground. Long isn't afraid to feed his backs. At New Mexico, Long gave the ball to Dontrell Moore over and over and over again with 275 carries in 2005. Hillman might not be built like a workhorse, but that's what he'll be.
Strength: Quick backs. Hillman can fly and can take any carry the distance, while Kazee can cut on a dime and can take off with a little bit of a seam. When given the chance, Muema and Garrett should be able to crank out some decent runs.
Weakness: Power. There isn't any. Hillman isn't going to beat up any linebacker, and there isn't a true 220-pound power back to count on when it's third and short. The Aztecs will throw for first downs or will try to open up a hole for Hillman to zip through.
Outlook: San Diego State was awful for years at running the ball, finishing 117th in the nation in 2008 and 116th in 2009. That changed in a huge hurry, but that's because Brady Hoke's offense opened up ten-mile wide holes to fly through. Will Hillman get as much space in Rocky Long's attack? That might be the key to the Aztec offense.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: The Aztec receiving corps has work to do. Gone is Vincent Brown, staying at home being drafted by the Chargers after catching 209 career passes with 23 scores, closing out with a 1,352-yard season. Also gone is DeMarco Sampson, a big playmaker who caught 67 passes for 1,220 yards and eight scores last season. Several promising receivers return, but the No. 1 returning wideout finished fifth on the team last season.

Junior Dominique Sandifer got a little work here and there, but saved his big game for the shootout against Utah catching six passes for 81 yards. The 6-0, 190-pounder has track star speed working at the outside X position, but he has to get used to being the main man. Tough enough to see time on the inside, he'll shine when he gets to go deep. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Ezell Ruffin , a 6-1, 190-pound speedster who could've gone to Tennessee, Notre Dame, Nebraska, or a host of other top schools, but he'll bring his 4.4 wheels to the outside of the SDSU attack.

Taking over on the inside is sophomore Dylan Denso, a 6-2, 205-pound with the build and the toughness for the spot. He's not all that big, but the walk-on is a smart route runner who caught four passes for 39 yards. He'll have to hold off sophomore Osmond Nicholas , a big, dangerous 6-3, 210-pound target who was a nice recruit a few years ago and has the speed to work on the outside to go along with the bulk to be tough at the Z.

6-5, 240-pound sophomore Bryce Quigley is technically a wide receiver at the Y, but in this offense that makes him another tight end. A star recruit with great hands and terrific toughness, he blew off Cal to be an Aztec and got a little work last year catching five passes for 66 yards and a score. 6-4, 255-pound senior Alston Umuolo was supposed to blossom into a star last year after making 22 catches for 243 yards and three scores in 2009, but he suffered a hip injury early on and was lost for the season. He caught three passes for 19 yards, and now he needs to get healthy to show he can do more.

Working as a true tight end is the team's leading returning receiver, 6-6, 245-pound Gavin Escobar. A steady producer who earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors, the sophomore is a good route runner with great hands and excellent upside. He's an okay blocker, but his worth will be as a receiver, while 6-4, 240-pound junior D.J. Shields is a blocker who has seen time at fullback as well as in two tight end sets. He only caught two passes for 29 yards and a score, but he's a reliable veteran who'll work in a variety of ways as a swing backup.

Watch Out For … Sandifer. The pressure will be on. The offense needs to stretch the field a bit and that has to come from Sandifer, who has the raw wheels to be the big-play performer Ryan Lindley needs to push the ball deep.
Strength: Tight end. Escobar is a promising young receiver who came up with a strong first season, and Quigley has the potential to start doing more. If Umuolo is healthy, he could be a breakout performer who serves as a nice safety valve.
Weakness: Vincent Brown and DeMaco Sampson. Brown is a San Diego Charger and Sampson is an Arizona Cardinal after combining for 138 of the team's 244 catches, 2,572 of the team's 3,840 yards, and 18 of the 28 touchdown passes. The returning wide receivers have combined for a grand total of zero touchdowns.
Outlook: Ryan Lindley is a terrific quarterback and the running game should take the heat off, but losing Brown and Sampson could be devastating unless Sandifer steps up his game and becomes a 60+ catch target. There are some decent prospects, but it'll take a surprising performance from some unknown, untested player to come close to match last year's production.
Unit Rating: 5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: The hope was for experience to translate into production for the Aztec line, and it did. The front five finished fifth in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up a ridiculously low nine sacks while paving the way with 161 yards per game on the ground, and now the potential is there to be even stronger. The idea last year was to wall-off the linemen to provide the holes needed to slip through. This group won't pound over anyone, but it'll be good on the move and it'll know what it's doing.

As good as the Aztec line was, only one player earned all-star honors. Guard Track Iosefa is gone making 6-4, 305-pound senior Emilio Rivera the lone new starter. Big, strong, and what the new coaching staff wants in a pounder, he'll get the call at left guard after getting hurt early on last year and missing almost the entire season. 330-pounds two years ago, he slimmed down, and now he's ready to be a key run blocker. 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Japeth Gordon is a smart, athletic blocker working as the understudy. He'll be groomed to take over next year.

Senior Tommie Draheim couldn't stay healthy earlier in his career, missing all of 2008 with a shoulder injury and missing half of 2009 banged up, but he became a dependable all-around blocker last year starting every game. He should've earned all-star honors at left tackle showing excellent athleticism and good pass protecting abilities, and while he's not going to throw anyone in the third row, he'll stay with speed rushers without a problem. Senior Mike Matamua didn't see much time last year after getting hurt, but he's a good veteran starting every game two years ago. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he's a nice athlete who came to SDSU as a top recruit.

Junior Alec Johnson was a terrific recruit a few years ago considered the star of the 2008 recruiting class, and he's growing into a strong quarterback for the offensive front starting every game and getting better as the year went on. At 6-3 and 295 pound he has nice size and great versatility, able play any of the five spots, but he's proving to be a natural center.

6-4, 305-pound junior Nik Embernate has grown into a nice blocker going from a likely backup to a 13-game starter at right guard. While he's not a blaster, he's reliable, consistent, and good on the move. Built like a tackle, he also moves like one and is good at getting in front of his man. Junior Riley Gauld will work into the rotation after coming in from the JUCO ranks. He was a tackle at Allan Hancock College, but he's far more natural as a guard.

Senior Kurtis Gunther isn't a top athlete, but at 6-8 and 295 pounds he has a frame that's tough to get around. The mainstay at right tackle started every game last year, and now the one-time star recruit, who could've gone almost anywhere on the West Coast, is a strong pass protector and will be as reliable a blocker as they come. Trying to get a bit bigger to be ready to take over the starting job next year is 6-5, 270-pound redshirt freshman Garrett Corbett, a decent prospect who fits the old coaching staff's style has to get stronger and has to start shoving some people around to see time.

Watch Out For … the line to be fantastic. Underappreciated last year because it wasn't all that physical and didn't have any one guy who stood out, other than Iosefa for the ground game, now the all-star voters will start to recognize Draheim and Johnson as two of the league's best blockers.
Strength: Experience. Losing Iosefa stinks, but getting back four starters from a dominant line is a big plus. This group is experienced, great on the move, and consistent.
Weakness: Proven depth. The Aztecs got a big break by not getting hit with a ton of injuries. Can they have the same luck twice? The backups are built for the old coaching staff, but the new coaching staff will have to learn how to rotate them in. They're athletes; they're not road graders.
Outlook: Long and offensive line coach Dan Finn aren't going to change things up, this isn't going to be like the old New Mexico lines full of 330-pound behemoths. This will be an athletic, quick line that's going to be solid. The starting five should be a rock, but the backups are a question mark.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2011 San Diego State Preview | 2011 San Diego State Offense
- 2011 San Diego State Defense | 2011 San Diego State Depth Chart
- San Diego State Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006