By John Philip Wyllie
The sky over Mission Valley will erupt with a spectacular display of sight and sound when the 29th annual KGB Sky Show returns to Qual-comm Stadium Saturday night following the SDSU Idaho State football game. The fireworks overhead however, may not be the only ones witnessed by the more than 50,000 fans expected to attend. Based upon the improvement he has seen in his offense this summer, third year Aztec head coach Tom Craft believes 2004 could be a break-out year for the black & red.
“I can’t remember moving the ball so well offensively - it’s exciting,” Craft said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “It’s been a good camp as far as the exchange. One side of the ball hasn’t dominated the other.”
With most of the major contributors from his rock solid 2003 defense dubbed “The Dark Side” returning, playing at Qualcomm Stadium could become a painful experience for opposing quarterbacks. A year ago, SDSU ranked eighth nationally in overall defense. With the prospects this season of a vastly improved attack to pair with that dominating defense, Craft can’t wait to get the 2004 season underway. Amidst all the enthusiasm and lofty expectations however, there are several unanswered questions.
Can running back Lynell Hamilton return to his 2003 form?
Prior to breaking his right leg and ankle on November 8 in a game against UNLV last season, Hamilton had amas-sed 1,087 yards rushing. The only other freshman in Aztec history to crack the 1,000 yard barrier is a guy you may have heard of. His name is Marshall Faulk. Hamilton has been used sparingly this summer and is still experiencing leg pain which has been complicated by shin splints. While there was some talk of red shirting him this season, a more likely scenario might be that he sit of Saturday’s home opener, enjoy an additional week of rest with a bye week and then return to the field against Michigan on September 18. Michael Franklin and Brandon Bornes will pick up the slack in the meantime and both have demonstrated their potential.
Can the offensive line stay healthy and jell quickly into a cohesive unit?
Left tackle Mike Kracalik will be the only familiar face on a starting line that will probably feature Taylor Schmidt at center, William Robinson and Pat Justman playing left and right guard and Mike Kravetz at right tackle. They are big and physical, but they haven’t had much time to develop as a unit. Once that happens, they should be fine, but time is of the essence.
Can the defensive line pressure opposing quarterbacks and clog up the running lanes?
Returning starter Jonathan Bailes will man one tackle spot while Blake Lobel, who saw significant action in 2003 will handle the other. Defensive end Robert Miller has impressed this summer and he will start at one end while Nicholas Osborn and Antwann Applewhite battle it out for the other starting job.
Most of the other problem areas seem under control although injuries, especially in areas where depth is thin, could be devastating.
Incumbent Matt Dlugolecki emerged as the winner in the spirited quarterback contest that was waged all summer, but Craft expects to use Darren Mougey and Kevin O’Connell as well. Depth at the position will not be a problem. Keeping all three content may be.
Saturday’s opponent, Idaho State is a I-AA Division school. Theoretically they should not be as tough as some of the Aztecs later opponents. The Bengals did however go 8-4 last season scoring an average of nearly 33 points per game. Known more for their passing than their running ability, the Bengals are expected to come out throwing and may test the Aztecs new corner-back tandem of Marcus Demps and Hubert Caliste. The Bengals problems are more on defense which should make for a high scoring crowd pleasing game.