By John Philip Wyllie
Maybe the San Diego State Aztecs (3-7, 1-5) should pray for snow tomorrow night when they host the UNLV Rebels (2-8, 1-5) in their season finale. The Aztecs, who have struggled all season long, seemed to thrive in last week’s Arctic conditions. After dropping six games in a row and all of their previous five conference games, the Aztecs came to life against Air Force winning 37-31 in Colorado Springs despite icy conditions and a driving snowstorm.
Once again, local products Brandon Bornes (28 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns) and Robert Ortiz (five receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown) stood out on offense along with quarterback Kevin O’Connell (17 completions on 32 attempts for 232 passing yards and two touchdowns). Additionally, Aztec kicker, Garrett Palmer was named Mountain West special teams player of the week for his three-field goal effort after finding the range from 26, 29 and 37 yards.
Despite the fact that SDSU and UNLV will be watching December’s bowl games on TV rather than playing in them, this season ending match-up of Mountain West have-nots has several interesting footnotes.
One is that it will mark the final game in the 44-year coaching career of UNLV’s legendary John Robinson. Perhaps best know for his eight-year stint as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams (1983-’91) Robinson also led the USC Trojans for four years prior to beginning his six-year tenure at the helm of the Rebels.
The Aztecs will be saying goodbye to perhaps their best linebacker of all-time, senior, Kirk Morrison and 19 other players that are due to graduate in May. Morrison is sure to be a hot commodity in next April’s NFL draft. Determined to go out with a bang, the hard hitting linebacker drew conference player of the week honors along with fellow linebacker, Heath Farwell for his efforts in last week’s victory over Air Force. Morrison no doubt, would like to make his final game as an Aztec a memorable one.
Both teams are hoping a victory on Saturday will lay the foundation for a much stronger showing next season. For the Aztecs, any future success will hinge upon how well they can rebuild their injury-riddled offensive line. Coach Tom Craft would be wise to stock up on wide bodies during the off-season. Particularly valuable would be lineman that can play more than one position.
Morrison’s departure will leave a huge gap on defense and one that will be very difficult to fill even with the return of a healthy Matt McCoy. Fellow linebackers Stephen Larsen and the aforementioned Farwell will also be sorely missed as will defensive backs Josh Dean and Marviel Underwood. Despite the turnover, Craft will have a strong nucleus of returning players upon which to build. A win tomorrow night against UNLV might go a long way towards persuading a few more of those coveted local high school stars of the future that staying close to home and donning the black and red might be something to consider.