Aztecs Wary of Low-Flying Pacific Tigers : College football: Luginbill respects opponent's ability to score at will. But UOP allowed Cal to score 86 points last week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They have allowed an average of 64 1/2 points a game. They yielded 86 points to Cal last Saturday and lost at home to Sacramento State, 43-40, the previous week. They have given up 18 touchdowns and 54 first downs in two games.

The Pacific Tigers are coming to town, and it's not exactly as if they're Notre Dame or Michigan.

But there was San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill this week, doing his best Lou Holtz imitation.

Exactly what about Pacific, SDSU's opponent at 6:05 tonight in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, makes Luginbill nervous? As far as humor goes, Pacific has ranked right up there lately with Pee-wee Herman as the butt of jokes. But Luginbill is not laughing.

"Their talent and ability to throw the football from quarterback to receiver is in the Brigham Young-Miami category," Luginbill said. "They do it a different way, but they have that type of skill and ability."

"They run a West Coast version of the run-and-shoot. It's the best on the West Coast."

And the Aztecs open Western Athletic Conference play at Air Force next Saturday, so they might overlook Pacific.

"If we do, this will be the biggest mistake we've ever made in this program," Luginbill said. "This team can score points so quickly. Once they do, they can get on a roll.

"Our program is not to the point where we can bypass games. We need this game badly."

For a year, Luginbill has said his goal is to win a bowl game. For weeks, Luginbill has told the Aztecs the first two games this season are their bowl games. Stumble early against Cal State Long Beach and Pacific, and the Aztecs play catch-up the rest of the season. Lose to Long Beach or Pacific, and who would take SDSU seriously?

So now there is one down and one to go. SDSU whipped Long Beach last week, 49-13. As for tonight, the defense is on the skillet again.

Specifically, the secondary.

If there is one thing Pacific can do, it is run an offense. Quarterback Troy Kopp can pass (316 yards a game), the Tigers can run (182 1/2 yards a game) and several receivers can catch--Aaron Turner, Pacific's all-time receptions leader, has 17 catches for 277 yards, Jason Edwards has 12 for 129 and Daryl Hobbs has 10 for 88.

The Aztec secondary, a weak link a year ago, faces a stern test.

"No question about that," said Ron Mims, SDSU secondary coach. "(Pacific) has a good understanding for what they want to do, and they have options for just about everything you want to do defensively."

The SDSU secondary last week came up with a handful of big plays. Free safety Damon Pieri returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown, and dimeback Robert Griffith and cornerback John Louis had an interception apiece.

Last year, the Aztecs were the last NCAA Division I-A team to intercept a pass. It didn't come until their seventh game.

"There were some bright spots (against Long Beach)," Mims said. "There was some good execution at times, but we also had some lapses of concentration at times."

Louis, a sophomore starting his first game, was guilty of that early. Long Beach's first touchdown pass, a 17-yarder from Todd Studer to Mark Seay, came partly because Louis was not properly aligned on the play. From then on, Long Beach attempted several passes to Louis' side.

Still, Louis was undeterred.

"I thought they would have picked on me more, a lot more than they did," Louis said. "That was my first whole game. If I would have been them, I would have come at me more to see how mentally tough I was."

The Aztec defense, like Louis, got better as the game went along.

"We were so anxious," Griffith said. "That shouldn't be the case Saturday."

Kopp is a junior quarterback Pacific has been touting as a Heisman Trophy candidate. If California could get some of the money Pacific has sunk into Heisman hype material, the state's budget might be in better shape. This season, Kopp has completed 45 of 78 passes for 557 yards and six touchdowns. Three of his passes have been intercepted.

"They've got a good quarterback and a lot of good receivers," Pieri said. "We're going to try to mix things up and create some problems. Confuse them a little bit.

"We're going to have to do what we do best--play man-to-man defense. I expect to be in man most of the time. We're not going to (completely) stop them, but we'll make them earn everything."

Luginbill said a key is making open-field tackles.

"I think you've got to make plays in the open field consistently," Luginbill said. "They try to get it to an individual one on one, whether it is against a man-to-man or zone, and let him take it from there."

One of those individuals who make Luginbill and the Aztec defense wary is running back Ryan Benjamin, who leads the nation in all-purpose yardage with an average of 287 yards a game. He is averaging 162 rushing yards a game--and 13 yards a carry.

Of course, as for leading the nation in all-purpose yardage, it isn't quite as impressive as it sounds. Returning a school-record eight kickoffs in one game--which Benjamin did during that 86-24 rout by Cal--will boost your yardage total in a hurry.

Aztec Notes

SDSU officials announced Friday that they have set a school record of 24,792 season tickets. That's an 80% increase over last year's 13,879. . . . The Aztecs are expecting a crowd of about 32,000 tonight. . . . SDSU kicker Andy Trakas is three points short of surpassing the all-time SDSU scoring record. . . . Pacific Athletic Director Bob Lee calls the play-by-play on Tiger radio broadcasts. Lee, a Pacific graduate, is a former quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. . . . SDSU injury update: The status of receiver Patrick Rowe (shoulder) and linebacker Andy Coviello (knee) will be determined today, although Rowe said Thursday he doesn't expect to play. Offensive guard Joe Heinz (knee) will return to the starting lineup tonight.

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