September 12, 2008
By John Philip Wyllie
The talk before the start of the current football season was that the Aztecs might find themselves with a giant void at quarterback following the departure of multi-talented Kevin O’Connell to the NFL. In just two games redshirt freshman Ryan Lindley has put those concerns to rest. The Former EL Capitan High star out of Alpine has so far performed well above expectations. He should only get better as the season progresses.
“Ryan is obviously a great quarterback,” said teammate Darren Mougey following the team’s heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame last Saturday. “He has a great arm and he has great field awareness and vision. He really sees the whole field. He knows where to put the ball when we need it. He is very football savvy and knows the game well for how young he is.”
Devoid thus far of a consistent running game, the Aztecs have had to rely on their young quarterback to keep them in their games. That he has done, but he is far from satisfied with himself.
“The biggest thing we all need to work on right now is getting our assignments correct. We need to get everything fine tuned so that we are running on all cylinders. I felt coming in here that it wasn’t going to be too hard considering the guys I am surrounded by. We have got some great playmakers on this team. All I am trying to do is just dump the ball off right now and let them make the plays. The guys are understanding the offense more and getting better every day. We are frustrating (defenses) right now with how quickly we are getting our passes off. As they continue to be frustrated they are going to back off with the pass rush and that will let us throw downfield.”
Saturday’s short passing game strategy resulted in nine receptions and a career day for junior tight end Matthew Kawulok. Darren Mougey contributed five more and led the team with 97 receiving yards. Fleet-footed wide-outs Vincent Brown and Roberto Wallace will help stretch the defense once the playbook expands to include more deep passes.
Another huge question mark heading into 2008 was the offensive line. Beset by injuries from the get-go, the Aztecs have had to press some people into starting roles that were not initially in their plans. Like Lindley, they too have performed above expectations.
“Everybody came in saying they were going to be our week point, but I have been saying all along don’t doubt them because they are guys that work hard. They have great leaders right now in Lance Louis and Mike Schmidt. It is a real tight group and Lance and Mike have done a great job of keeping them together. I feel safe behind them.”
While he would prefer to be 2-0 instead of 0-2, Lindley remains confident that the Aztecs will turn their season around.
“They way I am looking at it right now is at the positives. We are moving forward as a united group. We start fresh each Tuesday and work on our next opponent,” he said.
That next opponent will be (1-1) San Jose State. The Aztecs will face the Spartans on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in San Jose. While there will be no San Diego television broadcast of the game it will be carried live on KOGO AM 600.
“They are a good group,” according to Lindley. “They played tough against Nebraska. The final score doesn’t show how tight that game was. I think they were only down by one point early in the fourth quarter. It is going to be a good battle. We are going to put some things together that will put their defense on its toes. We still have ten more games. If we win all of them we are definitely going to a bowl game. That’s the way we are looking at it.”