The Aztecs Get Help From the Pac-12
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 26, 2012
Consider the losses that San Diego State has experienced on the offensive side of the ball over the six months. Push it back to the last 12 months, in fact, and take into account the loss of all-Mountain West wide receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, each of whom exhausted their eligibility following the 2010 season. Late in July, the Aztecs’ receiver corps lost would-be lead target Dominique Sandifer to a knee injury, robbing the group of its most experienced and game-tested option. Who stepped up? Sophomores: Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso helped fill the void, along with underrated tight end Gavin Escobar, allowing the San Diego State passing game to keep humming along as one of the Mountain West’s best.
Perhaps the knowledge that there is young talent on the roster ready to step into larger roles will come in handy for the Aztecs in 2012, when Rocky Long and his staff face the rather daunting task of replacing quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman, the latter a sophomore who opted to forego his final two seasons of eligibility and enter the N.F.L. Draft.
One issue: San Diego State never seemed to have a transition plan in place in 2011, especially at quarterback. Lindley attempted all but two of the Aztecs’ 449 passes on the year; punter Brian Stahovich attempted as many passes, one, as did backup quarterback Adam Dingwell, a freshman. And Stahovich, unlike Dingwell, completed his one attempt – albeit for only five yards.
Hillman, like Lindley at quarterback, took on the lion’s share of work for S.D.S.U. in the running game. Not to bemoan the lack of a share-the-wealth, by-committee approach at running back: Hillman was superb, finishing just shy of Marshall Faulk’s single-season school record for rushing yards despite missing most of a November loss to Boise State with a high ankle sprain.
Not that other backs didn’t get into the mix – S.D.S.U. utilized far more options at running back than it did at quarterback, at least. Walter Kazee, a junior, rushed for 339 yards and 4 touchdowns. Freshman Adam Muema added another 253 yards, including a 119-yard showing as Hillman’s replacement against the Broncos.
When San Diego State closed its season with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, the Aztecs seemed poised to enter the following August with Dingwell, he of the one career attempt, starting at quarterback, and the duo of Kazee and Muema carrying the load at running back. Hey, at least S.D.S.U. had already solved a potentially-troubling situation at wide receiver.
But this has since changed, thanks to help from an unlikely source: the Pac-12. As had been expected since earlier this month, the Aztecs are officially adding three high-profile recruits from the local B.C.S. conference, including two – a quarterback and a receiver – who will be eligible to play immediately, thanks to the N.C.A.A. loophole that allows graduate students to play immediately rather than incur the typical redshirt season accompanying an F.B.S. transfer.
One, former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz, will start immediately. Katz was the Beavers’ quarterback as a sophomore in 2010, when he threw for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns as a first-year starter. While slightly inconsistent that fall – par for the course for a rookie starter – Katz’s debut campaign didn’t run off the rails until the year’s final two games, when he tossed three interceptions in each of the Beavers’ end-of-year losses to Oregon and Stanford.
Katz remained the starter despite that sour finish to 2010 and offseason wrist injury, but his grasp on the starting role lasted all of one half: after completing 11 of 22 attempts over the first 30 minutes of an eventual loss to Sacramento State in September, Katz was replaced for the second half by freshman Sean Mannion. Katz would play in only other game, the following week against Wisconsin. From there, it was all Mannion.
But he gets another shot with the Aztecs, and it’s a marriage that works remarkably well for both parties. San Diego State wants a big-armed quarterback; that’s Katz. The Aztecs desperately need experience at the position; Katz brings that to the table, and on the Pac-12 level. Katz wants to play; the Aztecs need a quarterback.
The program will also add a pair of U.S.C. transfers in wide receiver Brice Butler and running back Dillon Baxter, with Butler, like Katz, eligible to play immediately. A year ago, adding Butler would have been on par with Katz’s arrival for 2012; this was before receivers like Denso and Lockett helped fill a significant void at the position. But the Aztecs still need quality depth, and Butler can certainly push that pair for a starting role.
Baxter is one transfer the Aztecs could use immediately. Baxter’s career, one that began at U.S.C. with such immense potential, was stymied early on by his inability to walk the straight-and-narrow path: suspended in 2010 for a violation of team rules and again in 2011 for academic issues, Baxter has not yet had the opportunity to show the talent that made him a five-star recruit.
He’ll get that shot with the Aztecs, just not until 2013. What does that mean? For this coming season, S.D.S.U. will attempt to recoup some of Hillman’s lost potential with the duo of Kazee and Muema, if not a yet-unknown option. But with Katz in play, along with the returning receiver corps and Butler, perhaps S.D.S.U. can simply tailor an offensive game plan more predicated on the passing game than the Hillman-led ground attack.
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Tags: Adam Muema, Brice Butler, Colin Lockett, Dillon Baxter, Dylan Denso, Gavin Escobar, Pac-12, Rocky Long, Ryan Katz, San Diego State, Walter Kazee
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