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Aztecs Seeking Offense : College football: Against UCLA tonight, SDSU needs to get its passing game in gear.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dave Lay, San Diego State’s offensive coordinator, sat in a room the other day in the football complex. On the walls surrounding him were dozens of plays, X’s and O’s and plans and strategies.

So the answer is yes, the Aztecs do have planned offensive plays this season--even though it sometimes looks as if quarterback Cree Morris uses the old playground method of play calling. “Patrick, you go down the right sideline toward where the lady in red fedora is sitting and button-hook; Larry and Ray, you two go five yards and cross; and you, Jake, head toward the cheerleaders and then slant toward the middle of the field . . . I’ll hit whoever’s open.”

Yes, the Aztecs (2-1) are faced with an unusual circumstance as they prepare to play UCLA (1-1) at 5:05 tonight at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in an ESPN Thursday Night Special: How well they do will likely depend on their offense .

The normal scenario at an SDSU football game is that the defense is the unit that does not perform. However, the offense was horrible at Air Force last Saturday.

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Quarterback Cree Morris, whom Coach Al Luginbill emphasized is in no danger of being benched, completed only 10 of 28 passes for 94 yards at Air Force, the lowest yardage total since Jim Plum and Todd Santos combined for 89 at Brigham Young in 1984. Morris completed only two of 10 second-half passes and one of six in the fourth quarter.

If the Aztecs hope to match UCLA tonight, that simply won’t do.

“I believe UCLA will come in with the intent to hammer us into submission,” Luginbill said. “In their mind, they are superior to San Diego State.

“To hammer us into submission would be something they would thoroughly enjoy.”

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Luginbill thinks that, because UCLA has had successive losing seasons and the game is on national television, a lopsided Bruin victory would put them back in the national spotlight.

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, asked if the Bruins might overlook SDSU, replied, “Who are we to snub our noses at anyone?”

Luginbill stressed the old standards--how the SDSU defense must stop UCLA’s running attack (130 yards-per-game average) and Bruin quarterback Tommy Maddox (230 yards passing a game).

But make no mistake about it. SDSU’s lack of offensive execution is what has Aztec coaches stumped so far. The X’s are not going where they are supposed to.

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“I know one thing,” Lay said. “We’d better have more than 94 yards passing or we’re going to be in trouble.

“Our running game has been better than ever. But we better start making some passing yardage or that’s going to be shut down.”

Morris started the Aztec opener against Cal State Long Beach by completing only two of his first nine passes, started the Pacific game by completing only two of his first 10 passes and finished the Air Force game with only the two second-half completions.

He has missed receivers all year, and his inconsistency is a problem with the sputtering Aztec offense. But it is wrong to blame Morris for everything.

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On SDSU’s last offensive play in the 21-20 loss at Air Force Saturday, for example, Morris overthrew tight end Ray Rowe by about 10 yards down the left sideline. But, Lay said, the problem was that Rowe broke off his pattern and stopped running. That is not the only time this season a receiver has run a poor or wrong route.

“Everybody talks about Dan (McGwire) and his production compared with Cree,” Lay said. “Believe me, Dan was a hell of a quarterback, but we also miss some receivers off last year’s team that made some big plays.

“The quarterback has been erratic, but there have been a lot of times when he needs help and that hasn’t come. I think we miss Jimmy Raye and Dennis Arey at this time every bit as much as Dan.”

Arey and Patrick Rowe became only the second pair of receivers on the same team to each surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a single season in NCAA history. Raye, meanwhile, was a dependable H-back who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

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“Our problem with the passing game, obviously, is a young quarterback is part of it,” Lay said. “But another factor is that from day one of two-a-days, we’ve had a different set of receivers every day. There has never been a consistent group of receivers. Add that with a young quarterback and mistakes are magnified.”

Patrick Rowe, Darnay Scott, Jake Nyberg, Ray Rowe, Keith Williams and Will Tate have all missed time with injuries. Williams and Tate have yet to return from pulled hamstrings. And three of SDSU’s top four tight ends at the end of practice last spring have missed time--Alex Semenik (mononucleosis), Judd Rachow (sprained knee ligament) and Marc Ziegler (sprained knee ligament). Ziegler is expected to return tonight.

There are more problems than just an inexperienced quarterback and injuries, though.

“Youth,” said Curtis Johnson, SDSU receivers’ coach. “We got some guys hurt, guys we depend on, and we’ve got young guys at those positions. They are getting better. The public doesn’t see it, but they’re starting to learn the different defenses.”

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Other than the two Rowes, SDSU’s receivers don’t have much game experience.

One theory is that the Aztecs are babying Morris and aren’t throwing deep often enough. Funny, Lay said, the coaches think maybe they have been throwing deep too much.

“If you sit down and look at the films, I bet we’ve thrown more streaks and stuff down the field than we did with Dan,” Lay said.

Morris ranks seventh in the Western Athletic Conference in passing. He has completed only 44% of his passes. But Lay will not criticize Morris in this area--other than to say a quarterback should be completing at least 50% of his passes--because Morris has taken only three sacks this year.

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“There are a lot of quarterbacks who take a lot of sacks to save their completion percentage,” Lay said. “We’re not into that. Whether we lead the nation in completion percentage, we could give a crap.”

Still, Lay wouldn’t mind being one of the nation’s leaders in yardage.

“We’ve got to throw in the 250 (yards) area, at least, to be a consistent offense,” he said. “Ninety-four yards is ridiculous.”

Aztec Notes

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The UCLA defense is ranked sixth nationally against the run (72 yards a game). . . . UCLA hasn’t played since Sept. 14, when it lost at Tennessee, 30-16. . . . UCLA Coach Terry Donahue compared SDSU running back Marshall Faulk to the Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders earlier this week. “I think (Faulk) was a tremendous acquisition by San Diego State,” Donahue said. . . . Injury updates: For SDSU, defensive linemen Turaj Smith (ankle), Ramondo Stallings (ankle) and Steve Matuszewicz (groin), linebackers Lou Foster (ankle) and Andy Coviello (shoulder), dimeback Marcus Preciado (knee) and receiver Patrick Rowe (two bruised shoulders) are all probable. For UCLA, starting right cornerback Dion Lambert (foot) and fullback Kevin Smith (knee) are out and defensive tackle Brian Kelly (ankle sprain) and offensive guard Mike Linn (hip) are questionable. . . . UCLA leads the series, 13-0-1. The tie came in 1924.


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