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Aztecs Look for Attention : Freedom Bowl: Luginbill says bowl victory will give SDSU a national reputation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Their season began with receiver Patrick Rowe appearing in Playboy magazine as a preseason All-American. Their season ended with running back Marshall Faulk on the Bob Hope Christmas special as an Associated Press All-American.

They have been to Disneyland, met Mickey Mouse and goofed around with Goofy.

Call this the year the San Diego State Aztecs went national. These are rare times indeed at SDSU and, at 6 tonight, when the Aztecs line up against No. 23 Tulsa in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium, a football program learning to fly will fire up the engines and head toward the runway.

“Bowl games equate with success,” SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said. “There is no playoff system in college football--you can’t say you’re sixth in the country, or eighth. . . . All you can say is you went to a bowl.

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“We’ve been working three years to get to this point, and we want to continue it. We want to become part of the bowl scene throughout the ‘90s. That’s our goal.”

San Diego State has appeared in only one major bowl, a 39-38 loss to Iowa in the 1986 Holiday Bowl. But since Luginbill took over from Denny Stolz for the 1989 season, he has made clear that his goal is not only to be invited to a bowl, but to win a bowl.

Not that Luginbill is banging his credo into the heads of anyone who will listen, but SDSU players and coaches were even given gray T-shirts to wear at practice this week with the words “‘Win a Bowl” across the front.

Both SDSU and Tulsa are in similar positions, which makes it difficult to get a good reading on what might happen tonight at Anaheim Stadium, where the forecast calls for fair weather and a crowd of 40,000 is expected. Neither school has much of a bowl history, so neither has been quite sure how to act this week.

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And how will they react tonight? Both are young programs for which the Freedom Bowl represents a major step toward their futures.

The similarities do not end there. Both teams run a one-back offensive set. Both teams played No. 1 Miami this season, and SDSU’s 427 yards of total offense and Tulsa’s 390 rank 1-2 against the Hurricanes this season.

Also, both teams’ offenses start with big, bruising lines. Tulsa’s Jerry Ostroski (6-feet-4, 322 pounds) is an AP All-American; some NFL scouts think center Todd McGuire (6-4, 280) is the best in the nation; and Tulsa coaches like tackle Mark Govi (6-5, 273).

But for sheer size, few will overshadow SDSU guard Carson Leomiti (6-3, 380), and the other tackle, Jim Jennings (6-4, 295) is a legitimate NFL prospect.

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The biggest difference offensively is that Tulsa runs about two plays for every pass attempt; SDSU’s offense is more evenly distributed between the pass and run.

Still, Tulsa quarterback T.J. Rubley is 12th on the all-time NCAA passing chart with 9,324 career passing yards, and SDSU’s David Lowery set a school record this season with 568 yards passing against Brigham Young.

The biggest difference defensively is that Tulsa prefers to stay back and then swarm to the ball; SDSU plays an aggressive, blitzing brand of defense.

SDSU has Faulk, the nation’s rushing (158.8 yards per game) and scoring (15.56 points per game) leader and only the third freshman ever to be named to the AP All-American team.

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“I can’t (think of) anybody I’ve played against who has the ability to make people miss, or even run right over you, as Marshall Faulk has right now,” said linebacker Michael White, Tulsa’s all-time leading tackler.

Tulsa, meanwhile, is without running back Chris Hughley, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher (132.6 yards per game), who was left home for academic reasons. But his replacement, Ron Jackson, started each of Tulsa’s first two games and gained 320 yards.

Luginbill is impressed with the Tulsa running game.

“It’s like a mowing machine,” he said. “If you don’t get some sort of penetration and get those big old horses stopped, they’ll just bend your backs. And you’ve got to be careful with what you’re doing on the front side, because they’ll bring it out the back side.”

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The most glaring weakness in either team belongs to SDSU. The Aztecs will take the field with the same defensive personnel who were last seen yielding 1,084 yards passing in their last two games, a 52-52 tie with BYU and a 39-12 loss at Miami.

The only difference is that Aztec defensive backs are healthier--cornerback Gary Taylor, who missed two midseason games with a groin strain, is back at full speed and back-up cornerback Zac Stokes, who was bothered with a pulled hamstring, is feeling better. Cornerback John Louis, who had a slight hamstring pull, is better but has been benched in favor of freshman Eric Sutton.

It is safe to say that how well the Aztecs do tonight probably will correspond to the play of their secondary.

“I say it unequivocally,” Luginbill said. “If we bust coverage on defense like we did the last three games of the year, we will not have an opportunity to win.”

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Tulsa is ranked 15th in the nation defensively (293.7 yards allowed per game).

While Luginbill worries about his defensive backfield, Golden Hurricane Coach David Rader says there are at least two things his team has to do to be successful tonight.

“When we have the ball. If San Diego State continues to be in our backfield, we’re not going to be worth much,” Rader said. “On the other side, if you see big gaps, gaping holes, and their receivers getting behind our defenders . . . those things just can’t happen. . . .

“I don’t think we’ve been challenged this year like we will be (tonight).”

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The most important intangible, as in most bowl games, probably will be which team is able to shake off the most rust from the monthlong layoff since its last game.

“You’re always concerned with your throwing game,” Luginbill said. “With the long time off, how are you going to be able to time the passing game?”

For the moment, there are more questions than answers.


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