San Diego State ended its three-game run through some of the best teams in Pacific 10 Conference Saturday night with a 34-13 loss to No. 20 Oregon.
The defeat before 22,527 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium was the Aztecs’ ninth in a row to Pac-10 teams over four seasons and probably left them looking forward to their return to Western Athletic Conference play Saturday. Although the Aztecs finished 0-3 against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon, they still are 1-0 in the WAC thanks to their victory over Air Force two weeks ago.
Maybe the fresh start will give them reason for optimism. They certainly need good news after a loss that left them with injuries to at least three starters.
Ed Todd Coomes left the game in the first quarter with a broken leg. Tailback Paul Hewitt (sore hip) and inside linebacker Tracey Mao (sprained ankle) left the game and did not return. How quickly they recover might have a lot to say about which way the Aztecs’ season goes from here.
“I’m glad to be playing in the league now,” said Coach Denny Stolz.
Their Pac-10 troubles are behind them, but getting back to the WAC for the last seven games of the season might not be a cure-all either.
SDSU starts by playing host to Wyoming, the defending WAC champions who are 5-0 and ranked 18th. Then they must play a homecoming game against Hawaii, the WAC’s surprise team (4-0, including two rare WAC victories on the road).
SDSU faces the possibility of playing their first six games against teams that had lost a total of one game when they met the Aztecs.
Oregon’s victory was their fourth this season and sixth in a row. It is the Ducks’ longest winning streak since they won 10 in a row in 1963-64.
Oregon won despite the absence of quarterback Bill Musgrave, who sat out with a sprained ankle. The Ducks filled in with junior Pete Nelson and redshirt freshman Bob Brothers, but it was tailback Derek Loville who made the difference.
Loville scored twice on runs of 1 yard and once from 3 yards, 129 yards on 23 carries. His final touchdown came on a 1-yard plunge seven plays after free safety Mark Winn returned an interception of a Brad Platt pass 31 yards to the Aztec 30. It was the final score of a game in which the Aztecs allowed at least 31 points for the fourth time this season.
It is beginning to look more like last season, when the Aztecs began 1-6 on the way to a 5-7 finish and had a defense ranked among the nation’s worst in almost every category.
The game started out as a replay of some hauntingly familiar scenes for anyone who has followed SDSU the past two seasons.
A series of defensive lapses, offense mistakes and kicking-game errors let Oregon jump to a 21-0 lead in the first 13:03. From that, the Aztecs were left to play catchup much the way they did two weeks ago when they let Stanford take a 28-3 lead on the way to a 31-10 Aztec loss.
But unlike that game, in which the Cardinal simply overpowered the Aztecs with a relentless running game, this time the Ducks did it with balance, and with the help of some costly SDSU errors.
Two Oregon touchdowns were set by punts of 14 and 18 yards by Bill Kushner, giving the Ducks possession deep in Aztec territory. And the other first-half touchdown came on a one-play drive--a 66-yard scoring pass to flanker Terry Obee.
It was the second time this season a team scored on the Aztecs by opening a series with a long-pass play--UCLA scored on a 43-yarder in a 59-6 season-opening Aztec loss.
Kushner, a freshman from Fallbrook High School who won the open position in preseason camp, was replaced by Joe Santos after his second short punt. Santos, a junior transfer from Contra Costa College, opened with a 51-yarder and averaged 42.8 yards on seven kicks.
“Tonight we had two terrible punts, and you just can’t play after that against these kinds of teams,” Stolz said. The coach said that after Kushner’s first bad put, he should have made the change “right then.”
Kushner got the Aztecs in immediate trouble when his first punt went out of bounds at the Aztec 38 after traveling only 14 yards.
The Ducks need only five running plays to score their first touchdown on the 3-yard run by Loville.
Oregon went ahead, 14-0, on its next possession when quarterback Pete Nelson found Obee open on the left side. Obee caught the pass near midfield, turned and raced untouched into the end zone.
Another short Kushner punt led to the third Oregon touchdown. This time, his 19-yarder went out of bounds at the SDSU 34. Loville, a junior from Pacifica, did the rest, carrying on all five plays and ending the drive with a 1-yard dive with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
The Ducks led, 21-0, but it could have been worse. They twice recovered fumbles by Aztec quarterback Brad Platt at the SDSU 45 but failed to score. Many of the Ducks’ offensive troubles appeared to rest with Nelson, who was having his troubles filling for regular Bill Musgrave. Musgrave, who threw three touchdown passes in a 25-20 Oregon victory last season, sprained his ankle in a 7-3 victory against Stanford the week before.
Nelson, a junior making his second college start, was 4 of 15 for 125 yards and 1 touchdown in the first half. He also threw the first of his 2 interceptions, giving him 9 interceptions in 114 career passing attempts. So ineffective was Nelson that he was replaced by redshirt freshman Bob Brothers left midway through the third quarter after completing 5 of 18 attempts for 131 yards.
That momentary Oregon offensive lapse allowed the Aztecs to try to fight their way back.
Platt, who was harassed in the first half into two fumbled snaps and a fumble on a pass attempt, finally got untracked when he started an early second-quarter possession with completions of 22 yards to split end Alfred Jackson and 16 to tight end Kerry Reed-Martin.
But after a first down at the Oregon 20, the drive stalled, and Aztecs settled for a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Ackerson to cut the lead to 21-3 with 9:36 left in the half.
Platt completed 6 of 8 passing attempts for 71 yards on the Aztecs’ next possession before carrying over himself from 1 yard out as they drew within 21-10 with 3:27 left.
After an exchange of punts, the Ducks came back to make the most of their last possession of the half. Taking over at their 26 with 1:08 remaining, the Ducks drove 50 yards in 7 plays before Kirk Dennis kicked a 41-yard field goal with eight seconds left for a 24-10 halftime lead.
Dennis and Ackerson exchanged field goals for the only scoring in the third quarter.
Dennis, who had kicked a school-record five field goals in a 43-28 victory at Washington State two weeks earlier, made a season-best 46-yarder with 10:56 to play in the third period. Ackerson added his 37-yarder on the ensuing possession to keep the Aztecs within two touchdowns at 27-13 with 7:40 left in the quarter.
Kerry Reed-Martin did not start for the first time in 10 games for San Diego State. He was replaced on the first two series by senior Dave Schlick and Jim Hanawalt, a sophomore transfer from Arizona. Reed-Martin was the Aztecs’ leading receiver last season with 49 catches for a team-high 719 yards and 4 touchdowns. This season, he had 6 catches for 72 yards. . . . Morey Paul, a sophomore from Oceanside, started at strong outside linebacker for the Aztecs after being moved from inside linebacker after the Stanford game. Tracey Mao, a freshman from Lynwood, started in Paul’s old spot. In another defensive change, Todd Coomes, who had been playing at weakside outside linebacker, started at end. But both Mao and Coomes left the game with sprained ankles. Also leaving with a sprained ankle was reserve linebacker Milt Maples. . . . Milt Wilson returned after missing the Stanford game with a sprained ankle. . . . Monty Gilbreath extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one reception to 18. Chris Hardy holds the Aztec record at 23 games. . . . Patrick Rowe returned kickoffs for the Aztecs for the first time since he bruised a thigh returning a kick in the opener at UCLA.